History of the Press Release

History PressRelease

Gaining Value from Tactics New and Old

While many find the press release to be an antiquated and now inefficient method of delivering content, the truth is that the press release is far from dead.

There are many audiences online who still rely on press releases as key sources of information.

Be it tradition or its deep roots, they continue to be used, and by more than just public relations (PR) departments. Except nowadays, many different types of press releases serve many different purposes.

But if you’re interested in creating effective and relevant press releases for distribution, you’ll have to understand the history, its evolution in a growing content universe, and all of the options you have available to you.

Consider this a crash course in all things press release:

A Brief History of the Press Release

The press release originated during the year of 1906, after a train wreck in New Jersey took the lives of more than 50 people. At the time of the accident, the train was owned by the Pennsylvania railroad.

PressRelease Pennsylvania Railroad

In response to the tragic accident, the rail company’s publicity expert, Ivy Lee, issued a press release detailing what happened. The release garnered such publicity that even The New York Times published it[1]. And according to rumor, exactly as it was written.

The statement issued by Lee and published by newspapers is believed to be the first of its kind.

Lee followed up with a “Declaration of Principles” when accused of attempting to manipulate press releases, which has acted as the foundation for journalistic integrity ever since:

This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency; if you think any of our
matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it. Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied
promptly, and any editor will be assisted most cheerfully in verifying directly any statement of fact. Upon inquiry, full information will be given to any
editor concerning those on whose behalf an article is sent out. In brief, our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public
institutions, to supply to the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest
to the public to know about. Corporations and public institutions give out much information in which the news point is lost to view. Nevertheless, it is
quite as important to the public to have this news as it is to the establishments themselves to give it currency. I send out only matter every detail of
which I am willing to assist any editor in verifying for himself. I am always at your service for the purpose of enabling you to obtain more complete
information concerning any of the subjects brought forward in my copy.

The movement—to publish news on behalf of a company, and to do so honestly—led to a barrage of other companies publishing press releases to announce company news.

Evolution of the Press Release in a Growing Content Universe

While we now have multiple ways of receiving information, and at lightening speed, many rely on press releases as their primary source of news.

Just take a look at the timeline:

PressRelease Evolution

In fact, data published by the American Press Institute reveals that just under 50% of Americans get their news from online sources, and just over 30% get their news primarily from newswires.

That’s a rather large number, especially considering the massive impact Google Panda 4.0 had on press release sites and their devaluing of link building tactics used for SEO.

That’s one solid stat for the haters.

It’s evident that despite the changing mode of publication and setbacks from Google, online press releases continue to be a sought-after form of sourcing interesting and often new information.

Now, it becomes more about what they can still do for your business and what you can do to navigate the process.

What Are the Benefits of Press Releases?

The short answer is that they provide targeted consumers and interested parties with relevant and worthwhile information about your business.

But there are many additional benefits to using press releases:

  • Increased traffic from strategic keyword placement
  • Pagerank improvements from implied links
  • Distribution and referral traffic across news outlets
  • Fresh content for frequent indexing and authority potential
  • Widespread exposure from social sharing activities
  • Sourceable content for journalists and interested parties

Not convinced of their continued ability to make an impact online?

Take a look at how a Nintendo press release drove 500,000 views in a single day:

PressRelease Nintendo Example

With 60% of press release traffic originating from social media, Nintendo proves that when done properly, active sharing can make a huge impact on awareness around a topic, story or update.

And if that wasn’t enough, the release also drove a 300% increase in daily traffic to BusinessWire, where it was originally published.

Through coverage on mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNBC and its combined force of social media virality, it has become one of the most effective press releases online to date.

If the press releases is dead, how did this happen?

The New Elements of a Strong Press Release

The PR example[2] above illustrates just how effective a press release has the potential to be.

But even if you recognize the value of a press release, you’re probably wondering:

How do I create a press release that drives traffic and increases brand recognition?

The answer: By employing best practices per Google’s demand for high-quality content.

Regardless of type, the essential elements of a strong press release should work together to serve the purpose of providing the most valuable experience a reader can have with your content.

Let’s break down Nintendo’s press release to discover why it won audiences, social and search over:

PressRelease Nintendo Example

It’s amazing what a strong headline and some humor can do.

Nintendo played on the name of their new VP of Sales, joking about his relation to their popular character Bowser. It not only rendered it incredibly relevant to video game fans across the globe, but also journalists looking for content with substance.

And their boilerplate didn’t pull any punches:

PressRelease Nintendo Example

Notice all of the natural links and lack of anchor text.

Using this example as a foundation, a successful press release should:

  • Prioritize a brand’s story, not the brand
  • Have a thoughtful and interesting headline under 120 characters
  • Contain the important information audiences will be seeking
  • Use subheadings to provide context for the reader
  • Include implied links or natural links for brand names and websites
  • Be formatted with proper spacing and bullet points for readability

Other best practices include always including a boilerplate paragraph (example below), keeping your press release as objective and newsworthy as possible, including a date, and making sure contact information for media inquiries is readily available.

If the recipient only reads the headline and the first paragraph, they should get a pretty good idea of what the story is about.

When it comes time to actually publishing, you can choose to opt for publishing sites like PRNewswire or ReleaseWire, just remember, these agencies lost up to 85% of their visibility only days after Google’s update.

But that doesn’t mean targeted audiences aren’t still looking for your press release content, or even that those distribution channels are completely ineffective. After determining what type of press release will bring your business the most value, think long and hard about your options.

More on that, below.

Three Types of Press Releases

There is no longer just one press release format.

Online platforms have made it possible for PR practitioners and content marketers to reach their target audiences in a variety of ways. Yet the sheer abundance of content means that knowing your target audience has never been so necessary.

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