So much talk has occurred around the meme (or idea) of the press release is dead that whenever it comes up again, everyone writes a reactionary response about their entrenched opinion and goes on with their life, only to have another boxing round again in about two to three months. I admit that I have done it myself on my Communication Overtones blog.
I think that everyone agrees on the following points:
- The press, or news release, is something that has been entrenched in the media/PR culture
- The format can lead to overblown claims and other information
- Reporters generally use information from only a fraction of the releases they receive
- Some releases are written better than others
Very few have offered a true alternative, and fewer yet a sample of what they think a press release should look like. Here are a few that have:
- Six years ago (2000), B.L. Ochman suggested a format of 200 words or less that used the headings who, what, where, when and why. In 2001,
- David Phillips and others came up with the eXtensible Public Relations Language (XPRL) in 2001, which was supposed to be a wholistic approach, but probably too technical to catch on.
- Earlier this year, Amy Gahran suggested using a fact sheet format.
- And most recently, Tom Foremski suggests an approach using tags as headers.
- Finally, Todd Defren sharpens his pencil and actually writes a release in a new format in response to Tom’s challenge.
I must admit that I like the idea of a modular news release. It fits with today’s mad pace of 24 hour news and is easy to read. I think that by linking to online sources and giving direct numbers, the “release” becomes even more valuable. If a reporter can get his or her story written with minimal contact with the PR folks it really is better. I work this way with reporters all the time and they usually appreciate it and call back for more information. However, Todd disagrees with me on this and wants to maintain a little more control.
All of this said, modular formatting, fact sheets or any other format we may dream up, does not prevent bad writing or a blatant marketing focus from emerging. So many have said it over the past few days – in the end it boils down to the competence of the human behind the format.