However, when the message to be conveyed is of general interest to a large section of the community spread across different target groups, recourse to press release becomes essential.
Press releases for any business organization would cover various happenings and business-related information which the public would be interested in knowing, and which the business organization wishes to share with the public.
Press releases would generally include financial results, product launches, performance highlights, new branches and offices, changes in management, benefits to the customers and shareholders, community-oriented initiatives, tie-ups and joint ventures, cessation of business, awards and achievements, ratings and rankings, research findings, meetings and conferences. Press releases, it should be noted, in the present day scenario relate to media releases and cover not only print media but also electronic and internet media.
Press releases as a means of communication have certain distinct advantages. The main advantage is that press releases cover a vast section of the print and electronic media, such as newspaper, magazines and journals, radio and television, cable network and also web sites.
This can be in English, Hindi or regional language and can be either regional or national, or even global in coverage. Through press releases it is thus possible to carry the message across to very large sections of people, both literate and illiterate, and widely dispersed.
Although conventionally referred to as press releases, they are by no means restricted to the press but are also sent to electronic and other media.
A very significant advantage favouring press releases is the cost factor. There is no charge for press releases, and as and when the media carries the message, the organization gets free publicity.
Although the reach is as wide as that of an advertisement, organizations which do not have the benefit of an advertisement budget, focus on this medium of reaching out to the public.
Since the press releases are carried free of charge, organizations will have to take care in drafting press releases to match the expectations of the media.
The disadvantage of press releases as a medium of communication, however, is that the choice of carrying the message either partially, fully, in a modified form or not at all, rests with the press and the media.
Most often, prominent newspapers and journals ignore press releases except when they perceive them to be of particular interest to the readers. In such a case they may carry the news quite prominently and may even publish the photograph of the event that may accompany the release. The response by the electronic media too would be identical.
In order to ensure that press releases elicit some response from the press and other media, some general guidelines are to be followed. These are discussed in the following paragraphs. While following these guidelines may not necessarily ensure coverage, there is every possibility that those press releases that do not follow these guidelines are summarily rejected.
Press releases, to be effective, should be brief and focussed. For any newspaper or journal, print space translates into pecuniary or financial cost. As an advertisement, the same message would have yielded revenue.
Similarly, the time spent on radio or TV would have earned a certain revenue, had it been paid for. Press releases will have to take cognizance of this and the drafting should be such as to convey the message with minimum text.
However, sometimes some sections of the press or media may consider the message to be of interest and may be keen to cover all the relevant details. For example, performance details relating to agriculture and rural development may be of interest to a regional newspaper, whereas a national-level financial paper may not attach much significance to it.
Each paper has its focus areas depending on its target readers, and any press release would be considered against that backdrop. Under such circumstances, it would be desirable to cover the highlights
in a page or so and enclose the details as an annexure to enable the press and media to pick and choose as they deem fit. It is also important to note that press releases are duly authenticated by the appropriate authority, in the absence of which the press may tend to ignore the release.
Since the editorial and reporting staff is generally hard-pressed for time, the language of the press release should be in tune with the language used by them for reporting events.
This provides a distinct advantage, and to that extent the chances of the message being carried would improve. If the reporting style and language are very different, the reporting or editing staff will have to spend some time in redrafting the message to suit their requirements.
The business writer should, therefore, make every effort to draft the press release in a manner that can be readily adapted to the newspaper columns.
Press releases should have a clear heading or caption which focuses on the essence of the message or event. If the caption is good enough, there is every possibility of the press using it since it makes a forceful impact, as intended.
On the contrary, if the newspaper has to coin the heading, what they choose may be appropriate according to them, but may or may not convey the most important aspect of the press release.
In other words, the press release becomes very effective when the heading, as well as the message, is carried in full, as provided by the communicating authority or agency. Every effort should be made in achieving it.
Since there is always a paucity of space, the message should be so drafted as to cover more important aspects within the first one or two paragraphs of the release. Very often, there is not enough space, or perceived need, for carrying the entire text, in which case the newspaper will pick and choose the paragraphs or sentences. The press release should be drafted keeping in view this possibility.
