Have press releases seen their day?

Feb 7, 2018

Entrepreneur recently ran a scathing article blasting press releases titled, Is Sending Out a Press Release Really Worth the Money? The article questions the value businesses receive from issuing press releases, calling releases “borderline useless,” serving mainly as a way for PR agencies to fleece clients.

I beg to differ.

As someone who has been in PR her entire life (we’re talking 3+ decades), I have seen numerous benefits from press releases when done right. I have even seen how they optimize SEO, as long as you follow a few best practices, which I’m happy to share in this blog.

Among the accounts I currently handle, one issues a single press release per year, while another issues one per month. Guess which one gets a lot more press coverage?

Perhaps I seem a bit defensive given I work for a PR agency. Fortunately, several of my colleagues are former reporters and editors themselves.

Here is how they view press releases:

Michelle Noteboom, senior account & content & director (former health IT blogger and columnist)

How else can you communicate to the industry what’s going on? For example, announcing new clients (so that prospects and competitors know you are growing), new product updates (especially if they are innovative) or new funding.

Press releases can also help attract traffic to your web site so you can communicate even more about your company and offerings.

However, if you have nothing but fluff to report, I agree that you should not do a press release!

Brandon Glenn, content & account director (former editor, Medical Economics)

As a former reporter, I can say with certainty that journalists still pay attention to press releases and find them a useful tool to stay informed about the companies and industries they cover. Press releases are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of PR tactics; they alone aren’t going to create record-breaking sales numbers. They’re merely one tool in the toolbox and a generally useful one as part of an overall strategy to generate awareness.

Ken Krause, senior account & content director (contributing editor for a sports magazine)

Well-written press releases are a great way to organize information. They help companies think through how to present their stories and messaging, and deliver them in a manner that’s easy for reporters, clients, and prospects to absorb. They provide more depth when pitching reporters the pitch can highlight what’s most newsworthy while the press release can deliver more details as to why it’s newsworthy. If you use a wire service, they also guarantee that the news will be out on the web so it can be discovered in a search.

There is one other value, and that is in placing it on your web site in the news section. Job candidates and sales prospects use web sites for company research, and a lack of news makes it look like not much is happening. Having a full and active newsroom creates a positive impression of your organization.

Chad Van Alstin, content & media relations manager (former editor of a health IT magazine and a sports publication)

To be frank, as an editor, I thought only a small percentage of press releases were worth immediately writing a story on.

But, that’s not their true value. Press releases are useful for the dissemination of information, and are a great way to keep journalists apprised of relevant news. More than that, they’re a good reminder for journalists that your company exists and its leaders are available for comment when the need arises. Lastly, press releases serve the function of boosting SEO through shared publication.

Not all of these benefits can be quantified and measured, and the benefits certainly aren’t true for every release I’ve seen some bad ones. But, in general, a press release is a great tool that is as valuable in the new media, Internet era as it was during the days of print.

Tips for writing SEO-powered press releases

In order to maximize the ROI from issuing a press release, be sure to do the following:

  • Spend the time creating a powerful headline and subhead. Headlines should be under 100 characters to make it easily shareable on social media. Include the most important information in the first 50-65 characters, because that’s typically where Google cuts off the headline preview.
  • Be sure to use keywords in the headline and lead paragraph. You never want to stuff keywords into a release (Google punishes that), but when you write naturally and have a good focus, keyword optimization will fall into place.
  • Use variation in the text to break up blocks of text. One way to improve SEO is to make changes to the text that draws the user’s eye, and helps the information be absorbed more easily. Use bulleted or numbered lists, subheads, bolding and italics.
  • Include no more than three links per release. It’s important not to have too many or Google starts suspecting your content of being link spam. Did you know that duplicate links can hurt your SEO? This is why it’s best not to link to the company name in the opening sentence; save it for the boilerplate.
  • Consider multimedia news releases. Including any form of multimedia in a release boosts SEO (think about how much more likely you are to click on an article that has an image vs. text only). Click here to see a recent example.

If you read the Entrepreneur article and agree with it, it could be that you are issuing press releases on a wire and hoping something good will come of it. That’s actually why you need a PR agency, to make sure the release is SEO-optimized, to do the follow-up, to see to it that the news gets in front of the right journalists. With more and more companies fighting for the attention of fewer and fewer journalists, the value of the PR agency in this process increases considerably.

Marcia Rhodes

Marcia Rhodes is an award-winning public relations and marketing communications expert with more than three decades of experience in PR, media relations, video, crisis and executive communications. She previously held PR/Marketing positions at Accenture, WorldatWork and Six Sigma Academy.