Press releases are a form of propaganda. Publishing them on your website shows your customers how you are attempting to spin the media. The Web is where we go because we don't believe the hype, because we don't like being spun. The Web is the land of the thinking customer. So, why do so many organizations still publish press releases prominently on their websites?
Have you visited any North Korean websites lately? If you did, you will have come across lots of pictures of heroic leaders, and read glowing eulogies of magnificent achievements. It is easy to laugh at these ham-fisted attempts at propaganda until, that is, you have the need to visit a government website for your own country.
Last year, I lost my passport. I needed to go to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs website. The first thing I saw was a big picture of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by a slightly smaller picture of the Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs. How North Korean.
The Irish government is not alone in its amateur ham-fisted attempts at using the Web for propaganda and electioneering (even when there is no election). Vanity publishing is alive and well on most of the government websites that I review. (And I have reviewed a lot of government websites in a lot of countries.)
Press releases abound. Were press releases published before the Web? No. They were released to the press in the hope of generating media coverage. A website is a publication. The website editor should review the press release, and if there is something interesting in it, turn it into a well-linked story.
A press release nearly always begins with the name of the organization. Why? Because it needs to exist among many other press releases. Journalists will often look for a specific press release based on the organization name. You should never start a web heading/sentence with the name of your organization. Why? Because they're at your website. They know who you are.
A press release will always have a couple of contextual paragraphs. Why? To give the busy journalist some context. But if someone comes to your website, the context has already been established, and reading such paragraphs will be a waste of time.
The first sentence of many press releases includes the word "today". Why? Because press releases are like bread; if not consumed quickly they go stale. How do you think a press release with "today" in its text reads tomorrow, or next week, or next month?
Bismarck said that you should never see how sausages and laws are made. The press release shows customers how the story is being made. It shows how the organization is trying to spin the media. The press release has a behind-the-scenes function. It was never meant to see the light of day.
The Web is not where you announce; it's where you do. Let's say you have launched a new program aimed at encouraging more men and women over fifty to get screened for colon cancer. How should you use your website? Make it fast and easy for people to sign up for such screening.
When people arrive at your website, you already have their attention. Let them do what they came to your website to do.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.