‘Picking Up’ a Press Release Takes on New Meaning

From the first draft to final approval, your team's goal is to create a press release that reads like AP copy. But in reality, it's unlikely a reporter would pick up a press release verbatim, right? Wrong. PR NEWS editors recently engaged in a debate with some of our journalistic colleagues about the practice of "picking up" a press release. We maintain that press releases are meant for use as a hook, encouraging journalists to conduct further reporting, or as a summary of facts allowing a journalist to create his own copy around your news. But other journalists said the quality of information in certain press releases warranted verbatim use in their publications. We turned to the PR community and other journalists for their take on the matter and discovered the practice is more extensive than we would have guessed, especially among smaller newspapers and trade publications. Plus, there's just as much debate on the merits of the practice within the PR trade as there is within the media community: "When I send out press releases to large daily newspapers or magazines with larger staffs, I know it's unlikely they will use them verbatim. On the other hand, if I send it to a smaller newspaper or publication with a small staff, there's a better chance it will get used exactly as I wrote it. "I remember once sending a story to a midsize daily newspaper and having it printed verbatim. I told my supervisor that it kind of irked me that the reporter ran the story nearly word for word, yet put their own byline on it. To me, as a former reporter, I thought that was a bit unscrupulous. My supervisor told me, 'That's about as good as it gets.' The trick is to figure out what each paper wants and cater your pitch accordingly. To send a three-page release to a daily newspaper reporter is a waste of time. A one- or two- paragraph pitch that can really whet the reporter's appetite is usually a much better approach." David Jwanier, manager of public information, Penn State/Philadelphia, dxj9@gv.psu.edu "I don't waste a lot of time crafting press releases. As a former editor and reporter, I know a press release represents a story idea to most papers. I try to make sure my releases have all the [necessary] info, but I rarely see them reproduced wholesale, which is fine with me." Rosemary Forrest, PR coordinator, University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Lab, forrest@srel.edu "I've occasionally had releases picked up verbatim and have always been pleasantly surprised when that happens. Generally, these cases have been product or personnel releases picked up by trade publications. Still, it's gratifying. It seems to me there are times when it's entirely appropriate for editors to run releases as is." Christopher Horner, team leader, The Vandiver Group, chorner@vandivergroup.com "After 20+ years in public relations, I don't expect a good reporter or editor to pick up a release verbatim. The goal of a good press release is to contain a hook good enough to entice the media to pick up the phone. When I see a verbatim release, I conclude the reporter is either young and/or lazy." Nancy Daniel, director of public relations, The Bomstein Agency, nancy@bomstein.com "As I journalist I view it as plagiarism. Journalists do a great disservice to the constituency they serve [by printing releases]. There must be some personal responsibility to not take everything distributed by a company at face value." Anthony DeRico, Editor, min's b2b (PR NEWS sister publication), aderico@pbimedia.com "I recently emailed out a press release to the book industry trade and book editors across the country about a new division that our company is launching. Two Texas dailies picked it up and ran articles or columns on it without notifying us first, meaning they used the release." Marika Flatt, national media director, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, marika@bookpros.com "It is very rare that a reporter will pick up a press release word-for-word. If they do it is usually a small trade magazine or a weekly community newspaper that can't afford to hire enough reporters for important stories. "The bigger question is: Do we want reporters to use our releases word-for-word? I say not. A press release should be a hook for a reporter to spark an idea for a story and call you back. A well-researched story will contain many viewpoints. This is the reason why PR is more strategic today. We must anticipate the response from all key audiences, including competitors, before we draft our release. "There are many people in our business not working daily with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and other larger media outlets. They are happy getting anything in the local weekly or small trade magazine. We should educate them that it is not a good thing [to have releases used verbatim]. It makes us all look bad." Mike Paul, president, MGP & Associates PR, mpaul@mgppr.com

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