Is the press release dead or isn’t it?

That depends on how you use them.

A recent Twitter conversation confirmed as much, and offered important insight into how PR and communications pros can give journalists what they actually need.

Do journalists use press releases?

A Muck Rack survey of 500 journalists found that just 3 percent of U.S.-based journalists rely heavily on press releases, while 53 percent said they don’t rely on press releases at all. PR Daily wrote up the results, with the headline noting “Journalists are ditching the press release.”

Journalist Michelle Rafter, who has written for The Wall Street Journal,, and MSN Money, added some nuance from her own experience:

While Rafter admits that she’s among the journalists who are unlikely to write a story based on a press release, she points out what press releases are still good at doing: introducing journalists to potential sources. As I tweeted in response, press releases are a tool, and provide background, but aren’t a strategy. Forgetting that is a quick way to frustrate a journalist who’s trying to get in touch. As Michelle put it:  

So as you think about your own PR campaigns, keep these press release guidelines in mind.

1. Press releases alone aren’t a strategy.

They’re just another tool in your toolbox. They’re an opportunity to get your story down, vet your messaging, and create a go-to background document. While some outlets will reprint press releases and some journalists will write articles based on them, you’re more likely to get coverage with a timely, relevant, targeted email to the right reporter.

2. Adding contact info makes reporters’ job easier.

I don’t like to get spammed either, but neglecting to offer a contact puts a big roadblock in the way of any journalist who wants to talk to you. Make it as simple as possible for reporters to get in touch. Create a special phone number or email if you have to, but check it regularly.

3. Links can help build a relationship.

Linking to more resources on your website, including visuals, logos, and other assets for easy download should be a no-brainer. Linking to social accounts and blogs as well gives reporters a way to follow the company or executives for future follow-up, Rafter says.

4. Keep an eye on calendars.

It sounds basic, but make sure your experts are available to talk to reporters. Rafter has followed up on releases the day they went out only to be told the subject matter expert is out of the office or unavailable. Vacations happen. Keep a close eye on schedules around launch time. For Rafter, even if she agreed to an embargo, she’s not writing based on a release — she’s doing interviews.

Press releases have never been a be-all, end-all strategy. Like a blog, media contacts, influencers, events, and more, press releases are just one piece of a larger strategy that will earn you credibility, attention, and ultimately new customers.