As a means to generate awareness and buzz about something you deem noteworthy, online press releases may offer greater impact in this day and age of social media. According to Wikipedia, “Typically, the aim is to attract favorable media attention to the PR professional’s client and/or provide publicity for products or events marketed by those clients. A press release provides reporters with an information subsidy containing the basics needed to develop a news story. Press releases can announce a range of news items, such as scheduled events, personal promotions, awards, new products and services, sales and other financial data, accomplishments, etc. They are often used in generating a feature story or are sent for the purpose of announcing news conferences, upcoming events or a change in corporation.”
In general, the press release is supposed to read more like news than a sales pitch. PR Web (www.prweb.com) stated that, “A press release is really just another term for (hopefully intriguing) content, and as a small business communicator, it’s your job to make every word count.” According to PR Web and its marketing gurus, writers should focus on clean, concise writing that provides clarity and is easy to read; headlines and subjects matter. Ultimately, the content may drive how the information is perceived and disseminated.
Sometimes companies will write brief “articles” and “press” them so that the news-like piece drives awareness. Scientific organizations may issue press releases with the purpose of sharing potentially useful health information while also generating awareness about the organization.
Using the premise that the purpose of a press release is to drive awareness, is it fair to say the press release can be used as a tool for advertising? In my view, the press release is basically an advertisement for sharing information with the goal of getting others to discuss or share that information. So the press release should be viewed as an advertising and marketing tool.
When a company releases alleged results of a study on a finished nutritional product, but the actual study is not in-press, published or available for the public to read and review, then this type of press release is most certainly a form of advertising. Why discuss or mention results of a study on your product but not invite the public to read the actual study results, or have the researchers submit the study to a conference for presentation or a journal for full-length publication? Again, this form of press release might be best viewed as a marketing tool that uses smoke and mirrors.
Think of how many press releases you have read online or have come across on the newswire or through e-mail either from a valid media outlet or directly from a company. Have you ever read one and thought, “how come there is no mention of where this study is actually published? How come there is no link to the actual study? Wow, this read like an advertisement.”
FTC Guidelines to Consider
Following the notion that press releases can be a form of advertising, it might be worth being familiar with the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines on implied claims and endorsements. For example, a statement made by any individual who may be viewed as an expert or giving a direct quote on the topic at hand (for example, a product study) might be construed as a de facto endorsement.
The FTC shares the following regarding endorsers and endorsements: “An endorsement means any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser and may be an individual, group, or institution.” Therefore, in my opinion, a quote in a press release—even on a product study—could be viewed as an endorsement. Scientists should use caution.
The FTC also shares this definition regarding an “implied claim,” and offers an example: “An implied claim is one made indirectly or by inference. ‘ABC Mouthwash kills the germs that cause colds’ contains an implied claim that the product will prevent colds.”
If a dietary supplement company issues a press release that discusses claims beyond what the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) and subsequent laws allow, then the whole press release might be viewed as an implied claim.
Remember, by law, dietary supplements cannot be marketed for the treatment or prevention of diseases or medical conditions. A press release that discusses a not-yet or never-to-be published study may not exempt the company from implied claims, especially if the company or someone affiliated with the company is the one that issues the release.
When considering discussing study results in a press release it might be best to allow the study to be published first, or at least in the queue of a journal for publishing. This way the release doesn’t look like just another puffery piece or advertising vehicle.
Douglas Kalman, PhD, MS, RD, FACN, is director of clinical nutrition at Miami Research Associates (MRA), Miami, FL, in the Nutrition and Endocrinology Division. MRA is a clinical service organization involved for over 10 years in phase II through post market trials for the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries. Mr. Kalman is also an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine, American College of Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Association of Clinical Research Professionals. He is also the executive vice president and treasurer of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). He can be reached at 305-666-2368; Fax: 305-669-8966; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.miamiresearch.com.