Publicity Darwinism: Are Press Releases Dead?

Does the expression “survival of the fittest” ring a bell? It is a phrase originating with evolutionary theory and natural selection.

Survival of the fittest is also an apt description of today’s marketing landscape. You remember MySpace, right? Marketing methods and tactics come and go. So the big question on the publicity front is where is the press release in its lifecycle?

Before I reveal what MY findings show, lets just acknowledge that this is one VERY popular question. In fact, a search on Google reveals 220,000,000 listings, which includes some variations of that keyword phrase.

So, can you see how we got here?  Because with everything exploding on the social media front, the relevancy of the venerable press release has rightly been called into question. And from some marketing and publicity heavyweights, no less.

Here’s a quick :30 video that will help frame our discussion…

Did you watch it? Wondering about the “New PR?” I’ll get to that in just a bit.

WARNING: my take on  “are press release dead?” will surprise some and irritate others. Why? I am not a PR purist. From tests with over 2400+ press releases, I can tell you that like anything else, things have evolved. How so? Let’s dive in…

The majority

of today’s press releases DESERVE to DIE

Enter the irritation…I have seen a declining return on the “announcement-style” press release. Sure if you are a big company and can pump tons of money into distributing your boring, “it’s all about me” message, then you really don’t care one way or another.

But for the rest of us, we’re looking for ANY edge we can find. And doing an announcement-type press release cuts us off at the knees.

You see, it’s a mindshare game. We have WAY too much competing for our attention. And honestly, there is certain arrogance about announcement press releases. Why should I care when all you do is talk about yourself and/or your company?

What’s more, with the fragmentation of media, we as news consumers have far more control than ever before on what lands on our desktops and on our media channels.

Sure, there was a time when they worked. A time where there was far fewer marketing channels and vehicles. That time is long gone. So you need to adapt. But to what exactly?

What about online press releases?

Don’t they provide “instant visibility, SEO-style?”

First, it’s bone-picking time with all these online press release “Johnny come lately’s” that have popped out of the woodwork. FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been doing online press releases since 2004. And what worked then, or even what worked a year ago, doesn’t work now.

Now it’s MY turn to be irritated. I see marketing folks selling, in good conscience, information products that advocate press release tactics that were squashed by Google with their Panda and Penguin search engine algorithm updates. In fact, I suggested 5 tips to make your press release “Penguin friendly” in a previous article.

So online press releases aren’t dead. But they are evolving. And while they aren’t dead, those previous techniques are no longer nearly as effective. In short, Google penalized web sites that were “over optimized.” And the same holds for online press releases.

For example, in the early days, I recommended putting our primary keyword phrase in the release 7 times. Then, as the search engines got more adept at indexing and ranking press releases, I reduced my recommendation to 5 keyword mentions. Today, your best bet is THIS formula: once in the headline, and a couple times in the body copy.

What do I do NOW?

Enter the New PR…

First, press releases should be part of any businesses marketing and promotion program. If, and it’s a BIG IF, they are done the right way.

And the right way includes all phases of the press release process:

  • The story
  • Writing the release
  • Visual assets accompanying the release (like images and video) as well as
  •  Metrics and press release performance tracking.

BONUS: I’ve prepared a FREE email series that reveals BOTH the pitfalls and opportunities with press releases in today’s social media environment. Click here to access Are Press Releases Dead email insider series.

Please share YOUR take on this topic. How have press releases worked for you? Have you questioned their effectiveness like so many others?

Your feedback is welcome by adding your insightful comment below.

Marc Harty is an online publicity expert, professional speaker, Internet marketing consultant and CEO of MainTopic Media, Inc. Marc’s Online PR Made Easy can help anyone at any skill level generate targeted web site traffic on autopilot.

  • It is amazing the range of opinions and knowledge that exist around this topic. What’s your experience with all this?

    ~ Marc

  • It is compelling to see the changes around the press release industry as
    of recent and how people  used to use
    them years ago compared to now.  Marc,
    you are bang on when you mention about previously having too many keywords and
    links and how that is no longer the game.


    We have had, and seen many individuals panic about their press release
    and have had innumerable requests to either “remove all my back links from my
    press release please”, or “please delete my press release”.    


    My concern is (and I do not know the answer to this) if and how Google (or
    any other search engine for that matter) can distinguish between an article
    site, and a news distribution site and whether they are treated


    Our editors only publish a small percentage of the press releases they see
    come through our news distribution site. This is because we don’t just “publish
    something because someone pays for it” as it would be a negative reflection on
    our business.


    We are aware of many article sites that will publish anything and
    everything, and are more concerned about the $ as opposed to the content.


    Our view is that a press release is still, as Marc has mentioned an
    extremely valuable tool to anyone in marketing, but not to be abused.  Perhaps Google is only looking for “keywords”
    within the release that ARE NOT bold, italicised or linked? I am not an expert
    in that area, will not pretend to be, but do put that question forward.


  • Lauren Taylor

    This is a well-written post that provides great insight about press
    releases. However, I feel the content provides mostly negative views of
    how press releases are slowly dying throughout public relations today.
    As the author, do you think press releases will die out completely? I
    feel press releases are not dying out because they’re such a huge part
    of promoting your client in the best way possible. Press releases will
    always be recognized in the media if an event or business relates to the
    target audience in some way. As far as online press releases, these
    too will not die out. Since our society is so connected with the
    internet and television, it would be impossible to ignore.

  • le duy

    Our company sell software B2C, we use press release over ten years. Nowaday, we find that the press release is not effected for us, not attract more traffics as previous. Could you please expain why?

    P.s we use one press release for all sites.

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