I'm not sure whether Tom Foremski has had a look at the new-format press release that his February tirade set in train, but I can't help feeling that the result that Shift Communications came up with was not quite what he had in mind. Maybe it's a bit like Christmas where what you hoped you were getting turned out to be a chartreuse and puce Fair Isle sweater with three sleeves. "Mmm, thank you. How...different."
Personally, I have no problem with the existing format of press releases. It's what goes into them that is the problem. All that Shift has done with its format is split all the bits up and reorder them, and add in some social-media fairy dust for a bit of extra gloss. It does not address the central problem of companies telling you how great they are without actually providing any evidence. And no format is going to do that, only an understanding of what gets a release picked up.
If anything the social-media add-ons, like ready-to-roll Technorati and Del.icio.us tags make the new format harder for anyone to use. Just try to work out what is going on in the example release. First, you've got a bunch of bullet points and quotes.
- There is nothing particularly wrong with bullet points.
- Except that that the bullet points read just like the first lines of a traditional press release.
- But with fewer verbs.
- And broken up to make each element look important.
- So why not just have an intro para like, erm...a press release or a news story!
- Maybe this is easier to edit and, ahem, remix.
- For those too slow-witted to work out how to select sentences in a conventional release.
Following the bullets, we have all the Del.icio.us stuff. It's a purpose-built Del.icio.us page, apparently. And it contains all the stuff tagged to Shift, not anything directly relevant to this release. If you wanted to know why the release was put together this way, you are so out of luck if you thought clicking on that link for more information was going to get you anywhere. The quotes are the usual tired old guff that you would find in most conventional releases. So, no surprises there.
I'm still a bit mystified by the tag-intensive nature of Shift's approach. I guess that came about because Foremski spent a lot of time talking about tags in his original post. However, I don't think he meant tags like this, but the more formalised approach that you would use in an XML document. The idea, as I understood it, was that you would use those tags to pull out information relevant to your audience and let automated tools perform comparisons, between quarterly net income numbers, for example.
An intelligently tagged release might actually be helpful. But, as I have written before, I cannot see it ever happening. The work needed to come up with something useful that an entire industry would get behind is immense. And, by that time it happened, the primary target for the releases would be search engines, not journalists.