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How to bring the press release into the 21st century

Tablet computer on a desk - Press Release

Charlie Kindel, a former Amazon executive and the founder of Alexa Smart Home, has refined the art and science of the news release.

In fact, Kindel has implemented the practice of having future press releases drafted as a way to help his product development teams focus on what would excite customers. Kindel is now the SVP, products and services with Control4, a home automation services provider, and he continues to see the exercise as having multiple benefits.

“The challenge brings clarity,” says Kindel. “If you think about that practice as a PR person and apply it to writing for the media, you gain both insight and understanding of what news is going to resonate with other people and just what needs to be in that press release.”

In other words, the exercise can hone a product’s key features, align stakeholders internally on messaging and ultimately put a company into the news pipe.

What needs to be in the modern press release? Supporting materials that bring it to vivid life and encourage sharing, say pros.

“Videos and animated content — graphics, images, quotes, tweet-worthy headlines ­­— are key digital assets that help get your news shared,” says Kimberly Lancaster, president and founder of Caster Communications, which has been AOR for Control4 for almost 12 years. “Today, the targets for these assets are not just the media but peer influencers who can share content in a community.”

However, Lancaster notes the multimedia content should be driven by the key narrative, not used as a gimmick.

“I have never gotten coverage in tier-one press because of an emoji or graphics in a release but because the story was good,” she underscores.

Press releases now cover the main points of what’s new, and the depth comes from supplemental content: videos, blog posts, photos and so on.

Sara Rosanova, Zeno Group

Zeno Group SVP Sarah Rosanova notes, “The press releases of yesteryear were comprehensive and pages in length.”

That is not the case anymore.

“They mirror what we see from many news outlets: multiple, shorter stories on a topic,” she says. “Press releases now cover the main points of what’s new, and the depth comes from supplemental content: videos, blog posts, photos and so on.”

That depth is necessary even in a social media age.

“[The press release] provides factually correct resources to reporters working on deadline. While a tweet may intrigue reporters, when there are significant announcements, they need more than 140 characters,” says Rosanova. “And that information is delivered through the press release, whether the journalists pull the facts from the releases themselves or the PR team uses releases to quickly respond to questions.”

While she says media is increasingly “writing for mobile consumption, and as PR pros, so are we,” Rosanova cautions against using visual language common in texts — emojis — in a headline.

“Unfortunately, what looks so fun in a text just does not look good in most email inboxes. And many of our releases are sent via email, either through pitches or reporters who receive email alerts from companies,” she points out. “So a good test for writing a headline is, how does it look as an email subject on your mobile device?”

“Where emojis do work and help with pick up are in infographics and infusing stories with fun,” says Rosanova.

As an example, she points to a program Zeno did with Goodyear that revealed drivers are more familiar with emojis than warning lights on their cars.

Jan Strandhede, media relations director at Volvo Trucks, says the automaker integrates a lot of video into news releases, such as this one meant to create awareness for a new feature: Volvo Dynamic Steering. One reason for this is newspapers and trade magazines frequently incorporate video into the news they publish on their websites.

“We use videos [for everything] from creating brand awareness to explaining the technical details of a new function,” notes Strandhede. “And we also frequently use animations.”

I have never gotten coverage in tier-one press because of an emoji or graphics in a release but because the story was good.

Kimberly Lancaster, Caster Communications

He says creating multimedia content for releases can also create additional reach through posts on social media.

“Platforms like YouTube and Facebook offer great possibilities to create engagement by using short films and animations,” he says.

“The addition of multimedia elements to the standard press release has added new life and vitality to a once-staid communication tool,” concurs Liz Anklow, EVP at DKC. “The fact that branded content and visual aids can help further tell a story and bring it to life is very helpful to brand communicators.”

In fact, the firm’s metrics show that “the more visual a communication, the better the engagement and the better it performs,” she says, especially when coupled “with a great headline that sets the tone for what is to be revealed in the release.”

“And so whenever we have a visual or a video asset, we always embed it into our storytelling.”

And like other agency pros, Anklow sees the evolution of the release as ongoing. Innovations in digital platforms and visual comms continue to provide new options for the comms tool. She cites as an example a release that combines “the white-hot podcast medium with the information vehicle of a press release to create a compelling news audio release concept.

“Rather than being left for dead, the press release is modifying some of the best arrows in the digital communications quiver to make it relevant to today’s mode of storytelling,” adds Anklow. “I see it further evolving as new and exciting platforms develop for communicating a brand’s news.”


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