Outside the world of official documents, there are few examples of written prose that are treated with greater disdain by their recipients than press releases. Written in-house by employees or by contracted public relations professionals with varying levels of skill, all too often they convey information of limited importance to people with little interest in receiving it.
Conveying information of limited importance to people with little interest in receiving it...
A single page to announce that Company X has appointed a new CEO or launched a product is rarely likely to have much effect on journalistic adrenaline. Nor will they care about awards. Worst of all is the release stating that “Valentine’s Day” (or Halloween or Thanksgiving) is coming! The perfect time to uncork a bottle of Company X Special Reserve.”
Typically, releases suffer one of four fates...
First and most likely, it will go straight into the real or virtual trash can.
Second, it might be published almost verbatim.
This, naturally, is what the author of the release hopes will happen, but it rarely does. Only the laziest of publications will do this, and if they do, they'll probably surround it with similar material, all of which will most likely go unread.
Third, the release could catch the interest of the journalist or, more importantly, an editor.
In this case they might use the release as the springboard for a news article that will involve further research and quite possibly a call to the company to get more information and images, and ideally an attributable quote that won’t appear anywhere else.
The possible downside of this outcome is that, on occasion, the journalistic efforts may uncover information that the sender of the release would prefer not to see widely discussed. The revelation that Company X’s new CEO left his previous job under a cloud, for example, that this year’s profit is not enough to make up for last year’s loss, or that the product repackaging was in response to a court order, may make the PR department regret having said anything at all.
These three fates have, in a digital age, been joined by a fourth:
Thanks to the existence of online sites like BusinessWire, that will display press releases on their site, if the headline has been optimised for SEO, it’s likely the release will be discovered by a consumer who is, actually, looking for a wine recommendation for Halloween.
Today, a growing number of press releases are being generated by generative AI bots, either by services like Hypoteneuse.ai or directly and without charge by ChatGPT.
Having tested the latter several times, I can confirm that, given a good prompt — and this is essential — the bots are at least as good at this task as the junior employees most PR companies use to write most releases. And almost certainly better.
Don't trust the bots - any more than you'd trust a human
Yes, obviously computer-written releases like these will need to be checked carefully before they are sent out but, as many businesses have discovered to their cost, this has always been true of the texts created by human beings. And the digital ones have the advantage of being instant and, for the moment, free.
The predictable downside of easily-produced press releases is that some brands will be tempted to fire off an endless torrent of them. Others that have never issued one may also now be tempted to do so, at least occasionally.
Both may benefit in ways they had never imagined, thanks to the bots and the way they gather the information they need to generate their text. Just like Google’s search engines, they go looking online, and as Treasury Wine Estates revealed in Meininger’s, the more material they find there, the easier their task.
As I’ve discovered in my experiments, ChatGPT 4 bots move quickly, picking up information from social media, news stories and websites published in the last few days.
The day before addressing a tech conference in Moldova recently, I asked ChatGPT to create a 500-word press release about the event. Using information it found online, it produced a first class effort, including names of the speakers and their topics that had only just been announced.
Spreading the word
If Company X posts a lot of material about its relationship to the local village or town or an event or particular wine style and, if a few other other people make similar connections online, there’s a chance that when someone asks ChatGPT to write a hundred or so words about that village, town or event, Company X may get a mention.
And, of course, if this text is used online and picked up by another bot, the phenomenon becomes self-perpetuating.
Press releases that may have failed to excite the attention of editors, may be of interest to bots
To imagine how this could work, think of the ways Gonzalez Byass could increase the likelihood of its name appearing in almost anything written about the town of Jerez.
The Bodega Tio Pepe Hotel it opened in 2020; its relationship with the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art that hosts the popular demonstrations of classic horse riding; its hosting of the Flamenco Fashion show; its role with tapas, jamon and Manchego cheese; its release of a ‘Fino Sherry in Blue Gift Box With Handcrafted Happy Father’s Day message’… and so on.
The press releases referring to any or all of these may have failed to excite the attention of plenty of editors, but somewhere a bot may find something of interest. And, in future, that could be increasingly important.
So, if you haven’t experimented with the technology yet, I’d urge you to do so, even if, like me and the majority of professionally-written press releases I receive, you consign your first efforts directly to the online trash can.