New Study of 64,033 Press Releases Reveals Major Fail

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Who sent those releases? Why did they fail? And why so darn many? All questions deserve (and will receive) answers. Let’s start with the most obvious: the origin of those press releases.

All 64,033 press releases were from politicians of the two major political parties here in the USA from 2005 to 2007. Do we need one more reason to confirm how our government has failed us? Well, apparently we’ve got 64,033 of them!

Now unless you subscribe to “Cave Monthly” or are trapped in a dungeon, you know Republicans and Democrats possess an ideological gulf the size of most oceans.

And while these public servants are at loggerheads on budgets, wars, healthcare and more, they are in virtual lockstep in one critical area.

How they use press releases. Or in this case, misuse them. More about that in a moment.

Harvard Professor’s Analysis of Political Press Releases = Not Pretty

First, some much needed context. The study was released at the height of anxiety over a possible USA government shutdown. And this news article and the thousands it spawned seized on one aspect as proof the government is not focused on the people’s business.

Here’s a quote from the article about Professor Gary King’s findings:

“A Harvard University professor has analyzed this tribe’s behavior, using computers to look for trends in members’ writings. And he’s learned something that might help explain why Congress is having such trouble working out a deal this week. He learned, to his amazement, that modern members of Congress spend about 27 percent of the time just taunting each other.”

Second, major kudos to Professor King on timing the release of his study. I bang the table constantly about one of the most powerful online press release methods available and Professor King executed it to perfection.

Can you guess what it is? Simple. Leverage a hot news topic as a springboard to YOUR story.

In this instance, the government shutdown and surging rancor between America’s two major political parties. That was the perfect springboard to introduce the study. And with it, the empirical proof on how frequently politicians taunt each other via their press release marketing.

And yet, from my perspective, that wasn’t the real story. I already knew that politicians taunt each other. This study just attached a number to it.

Buried later in the story was something far more interesting and useful for anyone doing press release marketing today.  Because the study revealed the exact categories and topics that were used most often by politicians of both parties.

3 Press Release Categories Tells Us About What Works (Or Rather, Doesn’t)

In addition to the taunting evidence, Professor King’s study discovered that most of the 64,033 releases fell into three distinct categories. Now after I list the categories, I’ll explain what this was such a major fail.

According to the article, “there are the three primary ways a legislator expresses him or herself” They are:

Category #1: Credit Claiming

This is where a politician takes credit for something that the local voters want. Most often it’s public works projects like a bridge, highway or even bringing new companies (that create jobs) to a specific geographic region.

Category #2: Position Taking

This is where a politician explains where they stand on an issue or multiple issues.

Category #3: Advertising

Granted this category is the most broad and may be a “catch-all” for random releases. It’s defined in the study as “ ‘Look at me! I’m a member of Congress!’ ” King said.

The Political Payoff: How This Fail Could Have Gone The Other Way


The three categories of releases shared one fatal flaw that led to their undoing. Ever hear about WIIFM? It’s a marketing 101 principle that these politicians violated repeatedly. It stands for “What’s In It For Me?”

All three categories of the releases look inward when a far more successful strategy would be looking outward. An outward-oriented release engages. An inward-oriented release is informational but magnifies the “so what” factor.

It’s clear politicians of both major parties are in a major rut with their press release marketing. They’re predictable. They’re self-centered. They’re bombastic. And for those reasons, all too easy to tune out no matter what the level (or volume) of the conversation.

The Takeaway: “Outward-Oriented” Press Releases Perform Better


It’s a shift of thinking from the traditional teaching of press release marketing. In essence, away from announcement-driven press releases and towards story-driven press releases. Announcement-type releases are still standard issue, especially for large, publicly traded companies. However, they’re only adding to the online clutter rather than giving potential audiences a reason to care. And more importantly, respond!

Do you think politicians will eventually get a clue? Perhaps I should share my PR Traffic Template System with them? It does have 21+ story starters and 8 outward-oriented press release templates. And if’s really true there’s a shortage of ideas in Washington; perhaps my materials can pick up the slack. At least as far as press release marketing is concerned. 🙂


Have you committed the same press release mistakes as the politicians did? Empowered to make your online press releases  more outward-oriented? Please share your thoughts and feedback with a comment now.

    1 Comment

  • Robert Warde says:

    I couldn’t agree more. The importance of using storytelling as a Trojan horse to deliver a message is very effective. (Think “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber). Stories provide context and can deliver to an editor a reason to cover the information.

    Robert Warde
    Millennium Media

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