When Is PR More Than Just a Press Release? (Hint: All the time!)

Jessica Volchok

In the business world, a well-thought-out communications plan ensures important opportunities aren’t missed, messages are consistent and the focus of a campaign or announcement reaches its targeted audiences, ultimately building value for the company.  

The communications landscape has changed dramatically over the past 10 years with the advent of digital outlets, social media channels, paid programs, etc. At Merryman Communications, we take a holistic approach to public relations (or PR) and communications, both proactive and reactive. Whether we are helping a client announce a milestone or event, mitigate a crisis or launch a new product, the Merryman team incorporates paid, earned, shared and owned tactics to create a measurable “surround sound” approach to achieving communications objectives.  

If PR Stands for Public Relations, Then What Is a Press Release?

Many use the acronym PR to refer to a press release, which is an important tactic but just one part of a broader communications strategy. In most cases, a press release (or news release) is an official way to make an announcement using a standard, well-accepted journalistic format. Releases issued by publicly traded companies must also meet federal disclosure requirements.  

We take a holistic approach to public relations and communications, both proactive and reactive.

When we recommend a press release, we consider these key ingredients for success: 

  • Is the announcement “news?” For example:
    • News: Launch of new product, significant (e.g., Board or C-Suite) management team hire, fundraising or other corporate news.  
    • Not News: Next-generation product update without significant changes, moving to a new office location, mid-level management hire. 
  • Is the timing right?
    • Is the news timely and relevant to the target audiences, and especially the priority media?  
    • Is the announcement going to compete with potentially more prominent news stories, such as regularly occurring events, elections or breaking news, and get lost in the shuffle?  
    • Is there an event, such as an industry conference, or a particular trend that can be leveraged to support the news? 
    • Can the announcement be made early in the week and first thing in the morning (East Coast time)? Research shows that Tuesday – Thursday are the best days for an announcement and, the earlier in the week, the better to catch the eye of a reporter and maximize the week’s news cycle. 
  • Does the press release use clear, easily understood language or is it full of industry terms and jargon? If your audiences need a glossary to understand what is being announced, then you’ve missed the opportunity to tell your story. The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank is an example of how a jargon-filled release caused confusion and triggered panic among SVB’s customers. A recent article reprinted in Fast Company Magazine noted: “From all accounts, what doomed Silicon Valley Bank wasn’t just that it lost some money on securities. It was that it revealed these losses via a press release so poorly timed and triple-stuffed with confusing jargon that it led everyone to believe a viral rumor that the bank was doomed.”
  • Who are the spokespeople? In addition to company leadership, is there a third party who can speak to the importance of the announcement and lend credibility via a quote? These spokespeople should be available by email or phone when the release is distributed in the event media would like to conduct an interview. 
  • Are there visual assets to drive interest among key audiences? The addition of an image, infographic, video or animation helps drive pick-up. 
  • Are your social channels active? It’s vital to amplify an announcement by sharing the news across all relevant social channels (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook).  

Why Media Outreach Is So Important

There are times when a client may not understand the importance of supporting an announcement by conducting outreach to target media outlets. “Isn’t issuing it on a news wire enough?” is a common question. The fact is, there are thousands of releases issued over wire services each day. While we always ensure that our wire lists are relevant to our industry and reach our targets, reporters still get overwhelmed and may miss an announcement. Once a press release is distributed over a wire service, it’s important to reach out to target media via email and phone to support the announcement and secure coverage.  

At Merryman Communications, we don’t use cookie-cutter programs because every campaign, every piece of news and every client is different.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

At Merryman Communications, we don’t use cookie-cutter programs because every campaign, every piece of news and every client is different. It’s important to assess the goals of the announcement when deciding the media approach and ensure that all the right pieces are in place to make it a success. While there are standard tactics that we use, there are also a variety of ways to maximize the announcement, including: 

  • Embargoes: An embargo is a requirement that an announcement not be published until a certain date and time. In some cases, it’s okay to reach out to trusted members of the media, ensure they agree to the embargo and brief them. This gives them a chance to research and craft a story for publication as soon as the embargo is lifted, such as when data is presented, a study is published or an important corporate development is finalized. 
  • Exclusives: When working with top-tier media, occasionally providing a piece of news and exclusive access to spokespeople to just one outlet first can help target a specific audience via a credible news source. The release is issued after the exclusive runs, if at all.  

Not Every Announcement Needs a Release

We find that there are many cases where a formal press release isn’t warranted to get a client’s messages out. There are often situations where a company can reach its target audience via a simple email pitch directly to media or an alert with supporting media outreach. We work with our clients to understand the goals of each announcement and – if a topic is trend-based, or a client wants to highlight a particular subject matter expert – the use of a paid or contributed (a.k.a. bylined) article may be a more effective approach.

Public relations is so much more than just its most popular (and familiar) tactic.

Why Media Outreach Is VITAL to a Successful Announcement: IRL Hot Takes

Recently, we compared the results of two similar announcements where one received media outreach support and another didn’t. The findings were not surprising to us but were definitely eye-opening to our clients. 

In this situation, two medical device clients were announcing significant successes in financing rounds. For both, we issued their releases over Business Wire.  

For Client A we issued the press release and conducted supporting media outreach, resulting in 52 articles/article pick-ups/e-newsletter inclusions/posts of the press release as a news story.  

Client B, which had raised $20 million more than client A, only issued the press release via wire distribution and declined our recommendation to provide supporting media outreach. This resulted in just 16 articles/e-newsletter inclusions/posts of the press release as a news story. 

This was a great real-life example of how supporting media outreach helped us achieve more significant coverage across business and trade publications vs. wire distribution alone. 

Customization Is Key

In a nutshell, public relations is SO much more than just its most popular (and familiar) tactic. And, when a release is used, we rarely recommend it stand on its own. We counsel our clients to use the right tactics and tools to ensure the right people are being reached at the right time via the right channel.  

A good public relations campaign is customized to effectively communicate an organization’s message to its intended audience. A good public relations partner will deliver objective and expert perspectives to provide that customization and ensure the right approach is deployed.  

Something to think about the next time your organization needs to get the word out!