The functions of press releases

Who can issue press releases?

Based on research published by Morton & Ramsey (1994) it has become clear that most of the press releases that land on journalists' desks are issued by companies (82%). The rest comes from a wide range of organisations, including government agencies, schools and universities, trade unions, charities, sports clubs, art galleries, etc. In fact, anyone can issue a press release, even individuals.

Why issue press releases?

Press releases are of course a part of the field of public relations. The reason why industry and public organisations issue them is to

  • contain a crisis
  • provide consumer information
  • launch a new product or service (or recall an existing product or service)
  • announce coming events
  • report on past events,
  • profile members of staff
  • etc.

Of course some of the goals spelled out above can also be reached by means of advertising. However, it is generally agreed that press releases have two advantages: if they get through to the general public in the form of newspaper reporting, then press releases are a free form of publicity (or simply 'free publicity') and they usually inspire greater credibility than paid advertising.

The trouble of course is that lots of press releases (actually most of them!) end up in the wastepaper bin: while advertising gets through to the public directly, press releases are a form of mediated communication: they can only be successful if they are 'picked up' - preferably copied verbatim - by the journalists in their own news reporting.

Note that in this module we focus only on the written media in general and on newspapers in particular. It should, however, be noted that press releases can also be used in other, including broadcast, media. In addition, it should be clear that there may be quite some diversity in the way newspapers use press releases, depending on whether they are quality or popular newspapers, in view of their political and ideological affiliations, etc.


  • Morton, L.P. and Ramsey, S. (1994). "A benchmark study of the PR news wire". Public Relations Review 20: 171-182.