Press Release = Fail

by Erik Cummins on April 13, 2011

It’s a little kept secret that most PR firms have access to enormous databases listing all of the reporters and editors in the country. That’s why they can send out so many hundreds of press releases at any one time. Unfortunately, most of those emails end up in the trash. What’s worse is that by the time most press releases have gone through the editing and approval process, they have been purged of any news value. That dreaded approval process can take so long that any timeliness in the release has also long since passed.

Perhaps press releases still have some value as a formality and as content for a law firm’s website. Yet, in this go, go age of the Internet, who has time to read a two page press release?

PR professionals strive to offer value to the reporters who they work with. The more value they offer, the more likely reporters will pick up their stories and use their sources. With the value of press releases waning if not long gone, I suggest doing away with them altogether.

Several years ago, a major law firm had won a major patent infringement case on summary judgment. The good news was that the lawyers who won the case told me about it early in the morning, just as the decision had come down. Given reporters’ tight daily deadlines, that was great because it increased our chances of getting the story picked up.

I advised the attorneys that we should simply craft a two-sentence pitch explaining what had happened and then send it to all the IP and tech reporters who might be interested. Along with that pitch, we would attach the court’s decision. As I explained, “The decision speaks for itself and we can provide comments to reporters as needed.”

That’s when things started to go south. The attorneys said they would first check with the company’s in house PR team to see if we could send out the decision. After several very long hours, the in house folks agreed that we could do so, but said they needed to check with their general counsel, too. More time passed.

Finally, the GC decided the company would issue a press release. Despite our desperate urgings, a full week went by. Finally, a press release had been drafted and approved. And no one picked up the story. Can you imagine Bloomberg or Reuters covering about a week-old decision? Neither can I.

The irony is that the judgment could have been ultimately found on the court’s online database, PACER. But because there are so many district court filings across the country, few reporters have time to shift through PACER each and every day. But we could have pointed them in the right direction. Very helpful, right?

The lesson is that the day of the press release is over. There is a better way.


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