Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Guest Post: PR's Love Affair With The Press Release (And How To End It)

Posted by Tom Foremski - August 12, 2009

[Here is an excellent article by Andrew Fowler, from Newsvetter, a Portland based PR consultancy. If you'd like to publish a guest post on SVW please contact me tom at foremski.com]

By Andrew Fowler

If there's anybody who has developed a successful model for charging for news content, it's the PR industry.

In 2007, press releases represented a $2.2 billion market, according to Fortune. This figure only covers distribution through companies such as PR Newswire and PR Web. It does not include the cost to write and pitch them to the media which, in my experience, almost always exceeds the cost of distribution.

Most companies have accepted press releases (or social media releases) as the main engine powering their news programs. PR agencies love them because it's the easiest way to generate revenue and there's little resistance on the client side.

But how many of these press releases are actually worth the time and money? Not many.

Go to any corporate site and you would be hard pressed to find a handful of press releases (or social media news releases) that had enough news value to warrant their distribution. For example, recently, I was asked to weigh in on whether a company should write a press release about the launch of their corporate blog.

Press releases would be a lot less attractive if it weren't for search engine optimization which allows PR folk to tout search rank and traffic numbers. In the old days, nothing spelled F-A-I-L like a press release that didn't generate one piece of coverage. But these days, you get to say things like: "This press release generated 20K hits."

Of course, these numbers are meaningless unless you can track a particular hit to something tangible, like a sale, a business lead or even a piece of coverage. One of my cartoons generated over 30K hits, but other than boosting my ego, it did little to move the bar for my business.

The point is this: Don't let traffic numbers and search results give you a false sense of security about the success of your PR program. If you can't tie it to a specific business result, you're just wasting your precious PR dollars.

Now is a good time as any for companies to take a serious look at what they're spending on press release development and distribution. Here are a few things you should do first:

- Go through your press release archive and count how many press releases reported major pieces of company news (e.g., new product launches, major corporate developments or achievements). As a point of reference, most companies don't generate more than 5 major announcements (unless of course you're a large company like Microsoft).

- Ask your PR department or agency to give you a total cost for each press release (including time drafting, newswire distribution, and media outreach).

- Ask your PR department or agency to tie each press release to a specific business objective (not just traffic hits or search results). Consider using press releases for only your most earth shattering news. For everything else just post a simple note on your corporate website or blog.

We think after going through this exercise, most of you will want to end your love affair with the press release. It's probably better to be "just friends" anyway.

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