The press release is dead. Long live the press release.
Dalhousie University made the announcement on Tuesday that it is banishing the conventional press release from its media relations strategy, arguing that communications have evolved. The message was somewhat diminished, however, by the fact that the announcement itself arrived via press release.
“[Newswire service] CNW will show you that Fortune 500 technology companies, the very companies that have accelerated the evolution of communications, are still drafting and distributing predictable content,” the Dalhousie statement said.
A key facet of any marketing strategy is “earned media” – that is, the sort of free advertising that comes with the publicity of press coverage. This is often courted through press releases, but companies struggle with how often – and how quickly – these can end up in e-mail trash bins.
In this sense, Dalhousie’s senior adviser for media, Charles Crosby, has launched an interesting strategy. Called “MediaNext,” it aims to find a new way to communicate the university’s news.
The “media spotlights” the university has introduced are essentially bullet-point versions of the same, with only pertinent facts, quotes and images that can be downloaded to accompany press stories.
The new format does not, however, change the basic nature of the press release: pre-packaged quotes and information delivered scattershot to media professionals with the hope of exposure for the business and its brand.
And the public relations team did not appear to see the irony of outlining this new strategy, which rejects the “lead + quote + description + boiler plate” structure of press releases, in a press release that includes three of those four elements.
Furthermore, the news in the release was not actually news. In response to a question about the release, Mr. Crosby specified that the new strategy sent out on Tuesday began two years ago. The bullet-pointed releases are only one part of it, which helpfully tones down the frequency of such media alerts.
"It's also a case of sending out far fewer "heads' up" about the always-fascinating goings on at Dal, prioritizing what we share and how often we share it," he said. The strategy is a response to nearly a year of work gathering suggestions for how to change the media strategy by speaking with reporters.
Mr. Crosby's colleague sent Tuesday's communique to promote the overall strategy. He says it was not a release, but it was sent to a wide e-mail list including press and featuring contact information for Dalhousie spokespeople. He acknowledges it has "a 'release-like' feel." Mr. Crosby noted that this year its media mentions have doubled compared to two years ago.
The initial announcement about Dalhousie's change in media relations strategy two years ago was also made via press release.