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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why nobody should read a press release ever again

Just now I got an email from a junior at a PR company. He'd obviously been given the job of double-checking their email database. His email enquired, with a baldness that must have been unintentional, "is this the right address or do you just ignore everything that's sent to you?" I have so far resisted replying to him and saying that the answer to both questions is yes. Every day I get 50 emails from PRs that go straight into the trash unread. This is not just because I'm a cynical old hack. Anything that is addressed to me specifically and contains some piece of information that's of interest to me, and not just anybody, I read. The rest get a scan of a subject line and then I pull the lever.

It wasn't always thus. When press releases arrived on paper they were actually read before being thrown away. They were sent to media outlets in the hope that these media outlets would choose to publish their contents. Media outlets read them because they often contained interesting information. When they began arriving on email two things changed: 1) They were distributed far and wide with no thought of cost; 2) their contents were no longer of any interest to the media outlets to whom they were addressed. Press releases used to have a relevance because they meant that for a while the media knew something that not everybody else did. That is no longer the case. At the precise instant that the PR tells me The Flaming Lips are going to release a new record then that same information is going to be available to, at the very least, the guy who runs the Flaming Lips fan site, for whom it's the most important announcement since the Armistice. All the people who care most about this news will know it already. When you send out any piece of information on email you are effectively publishing it. You're putting it on your corporate website, for instance, where people who are interested will find it. You're putting it in a place where people can pull it towards them. Why should you expect a media organisation to fulfil their old role of pushing it towards people? If the media are interested in that information they will link to it. If they're not they'll ignore it. So why is anyone still bombarding me - and thousands of other people - with this information? Could that be because a client's paying them to? And the money that they're paying the PR with, is that the money those same clients previously spent on advertising?