“For Immediate Release”
We send out press releases at Wark Communications. Of late, many of them and for various clients. I don’t like press releases very much mainly because they are 1) impersonal and 2) even when the list of those folks you are sending them too is well vetted and well developed over time, it still feels like using a shotgun to blast a whole in the door when a simple knock will do.
But to this feeling I have to add that I really do enjoy writing them if only for the challenge of having to accomplish so much with them. For example, I need to satisfy the client who themselves often must see that various people and entities are included in a press release if only to cover their political bases.
In writing the release I have to be conscious of the fact that no matter how compelling the or interesting the content, many folks will never get past the first paragraph. That puts a lot of pressure on that first paragraph and the headline.
The press release, as an information piece and stylistically, lies somewhere between the used care salesman shouting in your ear over the TV and the sober "just the facts" reporting of the daily paper’s business section. That’s not an easy balance to achieve. So I do enjoy that challenge too.
Then of course there is the challenge of writing a press release that needs, to the extent it can, to draw the eye of a variety of reporters, writers, and bloggers who while they all clearly have some interest in the wine media also have a different audience of general approach to writing about wine. If you can’t do this with a single press release, then you need to write two, possibly three release on the same subject that will appeal to different types of wine journalists. Or, in lieu of that, you need to find a nifty justification that you can use to convince yourself that this single press release will appeal to everyone.
After more than 17 years of writing, reading and editing and receiving press releases I have a decent idea of what kind of subject matter will really get attention. But in all honestly, it’s only "a decent idea". For example, a couple days ago I helped write and released a press release about a lawsuit that a winery had won here in California. It was an obscure lawsuit that in effect staved off the creation of a defacto "franchise law" here in California. I used BusinessWire to distribute the press release electronically as well as sent it to a small, but specific set of wine writers that tend to be interested in industry news.
Later in day, after it was released, I get a call from my account manager at BusinessWire who tells me that this release was the third most most read and most accessed and read release sent that day. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. Hundreds of releases are sent over the wires by BusinessWire daily and only two were accessed and read more often than this one about an obscure California lawsuit. This just goes to show that even when I do my job well, I’m not always clear why it was done well. Just writing the previous sentence and looking at it gives me the willies. But it also indicates that the
art craft of the press release just might be an example of abstract art, rather than realism.
I worry too about the reputation of the press release. In fact, I worry about writers having this feeling about press releases:
"Inherent in the press releases is an assumption that a writer can be
enticed not only into tasting the wines, maybe also into visiting the
winery, and possibly into blithely believing in what the release says.
The intent is to get the writer to write about the winery, favorably of
course. I know that press releases are supposed to perform the function of
promotion and to impart information—I know it because in the past I’ve
gotten paid to write them. But that did not stop me from feeling
insulted by the press releases coming my way.
I’ve even had unsolicited wine sent to me. I cannot imagine how to explain having written a tasting
note that agrees with a press release concerning a free bottle that I
had received, even if I knew that I hadn’t cheated—to me, the
perception of a conflict of interest is damning enough."
These are Thomas Pellechia’s words, a write, teacher and blogger at Vino Fictions who I read religiously because he thinks so well and communicates his thoughts even better. Thomas has very, very little respect for the press release. Though I think Thomas’ view of function and usefulness of the press releases is tied of too closely to his own concern for his integrity, I do think his general view on what the press release is and can be, I also think his view of the press release is not too uncommon.
So, I thought I’d lay out exactly what I think the press release is and what I think it can do, at least from the perspective of a wine publicist.
1. The press release is a way of saying the same thing to many people at once.
2. It can be influential, informational or simply promotional. (most are the latter)
3. The press release needs to be intrusive in order to be effective. People need to see it.
4. The press release should give the recipient pause and force them to reflect…if only momentarily,
5. A press release MUST further a larger goal of the issuer of the release.
6. A press release should have a point of view, otherwise it’s a probably a bad news story.
7. At its most tactical, a press release can counter the developing conventional wisdom.
8. Usually, the most you can hope for with a press release is to keep the the issuer on the media’s radar.
9. Often times, a press release is used only to satisfy an organization’s internal political needs.
10. The best press release inspire the reader to do something.