Press release, to be effective, should be translated into various languages and the translated versions should be given to the language press or media. Giving them the English text and expecting them to translate it into the language of the medium would lead to dilution or even omission.
Providing a translated version shows respect for the vernacular or regional press and the chances of coverage would certainly be better. Further, quite often translation is not done properly.
If it is a mere transliteration without application of mind and concern for the idioms and phrases peculiar to that language, the punch would be missing. Ensuring that a properly translated press release is made available in time calls for advance planning.
It is extremely important to keep in view the timing of the press release. Newspapers do not generally carry news items which are stale. The press release should be made soon after the event or as soon as the development takes place.
Similarly, the press release should be sent simultaneously covering all newspapers, journals and media, so that all of them consider reporting the news. If it reaches a section of the press or media a day later, by which time another section of the press has already published the news, there is every likelihood of it being ignored by the press which received it late.
Hence press releases should be sent, as far as possible, in time to catch the day’s edition. Since the day’s edition gets ready by late evening or so and the planning has to be done much earlier, the press release should reach newspapers and other media before evening. It would be advisable to check the timings with the press and adhere to it.
Given the importance of press releases and the possibility of damage done due to misreporting, every care should be taken in ensuring the correctness of facts, figures, names and details.
Wherever photographs of the events are furnished, the names of the persons should be clearly indicated. In a sense, this requires specialized handling and therefore organizations designate press relations officers to liaise with the press and media on a regular basis. Organizations also avail of the services of advertising agencies in making effective press releases.
Let us now look at some practical tips to make the press and media releases effective:
Put Punch Into Your Captions:
‘Excel Banking Corporation Ltd. will be opening 200 more branches during the year ending March 2010.’ Instead, make it ‘Excel Bank to add 200 new branches.’
‘Prime Technologies Corporation Ltd. has increased its profit for the June 2009 quarter from Rs10 crore to Rs 14 crore.’ Instead, make it ‘Prime Technologies’ Q1 profits up 40 per cent.’
‘Lovely Sales Corporation Ltd. has recorded very significant growth in its business volumes during the year.’ Instead, make it ‘Lovely Sales records robust business growth.’
These are just some examples. A good business communicator can indeed think of very expressive and punchy captions for press releases. Using minimum words, the headings should draw attention to the essence of the message in the text. However, the text that follows should give all relevant details and justify the attention drawn by the caption.
Use Crisp Language and Current Words:
The language used in a media release should be crisp and businesslike. Make sure that proper editing is done. The recipient will have neither the time nor the inclination to edit your writing. In the process, your message may be either ignored or may receive scant coverage.
In fact, recognizing the importance of this, many organizations, have their own publicity or public relations departments with experienced staff who can prepare media releases using a media-friendly approach. For example:
‘Our car prices have been slashed with effect from…’
‘Our company is on a recruitment drive.’
‘Both top line and bottom line figures have recorded a significant increase.’
‘The depressed market environment notwithstanding, our exports recorded a significant increase during the quarter.’
Give Relevant Details:
The press release should contain adequate details about the event or development so as to put the message in perspective. For example:
Don’t just say, ‘The bank’s branches will be increased to 3,000 by March 2010.’
Give relevant details and be more specific and say, ‘The bank will be adding 200 branches during the current financial year taking the total number of branches to 3,000. Out of this, as many as 150 will be in major metros and Tier II cities of India.’
But remember, the choice of details is yours. While you should highlight the positives, you may avoid too many details if the performance is poor or not worth mentioning.
Mention Figures Properly:
Take care while mentioning figures. Mention clearly rupees, lakhs, millions and crores. Figures by themselves do not convey much. For example:
‘The company recorded a sales turnover of Rs 350 crore during the year.’
While those who know the company well may make some sense, most others may not make out much. Instead, your press release should say:
‘The company achieved a turnover of Rs 350 crore during the year, as against a turnover of Rs 280 crore during the previous year, recording a growth of 25 per cent.’
Further, when the media release is addressed to the international press or media, the figures should be mentioned appropriately in dollars, millions or relevant currencies.
Ensure Friendly Follow-up:
The media have their own priorities. Not every one of them may carry the press release the next day or in the same days channel coverage. It is not that the newspapers are waiting for every press release that comes from every business organization. In fact, it is the other way round.
