Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010)”

Dear  @SimonDumenco:

What a great whoosh of hot air to jumpstart this cool, gray, damp Seattle Monday!

[The] news media has a nifty new way of “reporting” entertainment news: regurgitating celebrity tweets. It wasn’t that long ago that a celebrity with something “important” to put out there, like an apology, would automatically say it through a tightly controlled protocol, like a set of engineered sound bites delivered via a well-staged interview. Now 140 characters or fewer suffices.

Had you confined your treatise to celebrity media, culture and publicity, it’s unlikely that I would have seen your column. (I rarely read AdAge.) However, the Twitter tease meant it showed up in my tweetstream. (Link bait?) And the sweeping generalization in the headline then demanded a reply.

  1. I’d argue that celebrity “press releases” (publicity) are as different from business “press releases” as The National Inquirer is from The New York Times or People/Us magazines are from The Economist/The Atlantic.
  2. I’d also argue that the “press release” blast — an untargeted communication not unlike the products of the mass media on the receiving end of those releases — began its decline with the popularization of the fax machine.

Since the mid-1990s, I’ve advised organizations to publish their press releases on their websites, easily found by date, formed in native HTML (not a PDF that forces the reader to jump through one more hoop to see if the info in the release answers her query). Thus published, press releases serve not only as a back story for the organization, they make it possible for interested people (e.g., reporters, investors, potential customers) to find answers independently of traditional mass media. This functionality assumes that the organization has made its website search-engine friendly. [Do I need to explicitly note that when so used they are far from DOA?]

Next, your use of the pejorative, “spin,” implies that press releases — or tweets — are inherently nefarious, deceptive, suspect.

Legend has it that early PR man Ivy Ledbetter Lee issued the very first press release in 1906 on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a derailed train plunged into a creek in Atlantic City, resulting in 53 passenger deaths; The New York Times printed it verbatim.

If the same thing happened today, we’d all be looking for @nytimes to RT @PennsylvaniaRR’s real-time spin.

Any corporate, celebrity, political or government communication — press releases, tweets and Facebook pages/updates, press conferences or interviews with muckety-muck execs — could be engineered with deflection or deception in mind. Technology is agnostic. Motives lie with people.

What press releases — or blog posts — can do is provide an accessible back story that cannot or will not be included in a 30-second TV news story or a six-column-inch news story. One thing tweets do well is provide a link to more detailed information: the press release, whether its form is a classic release or the modern blog post. Heck, remember that this is how I found your column. The fact that the AdAge tweet led me to it doesn’t diminish the importance of the column; it’s just a new way of discovery.

Moreover, the railroad anecdote reinforces my first point: there is a vast difference between the vapidness of celebrity culture and true news events that affect lives, livelihoods and liberty. There is also a vast difference between the journalists who report on these multi-faceted aspects of life and those who hound celebrities.

Thus, I would not expect the New York Times to blindly retweet statements from the Pennsylvania railroad. If you have examples of this happening during the BP crisis, please, do share the URLs.

As far as parodists such as @BPGlobalPR and @SarrahPalinU5A, it’s a far stretch to think that “[dropping] the ball” on Twitter is why they have been successful. Such thinking implies that good communication (whatever that means) can somehow trump actual behavior. It can’t. A reminder:

You can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. – disputed origin

Finally, thanks for the @Kelsey_Grammer example, not because it proves your point, but because it illustrates the pitfalls of trying to use Twitter like a traditionally mediated space, one where the publicist speaks for the celebrity:

Grammer’s rep, Stan Rosenfield, recently told TVGuide.com that there was no “Frasier” spin-off in the works, despite what appeared on @Kelsey_Grammer. “That’s what happens,” he explained, “when [the] people who do your tweeting misinterpret something.”

Thanks again for the laugh!

