Why Press Releases ≠ Public Relations

We often hear “press release” and “PR” used interchangeably – as if the public relations function begins and ends with the press release. This limited view of public relations will more than likely hamstring your story’s real potential… and you know what they say about first impressions. The same principle applies to communicating information to journalists, customers, and just about every other type of stakeholder.

So, what’s the difference?

“Public relations” is a communication discipline practiced by organizations and individuals to build relationships with their most important audiences. “Press releases” are nothing more than a communication tool– one of many in the public relations practitioner’s toolbox. Releases can take many different forms, but generally serve the same purpose: to provide official information to the media, specifically, and by default to the public.

Public relations, on the other hand, involves identifying the right audiences, crafting and communicating clear and compelling messages, protecting reputation, and building long-term, positive relationships between an organization and its stakeholders. A press release, on its own, can’t do this.

How should I think about press releases instead?

If your organization has news to share, writing a press release can be a great place to start; as a writing exercise, it forces you to articulate your news and any relevant facts; why it’s important now; what it means for your stakeholders; and any calls-to-action. It also provides a collaborative medium for fact-checking and gathering input. After all, how your CEO chooses to articulate a message may be quite different from how marketing, legal or HR would put it.

Too many make the mistake of thinking the job is done once the press release is out the door. In fact, it’s not until the press release is out the door that the work really begins.

  • Where are you sending your news release?
  • How are you sending it – by email? Newswire?
  • What are you expecting the outside world to do with it?
  • How will you make sure your news gets seen?
  • How are you planning to track who picks up your news and measure conversions to make sure you were successful? (Any credible PR firm can do this for you using media monitoring and analytics tools.)
  • What if you get questions the press release doesn’t answer? (In our experience, you almost always will.)

These are all important questions that need to be considered before putting pen to paper. That’s the art of public relations strategy, and why press releases are not public relations.

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