“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.

16 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - October 25, 2007

    Very interesting post. As someone who receives thousands of press releases a year (not just about wine and wine issues), I have given some thought to the craft (we won’t say art) of the press release. To me, the most important job of a press release is to convey information, and I mean ALL the information that the person receiving it will need. It’s amazing to me the number of press releases I get from wineries or their publicity arms that don’t include the suggested retail price of the wines or that omit (in this age!) a website or even email address for the winery or individual sending the release. Every omission of necessary facts and information makes it more likely that I will throw away or delete that press release. And please, you writers of press releases, don’t tell me, for the thousandth time, that your wine will “awaken my every sense.”

  2. TrevR - October 25, 2007

    Interesting post Tom. As a fellow PR professional, I’d be interested in hearing your take on Tom Foremski’s (a former journalist, turned blogger) notion that the press release must radically transform to be more social media friendly (and therefore more useful to various audiences), or die. Read all about it here: http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2006/02/die_press_relea.php

  3. Tom Wark - October 25, 2007

    Tom F. is suggesting that the press release become a full member of the digital community. That makes lots of sense to me. However, he’s not really suggesting, I don’t think, that its role change.

  4. Jeff - October 25, 2007

    Ah, so you wrote that press release. It was pretty good, but I would have expected that if I knew the author ahead of time.
    I would have to say that Thomas P.’s view on press releases hews to a moral compass wound so tight that most people can’t comprehend his perspective. Heck, half of every newspaper and magazine is warmed over press releases. That’s how journalism gets done, especially these days when editorial budgets are the first thing slashed if the ad budget isn’t at expectation.
    Interesting post with multiple thoughts. I think press releases, good ones, are valuable for everybody involved.

  5. Steve - October 25, 2007

    Here’s my 2 cents. As someone who gets an awful lot of press releases, most of them go straight into the recycling bin. They’re very uncreative and uninspired. Too many are along the lines of “Tom and Mary Smith [the owners] have a really great story to tell, and their dog, Poochie, is sooo cute!” I mean, gimme a break! I also wonder about these fancy, 4-color process press releases that are thick as a book and contain photos, histories, blah blah. Finally, the worst press release [in my opinion] is one sent to a critic with a photocopy of another critic’s review of the wine!!! It doesn’t insult me so much as wonder about the sender’s intelligence. I think it’s much better for a PR person to form personal relationships with particular writers, then call them up and pitch. Nothing like 1 on 1 conversation, even if it does take more time.

  6. Tom Wark - October 25, 2007

    Damn, Steve.
    There goes my “How cute dogs will help change the wine shipping regulations problem” pitch.

  7. Thomas - October 26, 2007

    Thanks for the kind words.
    Re, the press release issue: the quote you put up is of course within the context of my rambling on about why I don’t post tasting notes online anymore.
    The point being, as you correctly picked up, that my sense of integrity makes me wonder about the influence freebies and press releases might have on me (or any writer whose involved in not reporting facts, but writing about subjectivity–taste).
    To be sure, when I wrote those press release comments I had three particular writers in mind.
    One of them probably never has to buy his daily bottle of wine; from his apartment he awaits deliveries of free bottles and then he tells the public which ones he thinks are worth their price.
    A second writer once bluntly said to me that he would write about any wine or food business that paid for his trip and fed him–and I met another writer like that once while traveling in Italy.
    Finally, I know a writer whom I had helped segue into the wine business. He used his position to secure a writing gig that allows him to accept free trips around the world. One is left to wonder if the trips will stop after the first negative comment or if there ever will be a negative comment at all?
    My point to my blog readers is that we should not think that tasting notes are anything much more than a personal, subjective assessment. We should also approach tasting notes knowing that potential motives may drive them. Many people post tasting notes online without revealing their connection to the winery or a wine distributor.
    Again, the press release comments were made within the above context, and likely they are too far from that context, which was primarily, why should anyone care about what I think tastes good?
    To pick up on what someone else says above, I agree that some of the press releases I receive from wineries or their PR agencies are useless. When I started up my wine column in a newspaper here in the Finger Lakes I sent an email to all local wineries asking them to please keep me informed about any innovations, new work, or new ideas they are enacting or exploring. What have I gotten in return? Press releases about the latest special event being hosted for tourists, etc.
    I do not want to be used as a free source of advertising. I want to impart information. But they want to promote–always.

  8. Thomas - October 26, 2007

    why does my post say it is posted by Tom Wark?
    Thomas Pelelchia

  9. Tom Wark - October 26, 2007

    Thanks for the comments and clarifications. The name of the commenter appears below the comment. I know…looks strange.

  10. Thomas - October 26, 2007

    Oh, I see it–does look strange.

  11. Steve - October 27, 2007

    Tom, I am def interested in your dog-shipping pitch. Reach out to me fella.

  12. Ron - October 30, 2007

    Great blog…Of course you already know that. Funny what peaks your intrest….its usually something you are interested in, same reason I guess the first person you look for in a photo is …you. We are close to a press relaese, now that we have hit 3 months online. A press release without any one coming to your site though, is like shooting in the dark. Your blog was extremly helpful and one of the best We have read. And yes we will glean as much information from your blog as possible. Great thing about this industry is that there already so many great trail blazer who have gone before us. So much to learn and every blogger has his own spin on things….Again great blog. We are really going to have to put our heads together to write a well thought out press release.

  13. fredric koeppel - November 8, 2007

    I went to Thomas’ blog and read the article, which I found well-written, thoughtful and mainly wrong-headed, and I would have responded there (having lots to say) but just to leave a comment on his blog requires registration and a log-in, which I find quite unfriendly to the community of wine bloggers. Blogs should be open forums (as Fermentation is and mine is and many others); by putting up barriers you might as well say, “Don’t bother responding.”

  14. Ganz Teddy Bears - May 26, 2008

    The following article is the official press release from Tesla Motors.

  15. promiserings - May 28, 2008

    !!! Anything Posted, weather its Text or Pictures is Copyright on my Webpage. If you do Sneak away with a Picture of mine and I find out, you will get in Trouble. These things are just to See and Read Only! Copyright is aginst the law, So now that this up; my Blog will Remain a Copyright Free place! Please be Creative and Design your Own Unique Ideas! Club Penguin Fun Zone 2008- 2009 All Rights Reserved!!!

  16. craigs list and new york - May 28, 2008

    Dattebayo Press Release Thursday, 20. March 2008, 17: 02:

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