Are Press Releases A Thing Of The Past? Cyberpunk 2077 and Their Ransomware Hack

No.

Ok, so that isn’t a good way to answer the question of my first blog post, but it is important to emphasise that press releases are still an integral part of any PR practitioner’s toolkit. I’m sure anyone who is applying for jobs in the PR and communications sector has seen that for employers an understanding of press releases is essential. It has therefore been really useful to have learnt the proper formatting, and some tips and tricks, in the last few weeks to help my press releases stand out from the crowd.

Here are 5 important things I have learnt about press releases:

  1. The strength of your press release heavily relies on your headline and lead paragraph. Most of the time journalists only read your opening, so if not solid or interesting your story will just be another one in the pile.
  2. Make sure your lead paragraph includes the 5W’s (Who, What, Where, When and Why).
  3. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and concise. No more than 25-30 words a sentence and 2-3 sentences per paragraph.
  4. A quote should enhance and support the key message, not just be a generic statement to fill the space.
  5. Always keep it positive.

However, while I think press releases are still important, I do think that there are other options depending on the situation. With the rise of social media, media corporations are no longer the gatekeepers of information they once were. Anyone now has the potential to have access to stories in an instant, and so it seems realistic to expect the PR industry to get more creative and move beyond traditional formats, to find new ways to communicate with their relevant stakeholders.

Cyberpunk 2077

The developers of Cyberpunk 2077 present a potential alternative to the traditional press release.

This game was one of, if not, the most hyped game of 2020, but it cannot be said that the launch of this game was smooth sailing. Cyberpunk 2077 has been marred by controversy, delays and bugs, and so its launch has been as successful as my attempts to stand up on a SUP board. Everytime they stand up, within the next ten seconds they are back in the water.

So when the game’s developers, CD Projekt Red, were hit with a ransomware attack on 9th February 2021 they fell off their SUP board once again. For a lot of companies, and particularly a company in the technology sector, an incident like this would have serious ramifications to their reputation. In fact what is really interesting about this ransomware attack is that the hacker’s message directly references their image, stating it “will go down the s****** even more” and that those invested in the company will withdraw their support.

CD Projekt Red Twitter Post (9th February 2021) CD PROJEKT RED on Twitter: “Important Update https://t.co/PCEuhAJosR” / Twitter

It is arguably CD Projekt Red’s response to this incident that has reduced the damage desired by the hacker to the company’s reputation. Instead of giving into their demands and trying to keep the situation hushed, they actually produced a release for social media, as well as publishing the hackers note to them. What this post from CD Projekt Red does is show a proactive choice by the company to take back some control of the situation, to try to manage the inevitable communications about the hack.

So while this appearance of transparency and social responsibility in their operations gives trust to both their stakeholders and shareholders, it also importantly is an attempt to shape public opinion positively about their response before media corporations can shape it themselves.

A social media release could additionally solve the problem of ill-targeted press releases. One statistic from my lectures which really stood out to me is that journalists have stated that 81% of the press releases they received were irrelevant to them. By posting on social media, companies can communicate directly with their specific and committed stakeholders, but their story will be able to target journalists better, such as technology/industry journalists in this case who will already follow them online.

So was this social media release the right choice?

In this instance I think it was the right choice to post the release on social media as it helped the company appear transparent in a crisis situation such as this. Overall the response was positive on social media where they received over 124.8k likes on Twitter for the post (which is comparatively higher to most of their posts), but the post also reached, and was well received by, media organisations too, with the BBC writing:

“… in a world of empty press releases [CD Projekt Red] has shown what can and, in the eyes of many, should be done to deal with the growing problem of ransomware hacking” (Joe Tidy, Cyber Reporter for the BBC).

Nevertheless, CD Projekt Red, and their game Cyberpunk 2077, are still struggling to reclaim a positive reputation with the gaming community. While this tactic was heavily praised, it remains to be seen whether their response to the hack will turn the situation into a net bonus to the company’s reputation bank, or just simply reduce the damage.

What this shows though is that just because something was done a certain way does not mean it should always remain the way to do something. Covid-19 has forced the PR industry to change their practices and think of creative new ways to communicate with their stakeholders. Traditional press releases are still a strong option to get your story covered and to add credibility to it, but importantly it is not the only way. We need to think out of the box to help the stories we want to tell stand out.

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