Daniel Burstein

Public Relations: The best press release is no press release

November 5th, 2010

Here’s a recent question I received via email that I’d like to address right here on the blog. This is a common question, and I think there is a lot of value in the answer for anyone seeking to gain earned impressions in the media for their brand…or even their personal brand.


Congratulations on your new post handling editorial concerns for MarketingSherpa.com. Would you be so kind as to give a short primer on the best way PR folks, who represent marketing companies, can work with you moving forward? Do you like to be kept abreast with news releases and whatnot? We’ve done some work with MarketingSherpa in the past but it appears things have changed on your end and we certainly don’t want to waste your time. Thanks in advance for your help.

Best regards,

Kevin Johnson
Manger of Media Relations


Thanks for the question, Kevin. My short answer is – the best press release is no press release. Just tell me why your proposed case study or article will have value for MarketingSherpa’s 225,000 marketers specifically. You can do this by reading and understanding what we publish on MarketingSherpa, you can not do this by randomly inserting the term “MarketingSherpa” into a canned pitch. Let’s dive into this a little…

Man bites dog

At MarketingSherpa, we receive no shortage of canned pitches and press releases every day. And not to be too harsh, but much like spam, they are sorted appropriately.

Now, I’m sure working in PR is a tough job. And to be fair, I have limited experience in my career on the press-release-writing side of things, but the few times I have been involved, usually the client’s perception on the purpose of a press release was way out of whack with reality (one client didn’t even know what a press release was, just that they wanted one…no joke).

So what is a press release? Wikipedia’s description ends with the clause, “…for the purpose of announcing something claimed as having news value.” That’s right, even if you’re just making a “claim,” find the “news value.” In case you didn’t take Journalism 101, news value is “Man Bites Dog” and not “My client has an ad campaign.”

Talk to me like I’m your older brother, not your mother

Here’s the analogy I like to use. When you talk to your mother, she’s likely excited and proud about almost anything you have done. “Oh, Jimmy, you have a new ad campaign, how exciting!”

However, try the same pitch with your older brother and see how well that turns out. “Loser. You’re only in advertising because you couldn’t hack it in medicine.” To grab the attention of your older brother, you need something really newsworthy, “The ad campaign we launched six months ago increased revenue by 372% because I did these three innovative things. So I booked a charter flight to the Super Bowl. Want to come, big bro?”

Well, media people are your older brother. I could care less about your new ad campaign. But if you got real results from a client that you’re willing to share that could benefit my audience…well, that’s as valuable to me as a 50-yard-line seat to watch the Jaguars play the Giants in the next Super Bowl.

So don’t even bother with the darn press release. Just send me a personal note and tell me why your specific story should be published on MarketingSherpa. I know, I know, it’s so much easier to do a big PR blast and get picked up somewhere and get some impressions and some SEO. But if you’re looking for quality earned impressions, just send me a note…the canned pitch goes straight in the trash anyway.

In writing this blog post, I’m a little worried I’m being a too harsh on PR people. And, really, I’m trying to help. So I sent my colleague, Andrea Johnson, the above paragraph and asked her opinion. She has more than two decades or public relations experience under her career belt, so her response surprised me. She was even more emphatic than I was. To quote directly from our Skype conversation, “YES!!! Absolutely.” Here’s what else Andrea had to say about news releases…

Publicity is nothing but sales

Your target market is the editor, blogger or reporter, your product is your news. Your goal is to make it very easy for them to say “yes” to whatever you’re selling; editors simply don’t have the time to figure out why they should care, especially in a marketplace that’s absolutely flooded with thousands of news releases every day.

If you want meaningful coverage, pay attention to what they’re writing about, what they care about, and the trends they’re tracking. With that in mind, start a personal conversation about what’s in it for them if they cover your news – that could be, for instance, a fresh, juicy angle on a topic they write about a lot.

News releases make reporters work way too hard to figure out what’s in it for them, but releases can support the conversation. Instead, begin with a simple, thoughtful email referencing what they care about most and how your news perfectly addresses it. You’ll be surprised by your success, especially with B2B trade publications; editors there are absolutely starving for relevant material.

– Andrea Johnson, Editorial Manager, MECLABS Applied Research

You can write it in a letter, babe

To summarize, press releases are not helpful. What is most helpful is a personal letter letting us know why the story you’re seeking to pitch has value for the MarketingSherpa audience. One thing we are always looking for is real case studies with real numbers that we can publish.

Also, here is some boilerplate from our site that might be helpful. But, again, a personal letter as to why this specifically would be a good article for MarketingSherpa is key. Most press releases just end up in the (virtual) trash…

However, be aware that we are *not* a news organization but rather a publisher of Case Studies, benchmark data and how-to instructions.

Our researchers would love your help in identifying client-side (aka brand-side) marketing executives who would make good subjects for our Case Studies. We’ll ask them specific questions about marketing tactics they have personally used, and we’ll expect them to be able to speak to results in some meaningful way.

Yes, agencies and vendors are invited to talk about campaigns they have completed for clients, as long as some sort of results information is included, and the client can be contacted for a quote.

You don’t have to write any case studies for us – we do all our own research and writing. Just suggest folks for us to interview.

