Pressing Dilemmas – When Press Releases become Promotional Releases

Press Releases are always an editorial dilemma, because the content can run the spectrum from true news through to blatant advertising. Every press release requires editing, because a publication can only expose you the reader to so much unfiltered “market speak” and “hype talk”. That takes time and effort on our part, so you’ll understand our lack of enthusiasm when we receive press releases that are at best promotional and at worst vaguely cloaked advertising.

When I receive a release touting a new product, a sale or new Internet shop, as an editor and publisher I have to question the whether the topic covered is news or not. In some cases the press releases tell a clearly interesting story, with a thin layer of marketing over top. Scrape away that top layer and you’ve something engaging and news worthy; often these are the grass roots efforts of racers, rally teams, long distance riders or schools starting new programs. Most often with these releases we will leave clear references to the “sponsors” in the stories, they after all have supported the motorcycle community and contributed in the context of making the story possible.

New bike announcements run a fine line, but the response to the specifications of the latest metal coming to a showroom floor near you is speaks by volume of viewers alone. You, as readers, want to hear about the latest and greatest offerings, and though it can take hours to re-work the text, pull out all the marketing hyperbole, add commentary, chop the overused adjectives and doing layout the effort is worth it for a piece that meets your needs. Occasionally we do slip, time constraints may see us simply write an introduction, giving you the context of the bike in the market and then let you suffer the sales pitch, because we know that you can read the release critically.

The problem comes when we receive a piece that is blatantly advertising; the opening of a new web store, a sale announcement or new tour company offering being promoted for example. These advertisements in the guise of a press release, don’t offer value beyond the commercial gain of those submitting them. More critically these “promotional releases” constitute a basic disrespect to how we as a publisher survive, by saying “you [the publisher] get to advertise for us for free, you get work at reformatting, editing and processing images, but we don’t value your efforts or outlet enough to support it financially through advertising.”

It’s a deeply frustrating game to be caught in, because to a greater or lesser extent it happens across all levels of the industry. We incur costs in the production of reviews even when a bike is provided, namely gas, accommodations (if needed), rent, bandwidth, layout time an irritating need to eat… so on. That’s before we even consider paying ourselves for our time spent writing, filming or in photo-shoots.

It is cheapening to be “used” for the marketing and sales goals of various companies, only to be told, “We will never advertise on the internet” followed by the latest press release dropping into the inbox. Don’t get me wrong; we do appreciate the chance to ride new bikes and test new gear, but likely we’d be out riding and writing regardless of these perks without the “honour” of being part of the industries marketing machine.

There is no basis for the entitlement we see in many of these “promotional releases”, nor are we particularly swayed by the manipulative and airy promises of “potentially we’ll advertise with you in the future”. That particular ploy has resulted in free advertising for a number of promoters many times, and yet after eight years in the industry we’re not feeling quite so gullible.

The truth is, with a little thought and analysis (or a willingness to simply ride someplace new and spectacular) we are not so desperate for content or willing scuttle our journalistic standards that we see the need to run these “promotional releases” – at least not with a appropriate layer of commentary, critical thought and sarcasm. Indeed, the mere subject has created just over 700-words of non-advertising content today already, and there is plenty more in the world to write about beyond the latest “motorcycle gift shop in time for the Christmas rush”.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mollygrubber says:

    Thanks for this, Neil. I have never considered this subject from the perspective of the publisher, and it does seem a little unfair.

    However, I enjoy your website for far more reasons than reviews (although I like yours, because they are actually critical, local to me, and often very funny!).

    I have left links to your work on some of the BMW forums I belong to, and they are widely admired. I hope that’s OK, now you’ve got me thinking about entitlement and the vagaries of internet usage…

    Keep up the good fight, and if you ever need to review (another) BMW R1200R, you can use mine gratis.


    Peter Jowett, North Delta


  2. Peter,
    Don’t sweat the sharing of links by any means, the sharing of information in that manner is vital to a site like http://OneWheelDrive.Net – traffic after all makes the site.
    Thanks for the kind words and offer of the R1200R, don’t worry, the review done I don’t think we need to poach yours.


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