media update’s David Jenkin gathered some different viewpoints on the matter.

Dead or dying – Jay Badza, business director at DNA Brand Architects

The topic was raised recently in the context of a panel discussion on influencer marketing at the CliffCentral studios in Johannesburg, organised by Jumpstart. During the debate, Badza said the press release was dead, or at least dying, and PR agencies need to think beyond it. The problem, he said, is that marketing departments, in many cases, have not evolved.

“You’ll find that the marketing director who is the big decision-maker has been with that company for 25 years and they believe things should be done in a certain way,” he explained. “They’re not open to new ideas or to trying new things, they are stuck in a specific zone. Trying to migrate them is often really hard.”

He continued that agencies often end up providing the client with a press release as a compromise in order to keep the relationship amicable. He was challenged by a member of the audience who claimed that for trade publications, the press release is still vital, and for niche industries it remains the first choice as a way to impart information to the wider market.

Badza responded that, ultimately, if the content going into those trade publications is not engaging or interesting enough for the clients that are reading it, it defeats the purpose. “You need to be the Vogue of trade publications,” he said, “how do you create cool, engaging content that works for that market?”

Not entirely dead – Tracy Jones, MD of Positive Dialogue Communications

Jones, however, doesn’t believe that the press release is entirely dead, but it has fallen down the list of PR mechanics for delivering campaign messages.

“The swift evolution of the media landscape, social media channels and how people consume news, information, and entertainment has created new visibility opportunities for brands and, subsequently, placed new demands and challenges on PRs,” she says. “In order to not become obsolete, by still doing ‘traditional’ PR media relations, agencies need to be solutions-focused in finding ways to create, deliver, and measure the results and value they provide clients.”

With the rise of digital PR, she continues, it’s now possible to engage directly with client target audiences via social media, podcasts, webinars, online coverage, and video, as opposed to being solely reliant on a journalist to publish the content of a press release in order to generate client results.

“Now, more than ever, PR’s need to define exactly what message the client needs to communicate, to what audience, and what that measurable success looks like, and then implement the best method of communication to reach them.”

The press release may well accomplish that for some clients in certain industries, she says, but PRs that default to only the traditional press release run the risk of being outdated.

Very much alive – Nalene de Klerk, media and research liaison at Reputation Matters

De Klerk states unequivocally that the press release is not dead.

She says, “In research done with over 200 journalists in late 2015, in conjunction with our ECCO partners in 40 different countries across the globe, Reputation Matters queried the relevance of certain information channels. The result: the importance of press releases has not changed. What had changed was that the media’s opinion of the importance of personal contacts and one-to-one talks had increased considerably.”

It shows that, as always, media relations practitioners need to nurture healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with the media, she explains. It’s especially important to build authentic, individual relationships with key media, and each practitioner will have their own unique way of doing that, whether through press releases, phone calls, or social media. Providing the journalist with information in a way that is convenient and nurturing, the relationship requires a true understanding of what the journalist needs.  

“The danger of using one communication channel, rather than the other, comes when we place such a focus on the channel that we neglect the relationship. In this instance, we risk simply finding new and innovative ways of annoying journalists,” she says.

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Maintaining positive relations with media is vital for effective public relations. Read more in our article, Working with journalists – some tips for the PR pro.