Do Press Releases Still Work? When They Make Sense & When to Avoid Them

It’s a fair question. Even if you’re not a journalist by trade, you probably get press releases in your inbox from time to time, and odds are you reflexively delete them. Why should you put an ounce of effort into something people like you will, at best, ignore?

Because sometimes they won’t. Sometimes, press releases work. But you have to know when, how, and how much to use them. 

Do Press Releases Still Work? When They Make Sense & When to Avoid Them


When to Put Out a Press Release

Follow these general guidelines to answer the first question you must always ask yourself: Does this situation call for putting out a press release?

1. Your Company Has Legitimate News to Announce

This is ultimately a judgment call, but try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who receives several (perhaps dozens of) email pitches per day. Will they bat an eye at whatever you’re offering them?

The best rule of thumb is that a press release subject is newsworthy if stories like it appear in legitimate publications (as opposed to a niche trade blog no one reads). An example: This release focuses on the subject firm’s successful sale of a stake in another company, a common event that business or finance journalists are nonetheless likely to cover when the firms involved are big enough or interesting enough.


2. You’re Beginning a New Marketing Campaign or Push

You can relax your press release standards a little bit if you’re in the early stages of a new marketing campaign or goal-oriented push for engagement. This is a good opportunity to push out releases that might not technically meet the newsworthiness test but which have the potential to catch niche publishers’ eyes.


3. You’re Actively Working on Your SERPs

Contrary to popular belief, posting a press release on a site like BusinessWire won’t directly impact your SERPs. Google made it a policy to ignore press release signals years ago, even from releases with dofollow links. But if and when a publisher picks up your story, they’ll likely link back to your actual website — not the wire post. And that’s likely to help your SERPs.


4. You Have the Time & Resources to Create an Exceptional Release

Finally, even if you meet these other tests, don’t put out releases you’re not proud of. Set aside the (probable) ROI and put as much time and effort into your press release content as any other type of content, if not more. Good things happen when you try.


When to Skip the Press Release

You can safely skip the press release in these scenarios. And others, but especially these.

1. The “News” You’re Announcing Isn’t Really News

Remember, put yourself in the likely recipient’s shoes. They have higher standards for what passes for “company news” than you do (no offense).


2. You’ve Had Limited Success With Press Releases in the Past & Aren’t Doing Anything Different With This One

You’ve heard the one about the definition of insanity, or maybe throwing good money after bad. If prior press releases haven’t worked and this one is shaping up to be the same old, same old, give it a rest.


3. You Don’t Have the Time or Resources to Make It Good

Even if you’ve had success with similar releases in the past, you’ll need to dig to replicate the success. And if you have more important or pressing things to work on right now, well, it’s not the time.


Tips for a Better Press Release

So, you’ve committed to putting out that press release after all. Here’s how to ace it.

1. Write It Like a News Article

Who, what, when, why, where, and how: As many as possible in the lede, please. Keep those sentences short and punchy too.


2. Have a Clear, Compelling “Hook”

Maybe this is your lede by a different name, or perhaps it’s the underlying angle you’re pitching. Current events hooks tend to work best.


3. Don’t Include Unnecessary Detail or a Long “About Us” Section

Cut out the filler. You don’t have to hit an arbitrary word count or tick any particular structural boxes (within the constraints of the prose form).


4. Pair It With a Social Media Push

Don’t count on recipients to open cold emails or random people to come across the release online. If you’re proud of your press release, share it far and wide.


Press Releases Still Work, Sometimes

Press releases do still work. They really do. You wouldn’t get so many if they didn’t.

But as we’ve seen, it’s all too often the case that press release publishers don’t know what they’re doing. There’s a right time and a wrong time to put out a press release, and a right way and a wrong way to do it.

You should have a better sense of right and wrong — on this question, at least — now that you’ve read this. All that’s left is for you to use your instincts and follow your training. Easy enough, right?