Press releases are official statements issued by companies and organizations to print, television and radio media. They may be purely factual and address a specific issue or concern, or they may be more promotional in nature. Some are generated in-house by authorized employees, while others are produced by outside public relations firms contracted by the company or organization.
The press often relies on these press releases to form the factual basis for subsequent articles. During a newsworthy event, access to the actual individuals involved may be extremely limited. If the issue at hand is controversial or potentially damaging to a company's reputation, there may be a general news blackout. An official statement can allow companies to control the amount and substance of essential information the various media outlets may use.
Some of these statements are not meant to control information, but to openly promote a new project or event. Public relations departments use general press releases regularly to keep their companies or organizations visible in the public eye. Newspaper, radio and television press rooms often receive promotional statements that may or may not appeal to the local reader or viewership. Editors usually evaluate them to determine their newsworthiness before assigning reporters to pursue the lead.
Individuals in extraordinary circumstances may also use press releases to control information. A recent mother of sextuplets or a released kidnapping victim may be too overwhelmed to address the media directly, for example, so an attorney or other family spokesman may issue a statement on his or her behalf. Essential questions may be answered, and relevant quotes from the individuals involved may be provided. This form may be followed up with a controlled press conference in which reporters may ask questions directly.
Writing quality press releases is a process requiring skill and experience. Because every word may be scrutinized, careful wording is essential. This is why many companies turn to outside public relation firms for official statements and other media contacts. Inaccurate or poorly-worded information can come back to haunt a company or organization. For this reason, most are very succinct and businesslike in tone.