Whither the humble press release? That old, reliable communiquè of news or information that once functioned as a direct communications channel between PR professionals and the media.
According to a study unveiled at The New Communications Forum in Santa Rosa, CA this week, the old standby press release is undergoing something of a transformation. The research, conducted by Vocus for the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), found that under one-third (31 percent) of press releases are actually used for their traditional, old media purpose: to convey information to the press. Actually announcing news, in fact, has fallen to position No. 3 in terms of marketers’ stated goals for their news releases.
The bulk of news releases increasingly aren’t intended to announce “news” at all. Instead, marketers are more and more often employing online press releases to increase their company or product’s visibility directly with consumers, as well as to beef up SEO (define).
It’s no secret marketers and PR professional are optimizing releases for search. It’s also hardly a secret that entire companies and products are dedicated to the practice. But even I was surprised when Vocus’ Jiyan Wei said, while presenting his company’s findings, “We’ve had clients who want to release the exact same press release repeatedly, just because they want to juice their Google rankings.”
A woman in the audience who works for BusinessWire chimed in agreement. “We’ve seen companies using press releases as a lead-generation tool,” she affirmed, “And those people put out hundreds of releases a year. As a news service this gets problematic, but it does work as a sales tool.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” asked another attendee, “but if you write a press release aimed directly at the consumer, it’s an ad.”
Is There Still “News” in an Online News Release?
The debate continued in a session I did together with highly respected SEO PR expert and blogger Sally Falkow on the changing role of communications and journalism. We pointed out that rather than work in tandem, online PR professionals often actually compete with the media sources they once courted and nurtured. After all, once a press release crosses the online “wires,” it’s Out There.
As in, Poof! You just broke your own story.
A well-optimized, keyword rich news release is searchable, to be true. It may well appear on Yahoo News, and in the wire feeds on major news site such as NYTimes.com. But will the press bother to pick up a story that’s broken? Does that even matter?
Silicon Valley Watcher founder Tom Foremski thinks it does matter. He worries consumers read press releases — which by their very nature are biased — and believe they’re “legitimate” news, probably written by legitimate news organizations.
And very likely they do. But as other journalists and not a few PR folks were quick to chime in, it’s not at all unheard of for “legitimate” news outlets to pick up and run press releases verbatim, with only the PR contact information stripped off.
So who’s fooling whom?
According to the aforementioned study, the number of online views, traffic to the issuing organization’s Web site, SEO and enhancing thought leadership are, in aggregate, bigger motivators for issuing an online news release than are any concerns of generating “real news,” particularly for smaller businesses and organizations.
At the same time, the marketers and PR folks who are sending these releases claim their biggest problem is cutting through news release clutter. Their biggest problem? “The overwhelming amount of people doing it as well – thousands of releases are sent out each hour, thus watering down my releases and rendering them just Internet ‘noise.'”
What’s causing all this clutter on the wires? The fact that issuing press releases is by no means limited anymore to communications and PR professionals. Marketing, and even Web and SEO personnel are in on the act. Simply being out there has become more of a goal than being relevant, not to mention being newsworthy. The wire services have standards — but they also have business models. Their income is based on the number of releases they allow to pass through their gateway.
All the News Fits
How will this deluge of company-generated news affect the Web? The media? Consumers?
I’m guessing we haven’t even seen the beginning of clutter. Anyone can get in on this game. It’s low cost, and has nearly as low a barrier to entry as spam. The Internet will be littered with thousands of press releases coming down the pipes each minute, each screaming to be heard.
You know what happens next. We (the media) tune it out. Consumers will, too. Search engines will adjust their algorithms to discredit the words and the links on the PR wires. And ever so slowly, the din will die down.
What happens next? Why, targeted, personalized, relevant, segmented pitches. Releases that are finely tuned to the concerns and the interest of an audience, be that audience traditional media or Web surfing consumers.
Only that’s going to take a while. But hopefully, not too long.
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