Usually we say, “Out with the old, in with the new,” around January, but that also describes what is happening to the news release.

For decades, communications people have relied on the traditional news release to generate coverage of an announcement. Now, the preferred format is more of a social media toolkit, a one-pager that provides journalists and bloggers with more access to information and encourages sharing. Instead of the traditional one- or two-page, text-only news release, the SMR opens with three or four bullets of core information and then goes on to provide links to additional product information, video, audio, an RSS feed for product information, links to influential bloggers, and opportunities to share via Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

The SMR is rapidly gaining interest, because we are quickly moving away from the old one-way, controlled messages. Shel Holtz, the guru on all things technology, says there is still a place for the traditional release. One reason is because some trade publications still have a news hole to fill, and it can be easier to receive a page or two of text, edit it down, make a couple of phone calls to confirm details, and print it. Shel doesn’t like the phrase social media “news release”; he would prefer to call it the social media “press kit,” because people should still write the old release and then link to the SMR for additional information and resources.

One thing that is noteworthy is that this is one of the rare occasions in our cultural history that we transform the way in which we format and organize a document in business. E-mail did not dramatically change the way we write memos. E-mail and the traditional Word document memo are both written in a descending order of importance, with the most significant details in the beginning (in most cases). And the only real change in business-letter formatting was that with the advent of technology, which justified all text to the left, people stopped indenting paragraphs and stopped positioning the signature over on the right (some people still do, and it’s OK).

But when it comes to disseminating news, we have different and better ways to influence an audience today.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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