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RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) -- and Long Live the Tweet

When It Comes to Pithy Spin, Should Marketers Be Taking Their Cues From the Celebrity-Industrial Complex?

By Published on . 23

Simon Dumenco
Simon Dumenco
"I specifically ordered Persian rugs with cherub imagery!!! What do I have to do to get a simple Persian rug with cherub imagery uuuuugh."

That pithy cry for help came to my attention thanks to Time.com, which just presented it in a listicle titled "14 Kanye Tweets at Their Best." Time is paying fresh attention to @KanyeWest because the rapper just tweeted an apology ("I'm sorry Taylor") to Taylor Swift.

Kanye's belated arrival on Twitter (with a Twitter Verified Account, launched in July) has had me thinking about how, increasingly, the news media has a nifty new way of "reporting" entertainment news: regurgitating celebrity tweets. It wasn't that long ago that a celebrity with something "important" to put out there, like an apology, would automatically say it through a tightly controlled protocol, like a set of engineered sound bites delivered via a well-staged interview. Now 140 characters or fewer suffices.

Bad grammar is fine. Messy emotional baggage? Great! (See @LindsayLohan). Issues of profound personal importance that you might have previously funneled through Liz Smith? Pull out your BlackBerry! (Neil Patrick Harris a.k.a. @ActuallyNPH: "So, get this: David and I are expecting twins this fall. We're super excited/nervous/thrilled.").

Of course, things can get badly bollixed when old-school celebrities like Kelsey Grammer get on Twitter. Grammer's rep, Stan Rosenfield, recently told TVGuide.com that there was no "Frasier" spin-off in the works, despite what appeared on @Kelsey_Grammer. "That's what happens," he explained, "when [the] people who do your tweeting misinterpret something."

Still, we've come to expect even big news from Hollywood by tweet , direct (more or less) from the players themselves -- off-the-cuff, in a by-the-way fashion.

As the celebrity-industrial complex goes, so goes the rest of corporate America. Consider, for instance, "How Steve Slater Is Stifling JetBlue's Social-Media Strategy," an August report by my colleagues Rupal Parekh and Michael Bush. The gist of it was that the world wasn't expecting the airline to address its little steward-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown problem via press release. We wanted JetBlue to chime in immediately on its @JetBlue Twitter feed and its Facebook page. Over the summer, BP dutifully issued press releases detailing its well-plugging and clean-up efforts, but it dropped the ball on Twitter, leaving an opening for the parodists of @BPGlobalPR to wreak havoc.

The long-suffering, much-maligned press release, I'd argue, finally died this summer, thanks particularly to JetBlue and BP, with a little moral support from Kanye West and just about every other celebrity with thumbs. (Of course, press releases will probably continue to stumble along, zombie-like, for years to come, because too many PR folks are still heavily invested in grinding them out.)

Legend has it that early PR man Ivy Ledbetter Lee issued the very first press release in 1906 on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a derailed train plunged into a creek in Atlantic City, resulting in 53 passenger deaths; The New York Times printed it verbatim.

If the same thing happened today, we'd all be looking for @nytimes to RT @PennsylvaniaRR's real-time spin.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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