A press release is not an advertisement

I noticed something that I’d not seen before at the end of a press release earlier today:

This news release is issued in accordance with Clause 1.2j of the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion and therefore cannot be the subject of a transaction of any kind.

I wasn’t quite sure what this meant – and supposed it was an attempt to avoid the attentions of telesales staff from publications who call offering to place a press release for a fee (which used to be called a ). 

But checking the , relating to “non-broadcast advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing communications (marketing communications)”, Clause 1.2 states that the Code does not apply to:  

j) press releases and other public relations material, so long as they do not fall under 1.1 above

Moving back to point 1.1, it states:

1.1 The Code applies to:
a) advertisements in newspapers, magazines, brochures, leaflets, circulars, mailings, e-mails, text transmissions, fax transmissions, catalogues, follow-up literature and other electronic and printed material
b) posters and other promotional media in public places, including moving images
c) cinema and video commercials
d) advertisements in non-broadcast electronic media, including online advertisements in paid-for space (eg banner and pop-up advertisements)
e) viewdata services
f) marketing databases containing consumers’ personal information
g) sales promotions
h) advertisement promotions

So, I’m confused as to what the actual statement at the end of the press release actually means.  It appears to be implying that if the content of the release is viewed as a commercial advertisement (presumably meaning payment for coverage), then it would be subject to a Code which it otherwise isn’t. 

But the Code itself doesn’t actually state that the release cannot be the subject of a transaction.  As would say, curiouser and curiouser.

Neither the nor the is a member of the Committee of Advertising Practice, so again, I’m not clear why anyone in PR would think the CAP Code should apply to a press release.

Even odder, Googling the statement, led to , which apparently distributes press releases for training companies.  At the bottom of its press releases is a statement:

Media organisations: news providers and others may reproduce and publish up to 20% of a press release without permission provided that “Training Press Releases” is clearly quoted as indicated at the start of each press release. To obtain permission to reproduce more that 20% of a press release and multiple press releases, please complete this request form for a prompt reply. Permission is not required for personal copying use and non-commercial use.

Have you ever heard of journalists being expected to ask permission to use a press release, or being told they have to quote the distribution organisation’s name at the start?  The link to the site’s reveals that:

It is the responsibility of the advertising company or provider of news items to ensure the accuracy of the content of its press releases and advertisements.

So this company, clearly sees press releases as a form of advertising.  Although personally I feel that far too many companies use press releases more as a form of spam or direct mail, their purpose should be to convey accurate information to the media – not to be seen as an attempt at “free” advertising.

If you use a similar statement – or can explain its value – please comment below.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

7 thoughts on “A press release is not an advertisement”

  1. Sounds to me like the legal department got involved and no one bothered to challenge the all-seeing wisdom of the lawyers!

    I’ve always been amused by financial PR press releases which are so hidebound by legal caveats that the authors normally have to call journalists to explain what the story is…

    I think the problem is that “Press Releases” nowadays are used for so many reasons that have little to do with providing the news to the media. Government uses them to announce changes to policy (so the audience is rarely the media) marketeers use them to inform customers and lawyers use them as another way of bottom covering!


  2. Years ago when I worked in a newsroom we used to have a special wall to display PR work of this kind.

    Never mind – it will be useful as a training aid for many months to come!

  3. We use the 20% note so that those that syndicate large amounts of the content on TPR acknowledge us and so that we have some control over preventing any unscrupulus sites that just rip off our entire content. Journalists that use the press releases for information, part of a story, etc therefore don’t need to request permission and we wouldn’t expect them too. It’s an interesting point that you make about the advertising – our view is that a press release should be a ‘press release’ and not an advert – we have a submissions policy to help us to ensure this, however, as companies are paying to place their press releases on our site they are also a ‘kind of promotion’ which is why we think they should be subject to the CAP code.

  4. Rob,

    Thanks for your comment. However, I think your response underlines the point that your service is about marketing, not public relations.

    I still don’t get the point about your citation of the CAP code as reflecting that the release is “paid for promotion” on your site. The area of the code you reference relates to press releases not being covered – so you’re making a circular argument.

    In terms of protecting usage of the copy, most PR practitioners would not view use of their news releases – even in full – as something to be prevented. The Internet offers an opportunity for agency – meaning stories can be picked up and transmitted more widely. That is seen as an advantage in messages reaching a wider audience.

    It is also common for traditional journalists to use a press release in full – ideally on the basis of it being newsworthy and well written.

  5. Re your point about usage/journalists, TPR is used freely in this way, our ‘%’ term was probably unecessary so we’ve taken it out. Referencing CAP was intended to help with maintaining quality, we’ve replaced the reference with some quality guidelines. Thanks Heather for your insights.

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