Search Releases: Not Just for Audiences, but Journalists, Too

Earlier I wrote about James Clark’s “search release” concept. (See: Rethinking Releases: Who’s Your Audience?)

Over at the British PR blog Mediations, Philip Young respectfully disagreed with some of my points. Well, I expected that, lots of PR practitioners disagree with my perspective on the press release issue.

We had a brief exchange in the comments of his blog, where he made some good points. In a nutshell, he contends that traditional press releases are still useful, especially in the UK, because many (perhaps most) people get their news from mainstream media (that is, via journalists) than searching for it. Therefore, search releases wouldn’t help PR people reach these audiences directly.

That is worth considering. With any communication, it’s important to clarify your goals and know your audience. Given that, here’s why I still think search releases offer generally more merit than traditional press releases…

First of all, serendipity is a key benefit of search releases. The point is that people will be searching for what interests them, so if you optimize your message as a search release (or even better, just an announcement article that’s not formatted like a traditional release), your announcement will appear high in their search results. In other words, they’ll find you even if they’re not looking for you, as long as you’re relevant to what they want.

Also: EVEN IF your target audience doesn’t use the net much, journalists do. It’s important to consider how journalists are finding leads and selecting stories to cover these days.

Nearly every journalist I speak to these days ignores most press releases wholesale. They receive far too many of them, and since most of them are dull and irrelevant they don’t even bother sorting through them to find the occasional useful one.

Also, even the most Luddite journalists know how to use Google. Trust me, that’s where a lot of journalists (perhaps most) are finding good leads these days.

Unless you’re dealing with some journalists who don’t have internet access, or who hate the net, or who are working for very small rural or community news outlets – a search release will get you farther. OK, you can still fax or mail the search release directly to the journalist if you like in addition to posting it online, but don’t ignore the value of posting it directly and getting it into the major search engines and feed aggregation services.

Furthermore, in my view the inherent stodginess and inauthenticity of the traditional press release format generally doesn’t serve journalists’ needs. So if you’re going to send a journalist information, a press release probably isn’t going to get you far. Try a simple fact sheet instead, and take a moment to highlight truly relevant, newsworthy angles to your announcement right up top. Don’t get lost in a sheaf of press releases that’s bound to get binned anyway.

If you know some particular journalists who will not use search engines even under threat of dismemberment, then fax them your search release or just call them.

Why not kill all the major birds with one stone? I see no reason to settle for bagging a pigeon with a slingshot, keeping your gun holstered, and then saying “No one really likes turkey, anyway.”

…Again, that’s just my perspective. I may be wrong – either generally, or my views may not apply in certain circumstances. However, I do feel pretty strongly about this.

I’m not a PR professional and I don’t plan on becoming one, but I would dearly like to see journalists and PR people working together more constructively. I do think that’s possible, and I think getting over the counterproductive press release fixation is a key hurdle along that higher road.

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