Well before ClueTrain Manifesto was published, press releases and therefore PR press release writers were under attack. We all know they're written by corporate teams and lawyers, and they predictably came out the same: bad (rigid, legalistic language, filled with marketing hyperbole, the usual quote from the CEO and the obligatory boilerplate wording to finish it off). I can't remember writing more than a couple of stories based on press releases in my nearly decade at Business Week. I rarely even read beyond the first paragraph. Yet I doubt I received one real phone call for every 300 releases. A small business would pay a PR agency big bucks to pitch me a story, when in fact, their odds may have been better just to pick up the phone and call me (if they had a decent story, of course). I'm not knocking all the agencies--they served a purpose..but press releases were a waste of time, their time and mine.
Yet they're still around, and with electronic channels, they can now be pushed out in even bigger volumes Why? I can only guess: 1) they do provide a documented record of whatever you're trying to push 2) They make it look like you're doing something. A press release is a tangible product. 3) the actual publication of the press release provides a sort of stake in the ground, forcing everyone to rally around it.
The only benefit I could really see ties in with #3. Just the act of forcing everyone into meetings and hammering out the language of a release, however stilted, has some value. At least one time when I was involved in these corporate meetings at pretty large tech company a few years ago it dawned on me: this CEO doesn't really have a clear strategy, at least on paper. We're actually developing it RIGHT NOW.
How long will the press release survive? Who knows. I thought video stores would be dead five years ago and they're still around...And I thought blogs and all the "real conversations" would have killed off press releases by now. Wrong again....But like Donald Trump describing hopes for his third marriage, one day I'll get it right.