So, to quickly recap yesterday’s post, the press release did not die, but was also not resuscitated by a new social media version. It remains an undead communication tool that its original target – journalists – has no interest in receiving via a typical wire distribution.
But, there is someone who loves the zombie press release – marketing.
Before I get into why they still desire it, I want to take a look at what has historically differentiated marketing from public relations.
Blurred Lines Between Marketing and Public Relations
Whether it has to do with writing styles or social media responsibilities, marketing and public relations have often butted heads. In some organizations, they are separate departments, while in others one falls under the other. Historically, they do have differences.
Public relations as we know it today traces its origin back Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays, although its roots go back even deeper into military propaganda. But, it is all about communicating to publics – the members of the public may or may not be potential customers of the company for which public relations professionals work. In my current public relations role, I like to describe what I do as a liaison. My company has a story they want to tell, so I build relationships with people who can hopefully help me tell it. And, those people often have their own stories to tell, so I help get them the information they need from my company to help tell it.
Marketing is defined by Merriam-Webster as “1 – a: the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market, b: the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” So, the main difference is that marketing communications is intended to sell a product, while PR-led communications may or may not. The other big difference I’ve encountered working both sides is that marketing most often means spending money for placement. That could be placement in a snail mail box, an email inbox, on a web site, in a print publication, on a broadcast channel or in social media.
While the two have often clashed over lines of responsibility that occasionally blur, social media has only served to make it worse. Should PR and Marketing be lumped together? Or should they be treated as separate endeavors? That question was put to Kent State University PR professors Bill Sledzik and Dr. Bob Batchelor and their answers are well worth the six minutes to watch:
Back to the more specific topic of the press release, though, and how Marketing and PR often clash over it. While not limited in supply like Elaine’s contraception, the most common disagreement I’ve experienced centers around whether something is “press release worthy” or not. PR professionals worry that too many releases simply become noise to be ignored and that scarcity will create more interest when they do distribute one (although the journalist survey noted in yesterday’s post would seem to make that argument moot).
Marketing looks at every release as an opportunity to get the word out about their company’s products and services, and in this online-always age where news aggregator sites suck up any and all release that cross the wire, they’re right. The release is no longer restricted to a media audience that then chooses what they feel will be of interest to their readers. It’s now in almost every potential customers view when they visit their Google or Yahoo! homepage or their favorite news web site.
And then there are the search engines! Now every press release must be search-engine optimized so that it will surface if someone is researching your company, product or service. That someone might be a journalist or blogger, so this becomes not only a marketing need, but also a public relations need. The smaller the company, the more important this becomes, too.
While having one of those “news release worthy” discussions not too long ago, someone made the case for a release for SEO purposes, and I countered with a question about Google’s Penguin update and its penalties for duplicate content. Wouldn’t a press release on the wire that shows up on hundreds of web sites word-for-word actually work against us under the update?
It turns out, as best I could find, the answer is no. (My attempt at playing an SEO card thus reminding me the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) Even though BusinessWire came out with a “Penguin-proof Your Press Release” webinar, Google itself explains that:
“Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.”
Since Google knows that news aggregator sites have a legitimate purpose to pulling in press releases, they’re not going to be seen as using the duplicate content to deceive the search engine. So, press releases can remain a way to create that content that is ever more important for marketing today.
Thus, a release becomes yet another piece of marketing collateral. It’s something that sales representatives can point customers to, although whether or not it still carries third-party validation in their eyes when it shows up on MarketWatch or not is another debate for another post.
Blog Post as Alternate to Press Release
But, if the goal of marketing professionals is to create content through press releases, increase SEO and give sales teams collateral, why not simply turn to blogging and keep that wire distribution noise to a lower level?
This past summer, I compared two announcements my group made near the same time – one as a press release and one as a blog post. In my opinion, they were about equal on the “press release worthy” scale. What I found was that the press release garnered four unique articles, while the blog post received nine unique placements. Granted three of the nine were in the UK, where there was additional outreach via a “media alert” email to key media, but still, a blog post was obviously just as – if not more – effective than a press release.
But, is it good for a blog to be the equivalent of a press release? I’ll save that for the next post, along with my final thoughts on the subject of the press release.