Why call a press release, a press release? The word ‘press’ is anachronistic. It harks back to Guttenberg’s invention of squeezing parchment onto inked blocks circa. 1439. Centuries later the term was taken over as a self descriptor by newspapers. But press releases haven’t been targeted solely at the press since the advent of commercial radio in 1920. In any case what is the press? Newspapers have had to develop into multi-platform media outlets delivering content via web, mobile, video, podcast as well as via dead tree.
So, perhaps media release is a better moniker? The term expands the concept to include all media new and old. But, pulling up Google, the first definition of “media” I find is described as: “the main means of mass communication (television, radio and newspapers)”. No mention of blogs or any other forms of social media.
And, there’s a further problem. Press releases are not the sole preserve of the media. Financial market professionals have had access to company press releases for decades. And, as consumers we’re ‘always on’ and have been so at least since Nick Burcher told us we were in his seminal book ‘Paid Owned Earned‘. We’re always consuming content and other information. Press releases, and other corporate created content appear online, get picked up in Search, get shared amongst friends and inform our buying process directly as well as via journalist third-party endorsed content.
It sounds too passive to me conjuring up images of butterflies being released from wicker hampers into warm summer breezes
So, how about calling them news releases? Probably on to something there, but I also struggle with the word: “release”. It sounds too passive to me conjuring up images of butterflies being released from wicker hampers into warm summer breezes rather than the commercial imperative of a company endeavouring to drive sales, increase brand awareness or push up its share price.
So how about changing from press release to news poke? This new term retains the ‘news’ element and the word ‘poke’ suggests activity – prodding the reader into doing something positive after reading the message.
Okay let’s take a pause for a sense check. The press release has been called a press release since its invention in America by Ivy Lee in 1906. The term now owns the category. We hoover the floor we don’t vacuum it – even though we’re probably ‘hoovering’ with a Dyson. We call for Sellotape with which to wrap parcels though we’re most likely to be using some generic sticky-stuff from Kmart or OfficeWorks. We take notes with biros rather than with ballpoint pens even though László Bíró, the Hungarian journalist, who gave his name to the ball-point pen after noticing that newspaper ink dried quicker and more smudge-free than fountain pen ink, sold his pen patent to Mr Bich (Bic) in 1945.
So, we understand how categories evolve whilst category terms sometimes remain constant. We all know what we mean by the term press release. So, let’s keep it until something altogether better comes along. Who knows, we could perhaps harness that brain power to write better targeted, compelling content instead?
Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. Read my full bio here.