A sturdy relic

Obsolete or indispensable? The future of the media release is a subject of debate. But what are the modern alternatives for efficiently addressing journalists? And what the heck does this have to do with the saber-rattling SDA? By Oliver Classen


Let's be honest: In the age of Skype & Co., who still needs and attends conventional press conferences? Eight or ten years ago, live presentations were still the means of choice for conveying information as comprehensively and directly as possible. And often a matter of prestige. Today, the relevant event calendars are almost exclusively devoted to modest balance sheet and public authority events (which themselves are therefore dispensable). And those who continue to maintain the elaborate ritual must offer the media people who travel especially for this purpose a considerable added value, such as celebrities or provocations, otherwise it becomes embarrassing or even counterproductive.

There are increasing signs that the media release will meet the same fate and that this traditional instrument of classic public relations will soon pass away. "Nine out of ten press releases disappear into the virtual or real wastepaper basket," estimated a MAZ expert two years ago. More text than at most a loosely described page has long been prohibitive, and even then it would need today a language as pictorial as possible as well as directly linked enrichments. At the same time as this quite realistic analysis, however, News aktuell disseminated the finding in its "Whitepaper Recherche" that press releases are still the most frequently used source of information for media professionals - even ahead of search engines.

This assertion is greatly relativized or even turned into its opposite if one takes into account that News aktuell is not only a wholly owned subsidiary, but in fact the commercial arm of the Swiss Dispatch Agency. And that the PR service provider makes its living from sending out precisely those media releases from companies and organisations that it hails as the most popular research tool by means of a survey-based thesis paper. Against the backdrop of recent events, one mildly smiles at the whining SDA's attempts to pull itself out of the swamp by its own hair. In fact, however, this Munchausen stunt throws light on exciting parallels between the promoted format and the promoting company.

From a journalistic point of view, there are great similarities between a media release and an agency report, which is still the core product of the SDA. First of all, both types of text - in addition to their optimized information content - are characterized above all by the fact that they can be cut quickly and without loss from behind. And then today's red pencil-regulated editorial offices are increasingly dependent on both suppliers. In short: The increasingly acute shortage of time and staff in the media business is feeding the business model of both news and PR agencies. Admittedly, with one existential difference for the senders: While the neutral news service continues to cost, media releases are and remain free goods controlled by commercial interests.

This leaves the question of reliable and more accurate alternatives to the anachronistic shotgun "media release". There are of course plenty of recommendations from highly paid consultants for this, admittedly all without empirical evidence, let alone a guarantee of success. Whether it's direct messages via Twitter, snazzy Facebook videos, corporate blogs, content marketing or the (equally banal and effective) direct conversations with media professionals: None of these complementary tools has yet been able to completely displace the press release. The recently yes commercially oriented SDA would therefore be well advised to direct its new artificial intelligence focus on the development of a worthy successor to this communicative all-purpose weapon - for the good of its shareholders and the entire media industry.

Oliver Classen is media spokesman for Public Eye (formerly Berne Declaration) and columnist for Werbewoche.

This article comes from the current advertising week 10/2018

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