Are press releases relevant in a world of social media conversations?

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Public relations (PR) is as relevant as ever. Getting good coverage for your company or organization can be key in generating new leads and strengthening brand awareness.

But is PR the same thing today as it was five years ago? What I mean is, to achieve the goals of PR, does that still involve traditional activities like press releases?

On the one hand, I can’t believe that companies would continue to invest so much in traditional PR activities if it is irrelevant. They must be seeing results if they continue to pour their marketing dollars into the PR pit.

On the other hand, many of us know that big-monster companies are kind of like the Titanic: they can’t redirect the ship quickly, even if they see an iceberg ahead. They may continue to do certain things just because they’ve been doing it like that for so many years, and because changing it would mean going through 3000 committees and getting board approval.

ON THE OTHER HAND (I feel like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof), many marketing experts still recommend press releases, especially online press release services, as an integral part of a company’s marketing efforts. I just watched this webinar titled Using Your News to Drive SEO from PR Web with Lee Odden from Toprank Online Marketing. Odden’s point is that press releases can play an important role in a company’s SEO (search engine optimization), helping  your site and/or landing page rank high in search engine results for select keywords. He says that most journalists do not look at press releases as a source for new stories; rather, they decide that they want to write a story and do a search on Google etc. to try to find relevant experts and companies to use for the story. And since that’s the case, you want to make sure your company appears high in the rankings when they search so that they will contact you and hopefully create an ongoing relationship with you as a credible source for future stories.

Are press releases the best investment for search engine optimization?

BUT! (Aside: in elementary school we had a non-native English speaking substitute teacher who would say things like “But! I have a big but!” You can imagine that he didn’t last long with us hoodlums.) If the entire goal is to improve SEO results and help journalists find you, maybe press releases aren’t the best place to investing your SEO efforts. I mean, if the goal is SEO, maybe you should be working to improve your rankings in other ways. Basically, the question is if press releases are the best use of our company resources if the ultimate goal is SEO?

Gary Vaynerchuk says you need to be real like a fat-ass Italian uncle

Gary Vaynerchuk, in his entertainingly persuasive manner, says that press releases are obsolete. He says “press releases are ludicrous in this world…nobody gives a crap.” It’s all about storytelling, not cold- minded press releases. “Make it authentic, care, don’t BS…and you have a business.”

My opinion: press releases are relevant if adopted to today’s social world

So what’s the answer? Well, since nothing in this world is black or white, here’s my take on press releases in today’s world of conversation and authenticity:

Today, PR is about getting found on the web. Press releases do still have a place in PR and SEO: using one of the leading online press release distribution services can really help boost your site’s rankings in the search engines thanks to their incredible clout and spread. However, companies should maybe try to wrap their big-monster heads around a new type of press release: press releases that are more like blog posts, i.e. they contain informative, useful authentic information that people actually want to read, rather than dry corporate-speak content like “Widgets Inc. has added a new service that they project will change the world.” I mean, put yourself in the journalist’s shoes: would you care about your new world-changing service if you weren’t you? I doubt it.

These “press releases” should also appear on your site, or even better your corporate blog/newsroom, so that you increase the chances that they will be found on your site in searches as well. And of course don’t forget to link to your site’s new content via twitter, facebook, etc.

In short: don’t ignore press releases yet. But use them in a way that suits 2009. Understand that PR now includes a wide variety of online activity, including being active on the social networks. Press releases are just one component of your online marketing efforts to help journalists and bloggers find you and perceive you as a credible expert that they want to use for their next story on your industry.

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