Related resources

Landing Page Optimization: Takeaways from Entrepreneurship, PR, and Social Media

How to Get 350 Positive Media Mentions for a Business Services Firm in Six Months (Members’ Library)

How to Optimize Press Releases & Get Higher Search Ranking and 75% Clickthrough Rate (Members’ Library)

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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  1. November 8th, 2010 at 11:58 | #1

    Actually, what you are saying is very interesting. We’ve done a few press releases for ourselves once in a while, but I’m feeling as if they don’t have the wow factor.

    I guess that is one of the reasons we are an internet marketing firm and not a press release firm.

    we can easily get a website to the first page of the search engines (by using PPC, SEO, Local Listings, etc), and we’ll leave the press releases to the experts.

  2. November 8th, 2010 at 14:42 | #2

    Great advice! Andrea hit the nail on the head with, “…begin with a simple, thoughtful email referencing what they care about most and how your news perfectly addresses it.” This should be a preface to the actual news release, and based on the research you’ve done by reading their blog or articles and applying that to the topic at hand.

  3. Aubrey M.
    November 8th, 2010 at 15:00 | #3

    I’m curious, what are your thoughts on the multimedia release? I’ve heard mostly good feedback from those – cut the jargon out, include relevant links (video, Facebook page with active postings from customers, photos, a quote, etc), and make it as easy as possible for someone to care.

    Is there such a thing as too much info though? Even if it’s pretty?


  4. November 9th, 2010 at 14:06 | #4

    As Tom Foremski said years ago, cut the spin and just give us the facts. He recommended a clear, tagged way of doing this — Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! Since then, they’re have been a few interesting templates released. One that I think looks pretty interesting is the Social Media Press Release put out by Shift Communications.

    So to answer your questions…I don’t think there is such a thing as too much info when presented correctly, and pretty helps.

    But the other important part is, essentially, providing a value proposition for all that info. A press release, even when executed better, is still a blunt object. As with any non-mass sales or marketing effort, you still should make that information relevant to your intended audience. In this case, taking the time to understand the media outlets you are approaching, and crafting a short, personal letter letting them know why you think this information is valuable to them specifically.

  5. Susan
    November 9th, 2010 at 14:24 | #5

    I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar every time someone alerted me about the demise of the press release.

    The target of press releases is no longer _solely_ journalists. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, it is the general public too. I agree that press releases are not the end-all be-all of media outreach. They never were. However, they are regarded as a company’s public/historic record, and anyone – media or non – needs to be able to access them when researching you.

    I deal with some top-tier media (WSJ, CNN, NYT) and for what it’s worth, I am still asked for press releases. Newsrooms are strapped right now and it’s not uncommon to see your press release printed nearly verbatim (assuming it meets journalistic standards, which it must).

  6. Andrea Johnson
    Andrea Johnson
    November 11th, 2010 at 18:21 | #6

    Hi Susan,

    I agree, news releases have their purpose. That’s great reporters are ASKING you for them. When they ask you for them, there’s already interest there – they’re sold. And if they’re asking you for the news release, it clearly isn’t the news release that did the selling. Does that make sense?

  7. Amanda
    November 13th, 2010 at 22:53 | #7

    This is a really great post! Thanks for sharing your ideas on ‘press releases’ (or the absence of). I am a public relations student right now, and have been learning how to write press releases. It was a great experience to hear it from your point of view – what kinds of things you look for, etc. I understand that a press release must stand out, but actually reading ways that I can make that happen through your post was so helpful! I especially liked what you said about writing as if you are speaking to your older brother. Thanks again!

  8. March 24th, 2011 at 17:18 | #8

    I think press releases in the world of online search are really important. The problem is that many PR people have no idea how to make them SEO friendly and pick-up is terrible. If you don’t educate your clients on how to use press releases for marketing then you waste a lot of their money.

  9. August 26th, 2011 at 03:03 | #9

    I’m having trouble getting my asbestos websites news approved by some of the press release sites.
    Its just that i don’t think we have anything newsworthy to talk about.

    What do you guys think should another medium of SEO would be more appropriate?

  10. August 26th, 2011 at 08:39 | #10

    Perth Asbestos Removal Company,
    For this response, I’ll address you formally — Mr. Company. (by the way, that’s an interesting middle name…your mother’s maiden name perhaps?)

    The very point of a press release is to disseminate newsworthy information. If you’re not doing that, then you’re just essentially spamming.

    Perhaps creating content marketing might be more effective. Although I caution, the goal of content marketing is to create actual value for your audience, not just SEO for yourself. Sure, you might trick Google in the short term. But if you rely on tactics that don’t really have value and build quality links, the ghost in the algorithm may kill your business with it’s next update.

    Here’s another idea you may not have thought of, Mr. Company. Perhaps when you comment on blog posts, don’t use your real name. Instead use your business name, and then link the commenting name back to your site. I’m sure that would generate some high-quality SEO.

  11. October 15th, 2011 at 20:22 | #11

    Here’s another idea you may not have thought of, Mr. Company. Perhaps when you comment on blog posts, don’t use your real name. Instead use your business name, and then link the commenting name back to your site. I’m sure that would generate some high-quality SEO.

    Are you taking the mickey?

  12. February 6th, 2015 at 13:50 | #12

    I realize this is an older post, but I have to say that post-Panda/Penguin news releases are really now more important than ever.

    With SEO and link-building pretty much dead in the water, their best chance an organization has of increasing their page rank, search potential, and overall clout is with good PR — including press releases.

    Mickie Kennedy

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