A couple weeks ago a client was locked out of their press release service. We couldn’t get in to post and distribute an announcement. So, we kept going without it.
The release was published on the company’s online newsroom without the paid distribution. In turn, I put together a pitch with a link and reached out to reporters I thought would be interested.
The story earned coverage and it deserved it because it was a good story. Yet, that coverage was earned without paid press release distribution provided by a vendor.
This, of course, is no mystery to anyone that’s worked in public relations for any length of time. You don’t need a wire service to earn coverage and using one doesn’t guarantee coverage either.
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A sure-fire way to stir up debate – or plea for attention – in public relations is to call the press release dead. Claims of its death can be traced to the 1970s.
Still, a recent survey of communications professionals with Ned’s Job of the Week really piqued my interest. When respondents were asked to rate a list of tactics as more or less important over the next year, the press release fared quite poorly.
While no tactic earned a majority of votes for “less important” or “much less important” in the next 12 months, there were three that earned the most. Press releases were at the top of that trio.
In my assessment, it’s not the venerable press release that’s losing its allure, it’s the distribution.
You Release Has Been Featured! [Buried on WCAX]
What one person views as “news” will be trash to another. I don’t read the Hollywood Reporter but there are people who do. Similarly, I read the Wall Street Journal, and there are plenty of people that do not. The point is, what is news…is highly subjective.
Press releases are the same way, sort of. They grew in marketing prominence with the advent of the web and the online news release. For example, in 2010 or so, a decent press release could create an impressive digital footprint, search engine visibility and drive substantive referral traffic.
That all came crashing down in 2012 and you should read this piece, by Danny Sullivan, the former editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, if you want to understand why. Suffice to say, today, press releases are still distributed the same way they were 10 years ago, but without the value they once had.
For example, on one release I recently distributed through one such service counted 120 or more “pickups” where the press release was published. This means it was buried deep in websites like that of WCAX, a broadcast station in South Burlington, Vermont.
It’s unlikely anyone read that version of the release; it’s even less likely any news producer knows it’s on their site, and I’m pretty sure if either of those proved untrue, the good citizens of South Burlington couldn’t care less about this particular announcement.
What is the value in that? If you are wondering, I don’t think there is very much.
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Spending $30,000 on Releases You Don’t Need?
I’ve used all four major press release vendors in my career. They all tout various distribution partnerships, but these things only mean your release winds up buried on more websites that nobody reads.
The difference really comes down to cost. Indeed, I once saved a former employer, tens of thousands of dollars in press release costs simply by switching from another vendor to another (and even more by firing the big firm and hiring a boutique PR agency).
Pick any of the major services – and compile some text and some multimedia that release can easily run $2,500. If you publish one per month, that’s $30,000 annually.
In today’s prove-everything-in-marketing-has-value-before-you-do-it, this is sheer insanity. I don’t understand how a CFO can demand ROI and yet continue to fund press releases as a budget line item.
For the holdouts in the public market, that the press release is some magical means to satisfy RegFD is total nonsense. It’s been many years since John Chambers first announced Cisco’s quarterly earnings in a blog post.
And that leads me back to the story that opened up this entry. The vendor support person that promised she’d stay at work until the matter was fixed, in fact, went home about 5 p.m. that day. It took the vendor some 48 hours to figure it out and we’d already been out in the market with success without them.
That really drove the point home. You can still do with a press release – but you can probably do without the paid distribution.
* * *
I leave you with a final thought stemming from this analysis: In 2016 Cision acquired PR Newswire for $841 million – which I estimate is somewhere between 5x and 8x annual revenue. That’s a premium price tag in my book.
That same year, the publishing and events company UBM acquired the Content Marketing Institute for just $17.6 million. That’s a discount in the same ledger.
I’m confident these two notions intersected at that point in time and the delta has widened ever since. Read into that what you will.
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