The Press Release: History and Significance
by Avneet Singh
By definition, a press release is an official statement distributed to the media for informative and/or announcement purposes. The aim of a press release is to reach the general public via media outlets in a succinct and speedy manner. For-profit and not-for-profit organizations, as well as individuals, can make use of press releases to essentially hold the microphone on what is released to the public. The press release was born out of this concept of steering the narrative in the public eye.
In aftermath of the 1906 train wreck that claimed over 50 lives in New Jersey, Pennsylvania railroad’s Ivy Lee released a statement to explain the series of events that led to the train wreck. Lee’s press release document was repeatedly published by news media outlets, setting a precedent for news diffusion.
From that initial press release, over 100 years ago, has come formalization and distribution changes. The press release is a formalized document with its own structure. In general, this format from top to bottom is as follows: logo, identifier, release information, contact information, headline, sub-head, place line, date line, lead paragraph, body, boilerplate, end mark and more information. As for its distribution, in the time of Ivy Lee, press releases were distributed in print media. Newspapers were a common source of media consumption for the general public. Although newspapers are still a form of distribution used today, there are a myriad of other channels available. In the 20th century, press releases were delivered via newspaper and eventually via wire service as well. Nowadays, along with newspapers and wire service, the Internet has opened up online posts and social media as two major forms of news distribution.
Even from its early days, the press release has been considered a cost-effective promotional tool for organizations and individuals alike. A press release is drafted by the organization or person themselves and can then be made available for news outlets for distribution. This process eliminates the time and resources that are often spent on research and story formulation. A press release is like a pre-packaged article for newspapers that can garner public attention to their publication with little to no effort. This is a massive motivation for news outlets to want press releases and, in turn, a way for organizations and individuals to release them without having to pay.
Press releases grant organizations and individuals not only the ability to tell their own story but they may also allow control over the time of release and the mode of distribution. The entity creating the press release can decide, either through self-publication or through a media agency, to place binding stipulations on when the press release may be distributed, and they may decide on other forms outside of or in addition to written word such as a video or photos. Press releases have progressed from their original newsprint form to the many modes allowed by digital media. One thing however has remained constant, press releases continue to be an economical and efficient promotional vehicle for business and people.
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