Ashley Brown is on a mission.
The American, who leads digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company, wants to kill the press release.
“If there’s one thing I want to do at Coke, [it’s that],” he told a conference organised by corporate communications publisher Ragan.
“We have a commitment to reduce the number of press releases by half this year, and I want them gone by 2015. That’s our goal.”
Instead of press releases, Coke wants to tell stories directly. It wants to create shareable, popular content, informed by what its audience is interested in.
The push is aided by its highly successful relaunch of its corporate website last year. The site now gets more visitors than many major newspapers. It’s essentially an online magazine – using data to publish the content Coke’s audience is interested in, from Coke recipes to interviews with celebrities to stories from Coke’s past.
Trevor Young, a content marketing expert from public relations firm Expermedia, applauds Coke’s strategy.
“Blogging and being your own media channel should be the first priority of a business when it comes to marketing,” he says.
But he’s not sure all businesses should go about dumping the press release.
The problem with press releases, he says, is that most of them are boring.
“Press releases aren’t irrelevant; the way we write them is irrelevant,” he says.
“They’re full of buzzwords and jargon, and most reporters would attest that what they receive in press releases often don’t make a lot of sense. It’s all about the company rather than the reader, and a lot of the time, it’s spin.”
“But there’s still room for press releases if you have genuine news that’s relevant, and that you want to get out to everyone at once.”
Marketing expert Catriona Pollard, from CP Communications, says there’s a future for press releases.
But they’re not her favourite way to get in touch with journalists.
“We very rarely do media releases,” she says. “There might be times when using a blog is a great way to tell the company’s stories and build reputation. And there are times when contacting a journalist directly and pitching a story uniquely to that publication makes more sense.”
“The thing small businesses need to understand is what publications provide is a ready-made audience. If you’re telling your own stories, you need to build that audience. And it’s hard work. For Coke, it’s easy. They have this massive brand awareness and the resources to put into content marketing. That’s rarely the case in small businesses.”
Public relations strategies have different layers and tactics, and different stories are best told in different ways. “Ultimately, you need a robust strategy to drive brand awareness,” she says.
Content marketing may be the flavour of the month, but Pollard says she’s been doing it all her career. “It’s just been given a name now, and has become a hot topic.
“But it’s just another tactic.”