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Is Slack about to kill off the press release?

Posted by Alex Warren on 15th August 2016

Here at Wildfire HQ we’ve been using Slack for just over a year. After being disappointed by iMessage and Yammer, Slack has finally offered a forum in which we as a company can exchange media contacts, host virtual brainstorms and conduct our regular exchange of Simpsons gifs.

Slack has changed the way that offices communicate, but it’s also changed the way that we as PR people should expect to work.

Over the last two years, Slack has not only infiltrated the PR community but is now also being used across national news outlets such as The Times, Associated Press and Vox Media.

With this proliferation of “closed” communication among media outlets, we as PR professionals must start to wonder how Slack is likely to impact our ability to communicate with journalists. Even more importantly, as these journalists spend less and less time on email and more time on internal channels such as Slack, what role does this leave for the humble PR press release?

Writing about his own use of Slack, Times journalist Matt Taylor recently commented, “In many ways, Slack has totally removed the need for internal email.” This change, combined with the switch from email attachments to Dropbox links, is drastically reducing the amount of time that journalists spend in their inboxes. The result has been a PR graveyard, overflowing with unread article synopses, unseen infographics and unopened pitches from pleading PR pros.

This is not to say that journalists won’t dip in and out to send the occasional external message or respond to a request, but as a platform for day-to-day communication, it appears that email is finally losing its edge.

What can PR people do about it?

In terms of providing a tangible solution, my advice is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Devote more time to making your pitch stand out. Make sure that what you’re offering is genuinely newsworthy. Be willing to consult and even say no to your clients if they insist on sending out a release that clearly isn’t news.

That’s all good advice, but it’s hardly new. It’s also not much of a long-term solution.

What PRs can do, however, is take the move away from email as an opportunity to speak with journalists in a more naturalistic way. Rather than bombarding them with one-way emails, we should use the proliferation of social chat services as a chance to build a two-way conversation and start speaking to journalists as actual human beings, rather than as coverage generation machines.

Increasingly, I’ll happily drop a journalist a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter, flagging a story but also having a more general chat. These are never really “pitches” and certainly don’t follow the corporate tone of your average press release. They’re just conversations offering something that might be useful.

The benefit of this approach is that any private contact has to be reciprocal – if a journalist doesn’t follow back then you can’t drop them a DM. As a result, those PRs who haven’t taken the time to build a relationship are forced to do their pitching out in the open – further discouraging them from sending poorly thought out pitches and irrelevant requests (no PR person likes to look stupid in front of their followers!).

Whether you choose to approach journalists via Twitter, Facebook, Reddit or even open communities on Slack, as long as PR people treat these channels with respect, the end result can only be good news for the PR-journalist relationship.

It’s time to put down the press release, ditch the pitch, and focus on offering real, two-way value to the media. Let’s stop spamming and start talking.

Alex Warren

Alex Warren is an expert in AI and marketing technologies. He has published two books, Spin Machines, and Technoutopia and is regularly quoted in PR, marketing and technology media. In his role as a Senior Account Director at Wildfire he helps tech brands build creative strategies that deliver results and cut through the marketing BS.