There’s nothing like a little technostock meltdown to focus your attention. Suddenly, just how much bang you can get for your promotional buck matters. The answer used to be simple. Dollar for dollar, nothing could come close to publicity. Writing and distributing a press release, after all, is a negligible expense compared to the gazillions of potential customers you can reach down the editorial pipeline.

While publicity with its cachet of credibility and enormous reach still qualifies as a marketing best buy, a new, cold reality is abroad. The refreshing emphasis on accountability is raising new interest in that least-expensive, most-critical publicity component: distribution.

After all the heavy agency and creative fees, after copywriting and corrections and executive approvals, once your press release hits the wire, does anyone really read it? Depends in no small part on your distribution, the least-expensive link in the chain.

A couple of weeks ago, we announced the death of the press release and its rebirth as the pre-eminent, self-published, document of corporate record. No sooner did we bury the press release than mourners started showing up at our door. Some with bouquets, some with tears, some with sighs of relief.

As vice president of public relations at Enginehouse Media, Kathleen Williams writes: “Your column on the death of the press release made me feel like a new woman free from the chains that bind me to the traditional press release…”

Some readers, while conceding the demise of the press release, felt compelled to offer a half-hearted defense of the form. “Your feature about the death of the press release makes for useful reading,” wrote Philip Ellison, the PR arm of Ad Pepper Media International, “but I must express some frustration. You see, when attempting to spread out news to writers six to nine time zones away, the emailed press release is about as good as it gets. Forget for a moment the cost of calling and the odd hours one would have to keep… even when we do follow-up calls, most of the time we end up talking to a voicemail system… ”

Most readers, like Cara Moroze of Technology Builders Inc., simply glance over at the dearly departed press release lying in the newsroom morgue and embrace the phoenix rising from its ashes.

“I agree… The best stories emerge from more comprehensive media pitches. Mass blasts to press are antiquated… Targeted, personalized pitches help steer a particular message… Instead of a press release, think of it as a corporate release. The press can do with it what they want…”

Not one single reader suggested reports of the death of the traditional press release were premature. Everyone knows the old line mass-mailed press release died of maldistribution.

So what’s the new model?

Enter Internet Wire, a fairly new kid on the press distribution block. Its focus is to place corporate information on the desktop computers of journalists who have asked to see it. Gone is the 400-word cut-off based on satellite feed rates. Ramble on as much as you dare. Gone is the transmission leading to a centralized wire station.

Buying one of Internet Wire’s industry blocks for a couple hundred dollars gets your press release delivered via email to the computers of opt-in journalists. In addition, you get some portion of its 1.2 million opt-in consumers to read your release. Plus, of course, on your own, you publish your news on your web site. The resulting cost per reader is measured in minidecimals.

Bruce Manning, vice president of AccessMillennium3, believes in Internet Wire. “They made a presentation at the agency, and we tried it with good results. Hard to qualify since we also use BusinessWire, but for Quad Research we did get a couple of stories from our release. And maybe a dozen online clips in media like MSNBC and CNN Financial… We’re happy, and, what’s better, the client is happy.” To date, 300 PR agencies and 2,500 international clients use the service.

For the record, PRNewswire and BusinessWire the primary “old line” satellite distribution systems also have direct opt-in email options and highly tailored distribution systems.

According to Renu Aldrich, PR chief at PRNewswire, costs range from less than $100 for small industry groups or local “hubs” on up to $600 or more for full national feeds with tracking options that show which journalists downloaded your story.

A good idea, whichever distribution service you use, is to sit down with your customer rep, go over your objectives, and get specific recommendations. You get only one chance to move your news story.

You don’t have to pitch stories to editors long before developing new respect for those tools that give journalists a chance to discover your story and come to you for research and contact support. One way or another, the best tools tend to be email-based solutions, pushed directly to the press who request material to be released to them. A good name for that might just be… a press release.

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