Media receives press releases in such large numbers that invariably they have to select some and reject many. Some they may keep aside for coverage at a later date. It is under such circumstances that some kind of a polite reminder and request from the PR department helps. The media may be persuaded to carry the news item on one of the subsequent editions or bulletins. Relationships and gentle persuasion do help.
Mass media encompasses various activities covering print media, visual media, electronic media and Internet. In order to draw up effective media strategies, keeping in view the target group, reach and cost consideration, business communicators need to make a clear assessment of the cost, as well as reach of relative media options in both rural and urban markets.
Authentic and reliable data covering the penetration of various media players would indeed be relevant for formulating media plans for different segments. It is worth noting here that Indian Readership Survey (IRS), which is the world’s largest survey of its kind brought out periodically, presents very comprehensive and authentic information on media penetration.
Some media-related highlights brought out by the Indian Readership Survey (2007) are presented below:
i. Television, press, satellite, radio and cinema are the five major media across the country.
ii. The number of adults (12+ years) estimated is 815 million, of which 253 million are in urban areas and 562 million in rural areas.
iii. All the five media put together cover only 68 per cent of the adult population and 59.4 per cent of the rural population.
iv. The coverage is highest for TV at 444 million (54.5 per cent), followed by 311 million (38.2 per cent) for press, 242 million (29.7 per cent) for satellite, 175 million (21.5 per cent) for radio and 82 million (10 per cent) for cinema.
v. Dainik Jagran (17 million), Dainik Bhaskar (13 million), Hindustan (9 million), Malayala Manorama (9 million), Amar Ujala (8 million), Daily Thanti (8 million), Eenadu (7 million), Mathrubhumi (7 million) are the top 10 dailies in terms of readership.
vi. Saras Salil (5 million), Vanitha (Malayalam; 3 million), India Today (English; 3 million), Grih Shobha (Hindi; 2 million), Malayala Manorama (weekly; 2 million), Balarama (2 million), India Today (Hindi; 2 million), Reader’s Digest (2 million), Pratiyogita Darpan (2 million) and Meri Saheli (2 million) are the top 10 magazines of the country.
vii. Among the English newspapers, the Times of India has the largest circulation (29.84 lakh) followed by Hindustan Times (13.05 lakh), the Hindu (12.71 lakh), Deccan Chronicle (8.85 lakh) and the Economic Times (6.50 lakh).
viii. Among the Hindi dailies, Dainik Jagran has the highest circulation (29.13 lakh) followed by Dainik Bhaskar (2.87 lakh), Hindustan (11.42 lakh), Amar Ujala (11.19 lakh) and Rajasthan Patrika (9.64 lakh).
It is also worth noting that according to the Report by the Registrar of Newspapers for India (2005-06) there were 62,550 publications, of which 6,800 were daily newspapers. According to another report, worldwide 515 million copies of newspapers are sold daily; of which India’s share is 88.9 million copies.
Talking about TV coverage, the IRS (2007) notes that there are 215 million estimated households in India, of which 64 million are urban and 151 million are rural households. The number households who own a TV is 93 million, of which 47 million are urban and 46 million are rural households.
As regards radio, it is worth noting that All India Radio with its 213 stations can cover 100 per cent of the population. Radio as a medium is gaining listenership, both in urban and rural areas, especially in states where power supply is still a major issue. FM channels are catching up fast in metros, particularly amongst the youngsters.
As regards cinema, India is one of the largest film-producing countries of the world. Every year, on an average, 750 feature films are produced in India in different languages. According to the Film Federation of India, there are 12,900 theatres in India. It is reported that there are at present more than 300 multiplex cinemas in the country.
Internet is fast gaining popularity, especially among the youngsters. The Internet users are largely educated and well informed. The number of Internet users was 38.5 million in 2005-06. Internet penetration in India is only 5 per cent as compared to 69 per cent in USA, 67 per cent in Japan, 63 per cent in UK and 59 per cent in Germany.
The other media avenue that is picking up fast is the out-of-home (OOH) media. This includes hoardings, kiosks, bridges, neon signs, traffic booths, railway stations and train panels, airport advertising, buses and bus shelter advertising.