If you are writing press releases, and you are not a company the size of Apple or Procter & Gamble, you need to stop. Now.

To journalists, press releases are annoying. The format is lawyerly. The quotes are made up. They are full of jargon, and totally self-serving.

They are written to bury any negatives. No one ever fails or is fired or acquired. In press releases, companies always have successful quarters, and executives always step down to spend time with their families, and companies merge as equals.

By sending press releases with such logic bombs in them, you are not giving journalists information. You are giving them work to do; a riddle to be worked out. Their editor is standing over them asking: Okay, what really happened?

And if you do not have, say, over $250 million in annual revenue, there simply are not enough journalists left in newsrooms to bother to try to detangle that riddle. Newsrooms are at half the staff they were in the mid-90s.

Even if a reporter is initially fooled by your sunny release on, say, your poor quarterly performance, where you bury the actual net loss number and put forward some other metric that sounds like you made money, you have essentially forced a correction on that reporter. Nothing hurts a journalist more than that.

Just Tell Your Story

There are so many other ways to get your story across, and told in a format that's more straightforward or conversational. The Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013 ruled that social media can be used to disseminate material information about your company. Or you could use your own website. Or check out self-publishing platform Medium as a place where you can tell your story, for free, without being constrained by the press release format.

Why not just tell your story in some format that fits your style?

There are lots of examples of people who get this right: Warren Buffett has been writing his letter to shareholders each year since the 1970s. Marc Andreessen gets his ideas out in tweetstorms. Techstars founder Brad Feld has his FeldThoughts blog. Mary Meeker can pack an entire universe of data and ideas into her yearly Internet reports.

The press release industry is in as tight a spot as the news business. They are only surviving because the press release is a habit that executives and marketers have not yet reconsidered closely enough to break. If you have something to announce, the reflex is to "issue a release."

This despite that it's potentially costing you tens of thousands per year to distribute these press releases, on top of what you are paying people skilled in writing in the format. This made sense pre-Internet, when your release would automatically print out on dot-matrix printers stationed in the heart of each newsroom. But now, not so much.

Put It To The Test

Here is the test: Who picks up your releases and actually writes an article? If you are getting picked up by journalists writing a full article, and calling you for additional information and quotes, then by all means, proceed. But that is extremely rare for companies that are not the very biggest in their sector.

Beware of people who justify your press release spend by pointing out that the press release itself is being carried on various sites--Marketwatch, AOL Finance, etc. So what? The traffic to press release pages on those sites is extremely low.

In fact, it used to be that press releases were important enough in the news economy that sites like Yahoo Finance would pay for them. Then executives at those portals looked at their traffic numbers and saw that next to no one was clicking on them.

When the Yahoo Finances of the world told the PR distribution companies of the world they wouldn't pay them anymore, the press release distribution companies offered them for free to the portals. At that point, financial news portals started to realize that they still didn't want to carry content that was uninteresting to its readers. And then the press release distribution companies instead offered to pay to have them run.

Why would they pay to have them run? Because the head of marketing at the firm that posted the press release would be able to see that the press release was live on the financial news portals, and show that to their CEO as proof they had done their job. The problem is that the CEO and the head of marketing were perhaps the only people to ever click on that link.

The question is: Do you want to pay for that?

Published on: Oct 18, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.