Uploading a press release to a distribution service used to be an almost-automatic part of the communicator’s job.
However, as information channels expanded to email, social media, brand newsrooms, podcasts and livestreams, communication professionals are asking two related questions: ‘Is the press release dead? And, if so, what’s the value of press release distribution services?’
The recent 2021 Muck Rack State of Journalism survey offered an unequivocal finding: nearly all journalists (94 percent) prefer pitches via one-to-one email (see table below).
And just fewer than 20 percent of the 2,500 journalists surveyed want a mass email pitch from a brand or company or an email from a press release service. Almost twice as many (37 percent) said they dislike pitches via mass email or press release wires.
The Best Way to Pitch?
Based on these data, press release distribution services should consider closing shop. Purely as a pitching tool, the mass-distributed press release may have lost its relevance for communication professionals.
Joanna Drabent, CEO of Prowly, a media relations software provider, voices a majority opinion when she says personal media outreach remains the best way to pitch.
“Manual PR outreach allows for a personalized approach, providing the journalist with news that is not only relevant, but valuable,” she says.
“It is more time-consuming [for the media relations pro], but it definitely increases chances of getting media coverage that’s actually valuable...Journalists replying to a wire pitch is a very rare occasion today as they don’t look through wire publications anymore.”
The sales pitch Mike Trask, director of product marketing and strategy at Ainsworth Game Technology, gets repeatedly is distribution services “help [press releases] reach a larger audience.”
But a wider audience is not Trask’s goal. “We are hyper-targeting a select series of trade publications and investor newsletters...In my experience, the [press release] wire services do not reach that audience.”
That said, press release wires still offer benefits to media relations pros. And several new wrinkles may surprise you.
Many of today’s press wire services not only deliver company messages on a grand scale, but offer additional tools and assistance.
For example, PR Newswire staff review all releases the wire carries. They make suggestions to ensure releases are optimized for the right audiences.
Some press release services also offer social media and multimedia assets, which may help attract journalists.
“It’s surprising to me that most email pitches do not include an image,” says Bruce Castleberry, senior editor, Lowell Sun/Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise and regional sports editor/Massachusetts, MediaNews Group.
“You can digest that right away, and it tends to make you linger a bit longer. Maybe long enough” to become interested in the pitch.
Reputation, Prestige and SEO
The reputation and prestige of some press release wire services is another reason company communicators may opt to use them. Having PR Newswire carry your release, for example, may provide it with an additional degree of visibility and trustworthiness. This also starts the SEO engine.
Laura Gross, president at Scott Circle Communications, says press wire distribution “improves SEO for our clients.” She adds, “Depending on the announcement, sometimes it drives...more traffic to their sites.”
For Gross, whose firm works with nonprofits and advocacy organizations, this provides desirable search leverage.
“It increases calls from people who might want to” partner with these advocacy groups and nonprofits, she says.
Press release wires also offer measurement tools. This helps organizations that lack resources for a full-blown data and reporting team.
Adds Melissa Zuckerman, SVP at JPA Health, “Over the years, [press wire] services have drastically improved metrics reporting to not only understand the number of pickups and impressions, but to get a deeper understanding of how and which media is engaging” with a release.
For example, PR Newswire offers a report that can help a company “understand key demographics of media engaging with the release.” These include industry, media type and location. Such information can inform priority targeting for future releases, Zuckerman says.
Press Wires’ Future: Trade Publishers
Dedicated press release wires aren’t the only game in town. An emerging trend among trade publications is a type of announcement-distribution tool for brand communicators.
For example, Adweek, lets companies submit announcements to Adweek Wire through a corporate subscription program. The announcements are listed on a Wire page and appear in a weekly e-newsletter.
Unlike PR Newswire and other press release distribution services, Adweek staffers do not offer suggestions to ensure releases are optimized.
Similarly, another news organization, Industry Dive, debuted a press release tool in July 2020. Like the Adweek offering, companies can post releases in a special section of its website for three weeks and in a targeted newsletter.
Since Industry Dive hosts 22 industry-specific news sites, like Food Dive, Supply Chain Dive, Banking Dive, Construction Dive and Cybersecurity Dive, companies can target their releases to a sector. The service also offers reports to measure reach.
“We heard that companies wanted to reach our audience — and this ensures [them] a way to do it,” says Jessica Saba, senior director of Industry Dive’s press release service.
She admits it’s not an either/or with other press wires, encouraging communicators to make the service one part of their media relations toolkit. And, Saba adds, the service is not meant to replace PR pros pitching individual reporters.
Can Regulation Prevent Death?
Still, the question remains: Is the press release dead?
For Zuckerman of JPA Health, the answer is no. Releases, she says, provide a vetted source for media members to uncover important news.
In addition, they provide reporters easy access to media contacts and spokespeople or resources.
“In fairness, the wire services can help financial news get pulled into a lot of market sites. The perfect example would be the news feed on the Apple Stocks app,” Trask says.
Press releases also offer a regulatory benefit for public companies. Press releases, Zuckerman says, meet disclosure laws when they’re published on one of the wires such as Business Wire, PR Newswire or Globe News Service.
Sector Press Release Services
And there are sector-specific press release services that benefit media and the companies who pitch them.
For healthcare, medicine, science and technology research, EurekAlert!, a service of the trade group the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provides reporters free access to embargoed and breaking releases.
“It is common to receive media requests after posting news through EurekAlert!, especially if it is embargoed data,” Zuckerman says.
PR pros can choose from a wide variety of these industry-specific press wires. Organizations such as EIN Presswire include the option to send releases on what it calls “microwires.” These include more than 60 industry-specific categories where releases can be distributed. Industries served include textiles, mining, defense (military), gaming, education, law and more.
For communicators working with social impact organizations, CSRWire provides a platform for sharing news and updates. 3BL Media distributes releases about ESG news. UWire caters to reporters at college media outlets.
Where Press Wires Fall Short
Yet, even with all the technical bells and whistles, and the ease of reaching thousands of contacts simultaneously, press wires don’t always provide what PR professionals are seeking: news coverage.
For those who use distribution services, it may be purely about reach rather than pitching.
“Journalists still use press wires, but it’s more for checking facts than picking up new stories,” says Draben of Prowly.
However, journalist Castleberry disagrees.
“If we are that far down the road [with a story], we’d want to see what is on the company’s website, or better yet, get a spokesperson on the record. Most likely, we’d call them directly.”
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