AdAge sparked a flurry on Twitter Monday with a juicy essay, RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) — and Long Live the Tweet, by @SimonDumenco.

tweetmeme-adage

Tweetmeme Captures The Retweets

The flurry featured a lot of straight retweets, a few “huhs?” and at least three rebuttals. Mine was one of them:

Had you confined your treatise to celebrity media, culture and publicity, it’s unlikely that I would have seen your column. (I rarely read AdAge.) However, the Twitter tease meant it showed up in my tweetstream. (Link bait?) And the sweeping generalization in the headline then demanded a reply.

Jeremy Pepper (@jspepper) reminded us that the “press release is dead” meme (a variant of “The sky is falling!”) circulates periodically before nailing a key fallacy in the essay:

[T]o quote Simon, “as the celebrity-industrial complex goes, so goes the rest of corporate America.” Forget that publicity firms are the last firms to social media, often being beat (by years) by their consumer technology sister firms. Forget that publicity and the entertainment complex aren’t comparable to corporations that have to abide by SEC disclosures and other sticky things like that.

But, maybe, just maybe Twitter’s limitation to 140 characters is just not enough to disseminate news, even with links to a blog or page that is, well, I guess it’d be a press release huh?

And from Jason Mollica (@jmollica):

It’s up to PR folks to help reporters and consumers that are wading through the static to direct them to clearer channels.  The press release helps to do that.  In the last two weeks, I have written a handful of releases.  Their distribution was enhanced by Twitter and Facebook.

The flurry on Twitter reflected attention that the article was receiving on the AdAge site itself:

adage-twitter-learmonth

RIP Article Drives AdAge Site Traffic

Here are two very salient comments. First, from KatMadison:

With all due respect, Simon, publishing an article about the death of the Press Release in Ad Age is ironic. I believe this is part of the problem and disconnect.

Publicity is not PR and vice versa. Of course Twitter (and other social media) plays an important role for popular and breaking news and is helping evolve new communications mediums. But as others have noted, it’s is not all about celebrities and earthquakes.

Second, from Cameron Berry:

Press releases aren’t dead, so let’s try to be a bit less argumentative and bit more informed, shall we? If not, I’ll have to keep saying that advertising is dead. Which of course it is.

Then there was a comment from Stan that made my eyebrows raise:

I’d rather read one coherent 250-word news release from a real source than a bunch of disjointed tweets. But then, writing a 140-character tweet doesn’t take much heavy thinking.

A note from me:

Dear Stan, it is far more challenging to craft a meaningful 140-character tweet. It is almost without exception that it takes more effort to squeeze meaningful content into a small package, be that a speech or a tweet.

A Bit of Context (otherwise known as history)

As a reminder that the press release is alive and kicking, last year Brian Solis wrote:

[T]he press release has evolved more in the last decade than it has over the century thanks to the proliferation of the Internet and most notably, the Social Web.

Solis tracked the history of the press release in the digital age:

  • 1997: BusinessWire developed the Smart News Release, integrating hypertext
  • 2001: PRNewswire introduced MultiVu, a multimedia release (MMR) service
  • 2006: Todd Defren birthed the Social Media Release
  • 2008: PitchEngine launched a service for creating, hosting, and publishing branded Social Media Releases and Social Media Newsrooms

Today, press releases are indexed by Google, distributed via Slideshare.net or Scribd.com, or refashioned as blog posts. They are promoted via Tweets, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, email.

The press release is not dead!

Aside: A Personal Example Of Twitter As Promotion

As an exercise in personal branding and as an experiment, yesterday I decided to promote my post. Although WiredPen posts are syndicated to Twitter automagically, I’ve never actually tried to get readership.

adage TweetDeck

Custom Search In TweetDeck

First, I set up a search in Tweetdeck for the keywords Adage Press Release.

Then I began reading.

I looked for people who had done more than hit the RT button, people who had expressed an opinion about the essay. I then went to their Twitter page. If it looked like they were open to conversation (a quick judgment) and that they were fairly digitally savvy (based on Twitter bio), I then sent them a Tweet with my link.

Many replied; several retweeted.

It was fun; it didn’t take too much time; and I discovered some interesting people to follow or add to my Twitter lists.

