Thinking about paying that newswire service to distribute your press release? Media relations chief Tom Farthing reckons you should think again.
A paid-for newswire service distributes stories to journalists on behalf of businesses and PR agencies. Because these services maintain large databases of reporters, they claim to offer quick access to key sections of the media.
They’re also useless, outdated, and expensive.
But then, ideas can survive long past the point of obsolescence. Some telemarketers still swear by cold calling; some football managers still swear by 4-4-2; doubtless, there are some people out there using pagers instead of smartphones.
This phenomenon is common to many industries, and media relations is no exception. The paid for PR newswire should, by all rights, be extinct. And yet, these distribution services endure, powered by nothing more than blind adherence to tradition and the bizarre conviction that getting a press release into a bunch of journalist inboxes is the same thing as having those journalists read it.
If there ever was a time that newswire services consistently got results, that time is long past. But why are these services so useless for businesses?
Journalists hate newswire services
The fundamental problem with distributing a press release through paid for newswires is that your target audience – journalists and bloggers – won’t find them useful, and in some cases actively hate them.
Seriously. I asked. A quick anecdotal survey of media contacts revealed responses that ranged from general indifference to profane, foaming-at-the-mouth contempt. Asked what they think of newswire content, one hack replied: “They are too generic for my tastes.” Another said, simply, succinctly, and poetically: “Absolute fucking bollocks.” The other responses fell somewhere else along the spectrum of polite negativity and, well, impolite negativity:
“They’re horrible. The combination of their use for the world’s most boring announcements coupled to a visual design that would serve well as a sleeping pill means I scarcely give them a second glance.”
“Spammy and generic. I don’t think you’ll find many UK journos are fans in all honesty.”
“Occasionally I might contact a company if I’m writing copy that requires a quote or two and I think they might have something relevant to say, (as opposed to marketing fluff). I can’t remember the last time I used a release as the basis of an article though.”
The point is, journalists don’t have much time for them, and it’s not even particularly surprising. A newswire service sends releases to thousands of inboxes at a time, and it’s very hard for anything to be relevant to thousands of people at once. So if you’re sending out a press release about your new goat vaporiser or whatever, it’ll reach the agricultural press and the technology press, but relatively few reporters will have any tangible, immediate interest in it. They’ll delete the email – or worse, blacklist your company, leaving you powerless to contact them even if you do have something of interest.
What’s more, they cost money. Quotes tend to vary, but a 500-word press release could set you back £400. Send out enough press releases through a newswire service and you’ll find yourself running up quite a bill – and all for fairly negligible rewards.
Your newswire service is bad for SEO
Paid for PR newswire services are also disadvantageous from another, equally important perspective: they can hurt your SEO efforts.
In days of yore, it was possible to gain a significant SEO advantage through a newswire service. But this advantage was not always gained fairly: thin, poorly-written content with strategically optimised keywords still generated high-value followed links simply by being posted on sites owned by the newswire.
Paid links are a big no no for Google, and, being Google, the company clamped down on this behaviour – hard. The search engine’s quality metrics punished newswire services for their lackadaisical approach to spam: PR Newswire was hit by a 63% drop in visibility.
Down with the wire
If a paid for newswire service won’t get you the necessary visibility, what will?
The answer is simple: communicate only with relevant journalists, and only communicate with them when you have something they might be interested in. That means tailoring your pitch to their specific areas of coverage, and it also means sending it to fewer reporters than you might have otherwise. It might take more time and require more energy, but the results will often be much better – and even if they’re not, at least you haven’t pissed anyone off.
If you’ve taken the care to make sure your product is right for its audience, you should make the same effort with your attempts to promote it. If you can do that in-house, great – if not, it might be time to contact a B2B PR agency.