If you’ve ever had the feeling that reporters weren’t reading your press releases, a new study by the communications firm Greentarget will likely confirm your suspicions. The study of 100 reporters and editors across the country found that 69 percent of journalists spend less than 60 seconds reading the news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.
And for an even bigger reality check—based on my own conversations with journalists about the usefulness of press releases and the level of response I’ve received to news releases I’ve distributed—I thought their figure was low.
The truth is press releases just aren’t as effective as they once were. That doesn’t mean reporters aren’t interested in your stories; and it doesn’t mean they aren’t receptive to ideas from your institutions. The opposite may actually be true. With today’s fast-paced newsrooms, journalists are under more pressures than ever, often juggling multiple daily deadlines for print, video and online content. They need a constant stream of story ideas, but the key is in how those ideas are delivered. And press releases, which tend to be long and don’t take into account the nuances of particular journalists or outlets, just don’t cut it anymore. And they haven’t for quite some time.
Don’t get me wrong, press releases aren’t dead. But their usefulness isn’t in getting media coverage. These days they best serve institutions by acting as an archive for major institutional announcements. (The emphasis here is on “major.” Think announcing a new president, versus inviting people to attend an academic lecture.)
If your goal is to get your university featured by the media, your outreach will need to be more strategic. Brevity and hard facts are key, and lend themselves best to a well-crafted pitch. Beyond that, pitches can better address individual reporter’s needs and interests.
Late last year Coca-Cola announced they’d be doing away with press releases completely by the year 2015. While their situation doesn’t translate closely to higher education, many institutions find that by cutting back on the volume of press releases they send and focusing their efforts on fewer highly targeted pitches based on major organizational priorities, they actually garner much more meaningful results. This was certainly the case when I worked on a campus.
Unlike Coke, academia is not ready to kill the press release altogether, and I’m not arguing that it should. But as the Greentarget study points out, there are compelling reasons to consider putting it on life support, and that, I have learned from experience, is good media relations.