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The first thing most people associate with Public Relations is often a press release. And that is no surprise. After all, press releases have been the most widely used tactic that PR professionals have employed in order to get their client’s message across in a timely and organized fashion.

But has the effectiveness of the press release come to an end?

In 2006 the press release celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The first press release? A news release regarding a derailed train in Atlantic City that killed 53 people, disseminated by Ivy Ledbetter Lee. In 1905, Lee became the co-founder of America’s third public relations firm, Parker and Lee, and is arguably considered to be the founder of current-day PR (sans social media-laden 2010).

Also known as a news release, a press release is generally a one- to two-page document exhibiting the “Five Ws” (who, what, where, when, why – and how) of a news briefing. It’s a way of packaging a story to send to members of the media, as well as other parties, by leading them to the most important facts and providing them with ideas for a creative twist or hook to their story.

Through my experience working as a partner in a full-service PR firm for the past four years, I have come to think of a press release like a mannequin in a clothing shop. A store, whether in a mall, boutique or even on New York’s Fifth Avenue, usually sets up an array of mannequins to display each new style. These mannequins are arranged in order to show shoppers what it would look like to wear a particular outfit – usually the retailer’s newest lines. Mannequins act as a way of suggesting to customers how to piece together a great ensemble. This is similar to a press release, which intends to show a reporter just how a news story should be written.

Some customers stick to these ensembles, purchasing every piece that is worn by a mannequin, if this look suits their needs. However, if the store didn’t do a good job at putting together this outfit, or if one or two certain pieces on the mannequin are stronger than the rest, customers may pick only those better looking pieces and leave the rest. Consequently, the rest of the shoppers won’t purchase any. The latter situation is similar to many journalists who scrap most press releases they receive, if they don’t fit with what they are looking to write about, or are simply not put together very well.

In recent years, many have questioned the importance of press releases in today’s rapid-fire society of social media. Are they still an integral part of the news cycle, or are their best years behind them?

Pop Music Writer Joey Guerra, of the Houston Chronicle, believes they are still necessary as they are the quickest way of sending basic information on a subject.

“I don’t think they’re over,” he says. “But I do think PR people might need to reconsider what they include and the way they present it.

Guerra says he mainly uses press releases when they are tied to certain events – a CD-release party, a concert, a festival – “something that has details [that] you need for a story or a listing.”

He also believes that press releases that are attached to just a general idea aren’t very helpful, nor are they helpful after the fact, either.

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