The advent of new online communication channels, the goals, target audiences, and overall scope of press releases have transformed press releases into a new communication tool used by public relations and marketing professionals alike, according to research made possible by Vocus.


The traditional goals of increasing an organization's visibility and credibility and announcing news are now almost equaled in importance by new goals that include reaching customers directly, creating online content, and search engine optimization (SEO). While PR professionals placed more importance on traditional goals such as announcing news and enhancing thought leadership, marketing professionals reported SEO and reaching consumers as important goals for their online press releases. Small business owners were concerned with using the release as a sales tool and reaching customers directly.


Both traditional media and new media emerged as the top two most important audiences respondents hoped to reach with their online press releases. Bloggers and new media followed traditional media in importance, but were a very close second, separated by only 0.28 points on a 1-5 scale. PR professionals were consistently more interested than marketing professionals in reaching traditional media. Marketing professionals were consistently more interested in reaching new media or consumers directly.


For example, PR professionals rated the importance of reaching traditional media an average 4.53 on a 1-5 scale, which is significantly higher than marketing professionals' rating of 3.82. Similarly, marketing professionals rated the importance of reaching webmasters with an average 3.49 on a 1-5 scale, which is significantly higher than PR practitioners' rating of only 2.83.


The most frequently mentioned criteria for evaluating the success of online press releases were: the number of times the release has been republished on websites (79.6 percent); the number of times the release has been viewed online (76.8 percent); an article based on the release (75.4 percent); and media interview requests as a result of the release (74.2 percent).


Interestingly, although marketing and public relations professionals seem to use online press releases differently, there were no statistically significant differences between the two in terms of the criteria they use for evaluating success.


Very few respondents indicated using social media release formats (26.3 percent) and even fewer reported adding video (12.8 percent) or audio (9 percent) enhancements. Of all multimedia elements, photos were the most popular, used in online press releases by 49.5 percent of respondents. And  less than half of respondents (48.8 percent) link to their own press releases after they have been posted online.


The most frequently mentioned challenges of online press releases, grouped into categories according to the main themes, were:

·         Cutting through the clutter. This challenge speaks to the difficulty of getting a press release noticed in an information-rich environment. 

·         Targeting and distribution. Respondents often find it difficult to identify and target the specific audience for their press releases.

·         Measurement. Accurate evaluation of online press release results to include not only message distribution and exposure, but also evidence of audience receipt and behavior change was another perceived challenge.