The press release is dead, long live digital PR (Column)

January 21, 2014  |  Sherrilynne Starkie  |  Comments

This story was updated Jan. 22, 2014 @ 15:10
Sherrilynne Starkie is vice-president, content marketing and social media at Thornley Fallis Communications in Ottawa. Read her blog and follow on her on Twitter @sherrilynne. This column originally appeared on Thornley Fallis’ corporate blog,

If ever there was a sign that the press release is truly and finally dead, surely it must be that the Government of Canada has retired the traditional format.

Sherrilynne Starkie

Gone forever are those dense blocks of text, overly long headlines and all that complex jargon. Instead, Canadian government communicators are using a more digital-friendly format that’s shorter, snappier and is designed for use in social channels. These new missives will be kept to two or three paragraphs of short, succinct text highlighting key messages, facts and resources.

76design, part of the Thornley Fallis Group, had a hand in developing the first social media news release almost seven years ago, so this “new” approach is long overdue. Why? Because, according to Google, up to 90% of all media consumption is now screen-based and continuing to use a format designed for paper and ink just doesn’t make sense.

The government takes its lead from Coke—probably the world’s most recognized brand. In November on its relaunched blog, “unbottled,” the company announced that for consumers, “the corporate website is dead and ‘press release PR’ is on its way out.” According to the blog post:

“We’re a communications team that’s as comfortable with data sets as editorial calendars, and we’re using a year of Coke Journey data to make our communications plans smarter.”

For Coke and the rest of us, being smarter means totally rethinking PR. It means moving away from announcements and key messages and media tours and email blast pitches. Instead, digital PR goes back to the core talents and skills of the profession: crafting compelling stories and building strong relationships.

Instead of a wordy press release, digital PR pros use engaging formats to tell a story. Video, infographics, tweets, pins and snaps are all combined to paint a picture, one brushstroke at a time.

In digital PR, practitioners are no longer overly focused on chasing journalists (although solid media relationships remain essential). Online influencers now take centre stage. That means building positive associations with those bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers who have large or loyal followings and who participate in engaged online communities.

A recent study shows that most recognized influencers are bloggers (86%) and that 81% of the online population trusts the information and advice they get from bloggers.

Successful digital PR takes the skills of a journalist, the attitude of a publisher, the expertise of a data analyst, the eye of a graphic designer and the internet savviness of an IT pro. It’s a tall order, and very few communicators have it all.

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