Wendy Alpine discusses how the press release should be used in today's digital age.Most people associate press releases with public relations. For years, the press release has been the most widely used tool that PR professionals have used to get their client’s message across in a timely and organized way. But is the press release no longer relevant?

I don’t think so, but in this day and age of fast-paced reporting, the quality and length of the press release is more important than ever. Recently, I attended a media panel hosted by the Public Relations Society of America/Georgia Chapter that included reporters and representatives from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, whatnowatlanta.com, the Weather Channel and the Associated Press.
Some of the takeaways included:

Know the reporter’s beat. This sounds like a given for most experienced PR people, but the panelists said they still receive press releases that have nothing to do with what they cover. This really gets them ticked off and is the fastest way to get your press release deleted. And it’s unnecessary, since in today’s social media world, a reporter’s stories can be researched via Google, Twitter, Facebook and their media outlet.

Write a press release like a tweet, in 140 characters or less. This came from Jennifer Brett @AJCBuzz who reports, blogs and tweets about celebrities in Atlanta. “Your pitch and my eyeballs have three seconds together,” she admonished. “If you don’t hit me between the eyes at that time, your press release winds up (jettisoned) like flotsam and jetsam.”  Laser-focus your pitches, she advised, making them timely, relevant and useful. The press release is not a destination, she said, but a conduit to getting more information.

Think like a reporter.  Ask yourself these questions: What’s the story? Is it something new or part of a trend? Why is it relevant? And, when sending information, include pertinent facts, says @DuaneStanford, food & beverage writer, Bloomberg BusinessWeek. If you send a story about real estate, include the property address, square footage, the architect, and a photo of the rendering. Of course, this all sounds like a no brainer, but they said a lot of PR people don’t include that kind of information.

Stanford also cautions against “photo is available upon request.”  If you have an image available, send it with the email, using YouSendIt, Dropbox, or an embedded code.  If you send the image, the story is more likely to get printed than if you don’t.

Think digital.  Reporters are not only writing, they’re snapping pictures, taking video, Facebooking and tweeting. Jennifer talked about a service that can tell her where people are tweeting from, even the street location. That’s how she learned about a woman who had tweeted a photo of President Obama when he stopped off for lunch at the Varsity in Atlanta. She asked the woman if she could use the photo and later tweeted about it. The woman also took video, which wound up on Atlanta’s WSB-TV (the AJC’s broadcast cousin) and later as a print story.

Finding sources. Reporters use Google, so that’s a good reason to make sure your releases are optimized with keywords and links. The panel also mentioned that they use LinkedIn as a sourcing tool, so make sure that your company executive or spokesperson has an updated LinkedIn profile.

Help the Reporter Out.   If you are out and you see a restaurant closing, tweet Caleb J. Spivak @WhatNowAtlanta, who blogs about restaurants and real estate development in Atlanta. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have, if you send them useful news, they will take it.

In my opinion, the press release isn’t dead, but it has to be concise, impactful, and targeted to the right reporter. One PR colleague likened the press release to a mannequin: The more you dress it up with useful information, the more likely the reporter will buy it.

What do you think about the press release? Do you still use it in your media pitches?