Study: Big Shift in PR Pros’ Perceptions and Use of Releases

While the press release is still considered a key vehicle for delivering news to the media, PR professionals are using them for much more in the digital age, according to a new study that examines PR professionals' perceptions of press releases, and their motivations to using them as part of their communications platform.

“Press Release Tactics in a Digital Age,” a PR News/PRWeb survey fielded to nearly 600 PR professionals, finds that while 64% of respondents say that the media is their primary audience for press releases, nearly a quarter (24%) cite prospects and customers as the primary audience. (See complete survey findings.)

“From the results of this study, we see PR pros more interested than ever in moving away from traditional expectations of the press release to using them to drive traffic to their site, attract prospects and keep customers informed,” says Sophie Shiatis, vice president, Ecommerce at PRWeb.


It’s clear that pushing out releases online as opposed to the traditional release through the wire has much to do with this shift. Nearly half of the respondents (46.2%) say they use both methods to distribute news; 15% send releases through online only; and 11% use just the traditional wires.

Given that a combined 43% of respondents say that driving traffic to their site, generating leads and driving revenue are key roles of PR within their organizations, the online component of the press release takes on added importance, considering online capabilities.

Shiatis can see the online advantages of better measurement and subsequent proof of ROI as a big reason for the shift to online releases. “There have been big advances in analytics, and you can track results from online releases much better today,” says Shiatis. “This allows PR pros to actually be accountable for revenue, which wasn’t the case in the past.”

It makes sense then that the barometers for measuring the success of press releases have moved toward digital. While articles and interviews were the top criteria for measurement (16% and 14% respectively), the amount of times the release has been republished on Web sites (11%), the number of times it was viewed online (9%) and traffic to the Web site (9%) were not far behind.

This points to the modern iteration of the press release, the social media news release, which directs readers to a variety of platforms beyond the release itself. The fact that the word “press” is excluded from the term accentuates use of the release for more than just reaching the press.

With an online release, respondents say they are preparing them with digital/social media platforms in mind—the right keywords, links to the corporate site, SEO, video, etc. “To be sure, the release is becoming more of a multimedia tool, where people are now adding photos, logos, URLs, and keywords, and so it’s taking a different shape from what it was,” says Shiatis.

Whether news releases or press releases, there is some angst on the part of PR professionals as to their effectiveness, if not in the present, definitely in the past iterations.

Many believe that to get the attention of the media, it’s most effective to contact them directly. This may be particularly true as media outlets shrink and journalists have little time to be perusing through a high stack of press releases.


“I’m not sure that press releases in and of themselves were really ever that effective, and really haven’t been for awhile,” says Kipp Cheng, senior vice president for communications at the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s). “Especially in the era of social media, the news cycle has become compressed to the point where it’s much shorter and faster than ever before.”

Cheng does believe that the online press release is important, particularly in terms of SEO. “Relevance is in the eyes of the press release recipient,” he says. “Hopefully your release is highly relevant because it’s been targeted, rather than blanketed.”

While important, Cheng says the 4A’s often simply posts releases on its Web site and then spreads the word via Twitter or Facebook. “Typically, though, we don’t frame our news within a press release alone. The one-on-one interaction and follow-up is most effective,” he says.

Many PR pros strive to toe the line between traditional and online release, believing that the two can peacefully co-exist. Eric Goldman, vice president of public relations for Rx Communications Group, says his organization targets journalists with releases (albeit with carefully written pitch letters), but there is multiple targeting going on, driving by the firm’s life science and health care focus.

“We must provide relevant, timely and useful content not only for journalists, but for bloggers, investors, regulators and government officials,” Goldman says.

One thing is for sure, like the PR profession itself, press (or news) releases are in a transitional state, a fact made clear by the results of this study. “We’re realizing that journalists are no longer the only audience for a release,” says Shiatis. ”Releases can help attract new prospects and customers; it can also create online buzz. In short, organizations are using them as another marketing mechanism.” PRN


Sophie Shiatis,; Kipp Cheng,; Eric Goldman,