Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A Reader Writes: The Death of the Press Release Won't Happen

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 3, 2007

[I recently received an email from a reader in reference to my infamous post: "Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!"]

By Harry Zane

I am retired from a career that began in journalism, turned to PR, then to marketing, and finally to consulting. And I agree wholeheartedly with what you said in your column. However, I am astonished that in 2007, PR is still slogging lower and lower into a press-release and press-conference tactical miasma.

I think the media, despite their constant carping about their dislike of press releases, are largely responsible. Many years ago, while working at a major university, I can recall a meeting of journalists and educational PR pros when the biggest complaint was that we PR folks sent out too many press releases. So we cut back, and the first complaints came only weeks later – from reporters, who couldn't understand why we were pitching stories without sending them "press releases."

I recall as well some 25 years ago working at a then major technology firm in Massachusetts when I had to fight endlessly with my peers and executives to keep the self-absorbed, self-unaware nonsense out of press releases. My "reward" was praise from the editor of the biggest industry trade journal. He really liked my releases because, as he said, they were brief and contained "no bullshit."

I took little comfort from his attaboys, however, since he ran unedited the competition's endless column inches of yammering right next to, or well above and ahead of, mine (the longer copy, rather than concise content, better fit his need for lead story layouts), creating the impression to casual readers (most trade journal readers are) that the competition had more to say than my company. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with the puffery-spouting peers and execs I'd just vanquished, either.

The reason, of course, for his actions are entirely explicable. His was a labor-intensive business, and he needed the free copy. Such is the fate of all media today: copy, no matter how untrue, uninformative, or unbecoming the author, trumps solid content.

PR people won't stop creating press releases because PR people, be they consultants, or employees will not stop serving the pleasure of their benighted bosses and clients; most media will continue to take content anywhere they can find it for little or no cost; and reader expectations for something better will continue to spiral downward with the whole sorry mess.

You are obviously a dedicated journalist with healthy amounts of skepticism and ambition. Your idea is sensible, laudable, and intelligent, but I don't see it happening. Ever.

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