This morning, Regan Communications asked for permission to publish my essay on their blog. This is icing on the cake, so to speak, amplification far beyond anything I might have set for a goal, had I been doing this with ROI in mind.

One More Thing

There is another thing that Twitter is doing that should have editors, marketing folk and PR practitioners thinking about: Twitter is extending the life of a post.

Discovery is a process that occurs across time, not just at the time of publication. This means that articles have the potential to have a longer life. Witness the AdAge remark about the RIP essay making it to the top five two days running. Would that have happened without Twitter? I doubt it.

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8 thoughts on “Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010)”

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    PR In The Age Of Twitter | UW Twitter Book

    September 15, 2010 at 11:00pm

    […] flurry fea­tu­red a lot of straight ret­weets, a few “huhs?” and at least three rebut­tals. Mine was one of them: Had you con­fi­ned your trea­tise to cele­brity media, cul­ture and publi­city, it’s […]

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    PR In The Age Of Twitter « WiredPen

    September 14, 2010 at 1:22pm

    […] flurry featured a lot of straight retweets, a few “huhs?” and at least three rebuttals. Mine was one of them: Had you confined your treatise to celebrity media, culture and publicity, it’s unlikely that I […]

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Kathy E. Gill

    September 14, 2010 at 12:00pm

    A hand-crafted attempt to capture Tweets that mention this post. Another reason to migrate off WordPress.com:

    @jgombita:

    .@kegill your post is killer!

    @JasMollica:

    @kegill Wonderful read and rebuttal to the AdAge piece.

    @chicagocomms:

    @kegill love this post http://bit.ly/a6pDCp

    @lujeansmith:

    Uh-huh. RT @JonHutson: RT @kegill: @JonHutson No, the press release is not dead! A response: http://bit.ly/cZutFy

    @ThinkInkPR:

    Very interesting! RT @kegill You might like this response: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release” – http://bit.ly/cZutFy

    @SMCAmsterdam:

    Hold on AdAge, is the press release truly dead? RIP 1906-2010? http://bit.ly/a6pDCp (expand) /by @kegill, in respons to @simondumenco #pr

    @JasMollica:

    RT @jgombita: To @JasMollica @jspepper, add Kathy E. Gill’s great response: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010)”: http://t.co/fqIvybv

    @ThePRCoach:

    @marketingmel @jgombita Kathy’s right of course (see Mon RT); that news releases still have value http://bit.ly/azyevH

    @tkgpr:

    Not So Fast, AdAge. A sensible response to “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010)” http://t.co/RgoVSLX RT@tressalynne

    @imavioletta:

    RT @tressalynne: A great response to @AdAge article: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release” http://bit.ly/dAY9Gc (h/t @tegill) #MediaRelations #PR

    @tressalynne:

    A great response to @AdAge article: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release” http://bit.ly/dAY9Gc (h/t @tegill) #MediaRelations #PR

    @ThinkInkPR:

    Very interesting! RT @kegill You might like this response: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release” – http://bit.ly/cZutFy

    @KandaVisionPR:

    Love it! RT @kegill: @ThinkInkPR You might like this response: Not So Fast, AdAge: “RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010)” http://bit.ly/cZutFy

    @billatfleishman

    (new) RT @Peter_H_Martyn @billatfleishman @geofcoop: re AdAge on Press Release … consider reading “Not So Fast…” http://bit.ly/arwZ7s :-)

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    huckleberryhart

    September 14, 2010 at 9:39am

    Well put Kathy. The press release is still valuable in that it allows organization/individuals to illustrate their actions/opinions. It is a lasting record that can be recalled and referenced by the subject and the public.

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    jasmollica

    September 14, 2010 at 9:34am

    Thanks so much for this great response to the Ad Age piece. I too did a blog post and was baffled by Mr. Dumenco’s brash attitude. As a PR person, I find the press release very helpful and still very valuable.
    The release has evolved and will continue to do so.

    Jason Mollica

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