One of the oldest tools in the PR toolkit, the press release hasn’t changed much in the more than 100 years of its recorded existence. Meanwhile, the media and communications landscape is virtually unrecognizable from a century ago. Today, there is no shortage of options for rapid – even instantaneous – delivery of ideas and information. In the public relations industry, few developments have changed the game more than email and social media, which take engagement directly to the media and the public.
This has sparked an increasingly frequent debate within PR circles, one that is relevant to cannabis-specific PR: in a world where even major governmental policy announcements are made in 140 characters or less, is there still a place for the traditional long-form press release?
To answer this question, and determine whether press releases are still worth including in your cannabis communications arsenal, let’s look at some specific reasons why they can be viable for this industry, as well as common pitfalls that can diminish the impact of media statements in general.
Press Releases Are Reliable
Traditional PR, including the creation and servicing of media releases, remains the “safest” (i.e., most reliable) way for cannabis entities and institutions to gain media exposure. In an industry that is legal only at the State level, even cannabis businesses in legal medical and recreational states can fall victim to the arbitrary enforcement of vague social media rules, resulting in platform shutdowns and the loss of crucial followers. Furthermore, as tweets and posts are quickly buried under the constant onslaught of new mentions, journalists are more likely to archive and revisit press releases for future stories. Clearly, press releases have significantly more staying power than social media alone.
Press Releases Are Educational Tools
The cannabis community as a whole is still in the process of finding mainstream acceptance, and as a result there is still a learning curve—with both traditional media and the people who are their audience. A press release allows you, the PR practitioner, to service your client by helping the media educate their client—their readers/viewers. Longform press releases can be used to educate by sharing more extensive and detailed information than is possible through social media, including the use and explanation of accepted terminology, and the illumination of key issues.
Press Releases Allow for Greater Control of Your Narrative
A press release is your primary (and maybe only) opportunity to control the narrative and speak in your brand’s unique voice. This is especially important for cannabusinesses where use of the wrong terminology or perspective can result in unwarranted scrutiny (like a visit from the authorities) or a public flogging via social media.
Press Releases Are Media Content Creators
A well-thought-out press release can yield content and story ideas long past the “ripeness” of a typical news cycle. Think of your press release as a gift for journalists that keeps on giving: include information that is both relevant to the story you are pitching, and can serve as a resource for a variety of other angles as well. Well-written, dynamic quotes from your CEO, for example, do not have to be time-sensitive and can often be repurposed by the media in ways that can lead to unexpected coverage. Think like a journalist when crafting these releases, with an eye towards this news cycle—and the next one!
A press release alone does not guarantee media coverage, and misusing a release is a sure-fire way to lose credibility for your cannabusiness. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Get to the point The first word of “press release” tells exactly who this release is targeting, so your headline and first paragraph should sum up exactly what makes your story press-worthy. Busy journalists won’t read further than that before hitting the DELETE button.
- Don’t forget the pitch! The art of pitching remains one of the most important strategic skills a PR pro can hone. Major features and other expansive coverage—considered the top tier of earned media—are rarely secured by just sending out a press releases, resulting instead from weeks, or even months, of direct contact with individual writers. Build relationships with journalists through pitching relevant aspects of the story along with your release, and you will see the difference in both the quantity and quality of your media coverage.
- Press release overload = Crying Wolf No one likes having their time wasted, and media is no different. A constant barrage of releases, or those including irrelevant subject matter, will turn journalists off and could lead to them ignoring future releases—even when you have a great story to tell.
Much more so than mainstream (and federally permissible) industries, communicators in cannabis must continue to work with great care and creativity to overcome the industry’s legal restrictions and lingering societal prejudices.
While some consumer industries may be able to increasingly stray from traditional PR tactics like the long-form press release, for cannabis businesses and institutions, these communications continue to be an effective and reliable tool for media (and public) outreach.
Are there any other reasons you think press releases are important? Feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below.