Mark Twain: Dead. Press Releases: Alive.

“Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated.” — quote attributed to Mark Twain

“I never actually said that.” — quote I just attributed to the ghost of Mark Twain.

So I was going to write a quick piece about the rumors of the demise of the press release being greatly exaggerated, and lead off with the classic Mark Twain quote. But he never said that — apparently he actually wrote: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

OK, end history lesson. Except for this: Ivy Lee invented the press release, Edward Bernays improved upon it, and here we are today.


The days of the press release as the only means to distribute information to the media are faded, like reporters who wear hats with “press” in the bands.

But in the changing media landscape, press releases remain vital, for a handful of reasons (beyond their utility as one means to disclose information for public companies):

  1. It makes an announcement “news” — gives it a dateline, and a reason that an event goes from being “evergreen” to “happening today at 9 a.m. EDT.”
  2. PR is a lot like a game of “telephone” — by the time your story gets passed from internal marketing to PR to reporter to editor, it’s likely evolved, and not always for the best. A press release serves as a tool (sometimes the only one) to capture your company’s message exactly — and becomes a useful tool for reporters’ reference if they need to follow up and get something exactly right.
  3. A steady drumbeat of news — and judicious use of “exclusives” with key reporters — illustrates momentum.

caveats_1A few caveats:

  1. Not all “news” is “press release”-worthy. Sometimes it works better as a pitch — maybe an interesting data point that a handful of trades would find interesting. Sometimes it’s interesting to you, and one or two engineers at your company. That’s not a press release.
  2. Not all press releases are “news.” Some may not get coverage beyond the release distribution and syndication that goes with it.
  3. Not all press releases need to be distributed over a wire — sometimes it’s OK to simply post it to your website, or hand to a salesperson to use as a piece of potential collateral. Your PR team may decide to pitch something to a single reporter, and the presence of a release may give the appearance of “newsworthiness.”
  4. A release should never be longer than two pages — use the classic “inverted pyramid” of clever headline, what the news is and why it matters, a quote from the relevant parties (and please, don’t use the dreaded/fake phrase “We’re pleased to …”), boilerplate, contact information. Shoot for 400 words or less — beyond that, wire charges increase.
News Pyramid
In case you didn’t go to journalism school

While Bernays, Lee, Twain and (thank God) the 2010-era and dreadful Press Release 2.0 are all dead, press releases are very much alive.




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