Press releases are the selfies of the marketing world

The press release was a document born of necessity. Nascent public relations professionals realised the best way to get ahead of the story and speculation was to distribute a short statement of the facts. And it took off.

Over time, the format has become a hyper real pastiche. Many PRs don’t think you should even create them, while many startups and marketers believe they should be cranking them out because it shows what a real company they are.

In the mean time, the language of communication has changed and the means of publishing have spread. What was once the only way to market has become just one option. And it’s amplified by its contrast to the alternatives.

In the current communications mix, the press release has become a pouting, superficial self-portrayal — often largely unwelcomed, leaving the subject disparaged behind its back. Duck-faced brands smile on obliviously, instead of thinking about what would encourage someone else to hold the camera.

Let’s dig into this further.

Context as the subject

The issue with selfies is that, by definition, they more or less render context moot. You can be standing in front of the Great Wall of China but an arms-length framing is always going to make you an artificial focal point.

By contrast, if you turn the camera around, you’re presenting your viewer with your perspective on the world around you. Taking care to turn a quick snap into an artful composition shows them something about you without you having to tell them. And it respects their time and attention. It’s also harder to hide from the fact you’ve trotted out something pedestrian, derivative or uninteresting.

Similarly, most press releases ignore the bigger picture around them. Part of this is formal — they’re not really made for it. So why not just write an announcement post that puts your news in context? Why not write a series of them? Why not record a short video about why the news matters.

See if you can do it without using the words “excited to announce”. See how short you can keep it while making your point. See what other relevant articles you can quote and link to. Maybe interview someone involved and ask good questions. Think like a journalist.

Just the facts

But this can go too far.

There’s nothing worse than trying to write up a story from a document that buries and obfuscates its facts in reams of insignificant detail. Great photos don’t come with the details on ISO rate and shutter speed hidden “Where’s Wally” style somewhere on their canvas. These details are included like metadata through standards like EXIF — or key details are included on an accompanying note in the gallery.

Keep your facts clear. Try 3 credible, quantitative bullet points. Maybe you can use each as a heading for another sentence or two that provides more context but keep it short and link elsewhere if there’s more relevant detail.

Dividing facts and context means you can still reference the former in the latter but ensures they are at a reader’s fingertips when they need them. If the facts don’t show why your story is interesting, maybe it isn’t. This exposure of the truth alone may be worth the price of entry.

Confront it — and if there’s no way to express the story without achieving this, perhaps it’s time to consider another way to publish. A short interview might be a better way to express what makes this story point matter. Or maybe you should just release the data? Or perhaps it’s worth an email to a small subset of your customers/ audience?

There is no one size fits all. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — but the facts should give you an apparatus to identify whose eyes to aim for next.

The holy grail

It’s likely the best photo of you is not a selfie. You probably aren’t looking straight at the camera. Maybe you didn’t even know they were taking a photo. You’re just doing your thing, perhaps in good company and in a place that makes you happy.

More than ever, we’re a society used to recording moments in each others’ lives. From the big days like weddings and babies, down to the mundane but shared ground of daily life, there’s something inherently social about these snaps.

The best marketing today is similar. Showing up on communities like Reddit or being submitted naturally to a site like Product Hunt shows something significant about you. Someone writing about you because you’re worth talking about is them capturing a natural moment in your company’s life.

You’re not always going to enjoy it. You have to accept that sometimes it’s going to be unflattering. But if your company can’t stand the scrutiny of your audience exposing you from every angle, or nobody is talking about you at all, it’s better that you know.

No amount of selfie sticks, ‘beauty’ filters or orbiting drones are going to hide the fact you are holded up, alone in your room taking these snaps. It’s time to ignore these distractions and turn the lens on the world around you. If you make it the subject, you’ll be surprised how quickly it may return the interest in you.