Stop wasting your time (and your budget) on newswires

Best practices for press releases? No to newswires!

Not so long ago, I worked for a large multinational with a one-person Public Relations team (me!) Given that we needed to achieve global coverage in multiple languages, I had the support of a well-known and well regarded international PR agency. Grab a coffee and prepare for a rant.

Getting a press release ready to go out was a mission: I’d brief the agency, they would draft the press release, I’d edit it, they’d send another draft, I’d edit it again, and then it would go through an arduous approvals process involving the stakeholders, the legal team and senior management, each with their own thoughts marked in the tracked changes.

After weeks and in some cases months, the go-ahead would be given to release the news.  The agency, a global leader in their industry, was responsible for distributing the news to the media, and their approach was to simply fire it up on the newswire and see what happened.

Newswires: Return on Investment

A global press release with a photograph cost up to €5,000. Bear in mind, we were already paying this company a hefty retainer for their services, and given that we aimed for one press release per month, this lazy approach added in the region of €60,000 to the annual PR bill.  Sure, they would call the trade magazines (who always printed our news in any case), but we wanted coverage in national news outlets, and all they could give us was excuses. Best practice would have been to build relationships with journalists in our industry, but that would have been time-intensive and altogether too effort-y.
What were the results, you may ask? Perhaps it was a worthy investment, reaping an enviable ROI? The Account Manager would proudly present a coverage book the following week showing that the story had been picked up by the trades and published on hundreds of websites worldwide. The problem? The vast majority of the coverage was to be found in regions where my company’s product isn’t sold. Obscure, regional and small-town newspapers with no relevance to my company published the release.

The coverage we were getting from newswires added no value to our business – the lovely numbers my ever-cheerful Account Manager was so delighted to present me with were no more than vanity metrics.

Here’s the truth about national media outlets: If your announcement is relevant they will cover it, and it is not they won’t. The PR agency’s role is to make it relevant.

It’s incredibly rare for the scatter-gun approach of throwing a press release up on a news wire to result in coverage of any real value. Besides which, if a company wants to use a newswire, there is absolutely no need to involve a PR company – it’s a very simple process anyone could handle in-house.

What is the PR agency’s role?

Companies pay PR agencies to fill gaps in their own teams. The role of a top PR practitioner in this scenario is as follows:

  • It’s their job to build strong relationships with journalists, so they don’t have to cold call
  • It’s their job to find the angle or nugget of information in your product release or company announcement that will be of interest to those journalists
  • It’s their job to use these contacts and abilities to deliver coverage that is of genuine value to their clients

Sorry to be crude, but putting a press release on a newswire and crossing your fingers is simply a case of “throwing enough shit and see what sticks.” It’s not good enough. It’s a sham.

So – let’s make a pledge – no to newswires! Commit to achieving real coverage, in publications your client’s audiences actually read. Yes, it will take longer and you will need to work harder – but the results will be so much better.

Do you agree? Or do you still think newswires are worthwhile?

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16 thoughts on “Stop wasting your time (and your budget) on newswires

  1. Peter Morscheck says:

    Thank you! This needs to be broadcast nationwide. I’m a PR pro who has worked for agency big & small. And in my view the _only_ true value in a press release distribution is in hosting the release on an external site (like PR Newswire) where you can include the hyperlink in your targeted email follow-ups / true pitches to your real media list. The rest (esp. “daily coverage reports”) is just noise, a CYA for the PR agencies to show vanity metrics & justify their retainer.

  2. Rob Ashwell says:

    Can we ignore coverage as the end metric that needs to be measured.

    I wouldn’t want to do sales alone- that relies on the website (often someone else’s remit), the sales team (always someone else’s remit) and the product being good – albeit that would be the holy grail. But given PR’s remit is to drive awareness and interest in the product then measure growth in web traffic that comes from the coverage.

    It takes a little bit of work to set it up but it can be pretty much automated through a Google Sheets process once you’ve got it done properly. What we found though is that it’s the trade media (this was for electronics clients, might be different on others) that drove traffic, not the national media. Same was also true when working for a cycling niche agency. TV drove two fifths of sod all.

    But, more specifically, it was just 1-2 key titles that did anything and the rest was background noise that is nice for SEO but of little other value.

    • Wilde Words says:

      If you’re only metric is website hits then this might be the case, but most progressive organisations suggest measuring outcomes rather than vanity metrics (i.e. does it matter if 10,000 people visited your site if none of them took any action as a result?)
      It’s worth noting, trades will cover you in any case as they are crying out for industry content. In most cases, it’s easy to get trade coverage without paying for wires.

  3. Mike Templeton says:

    What you’ve described is not unique to global, multi-national companies: I’ve experienced the same thing with small and medium-sized businesses too.

    If anyone’s had an ounce of experience getting information distributed online, I think they could agree with your statement about avoiding newswires. They’re a “new” take on an old model that served traditional media well – spreading news far and wide through something like the Associated Press – but they have no place in today’s digital world because no one seeks out these newswires as a place of authority.

    If anything, I’d suggest companies serve as their own newswire for the audiences they want to communicate with. It’ll help them build their credibility online, and it’ll bring qualified traffic back to their website to read what’s been published. That’s what we’re all after in the end, isn’t it?

  4. Steven Spenser says:

    I concur wholeheartedly with this view–except that newswires are still worthwhile for releasing SEC-required financial disclosures. And, I can see the point of using newswires to get your release seeded across the Internet so it can be found via keyword searches. Some newswires have content-sharing distribution relationships with sites that aggregate news on particular topics. Other sites will simply scrape the hedline and/or lede graf and incorporate it as a link from their site. But this type of traffic doesn’t have a high (credibility) authority in Google’s PageRank algorithm, so it probably won’t get your release to show up any higher in SERPs. I suppose every bit of visibility online helps, but I suspect few worthwhile news operations place much value anymore in tracking newswires for general news pickups. The exception, as I noted above, is financial reporting. Also, since trade media often will use well-written releases relating to their niches, I suppose trade editors *might* peruse newswires, but I doubt any except those with well-funded budgets actually subscribe to them. You’d do far better (and get higher-authority backlinks) by sharing your release with/submitting it to a customized target list of sites, online resources and individuals (influencers as well as journalists & analysts) who publish online. Your goal shouldn’t be to get your release published/archived online in its entirety–although such placements have their own inherent value. Instead, you should always strive to drive traffic from high-authority backlink referents to the full release *on your Web site* where it resides in your newsroom, which you keep fully stocked with *everything* (documents, graphics, audio, video, links, resources, etc.) a journalist, analyst or stakeholder might want to know about your organization. Alternatively, the release’s backlink should bring visitors to your customized landing page, where they will be exposed to your calls to action. In either case, you want such traffic to find other interesting material while exploring the site. The exception here is if the landing page links only to a closed-off set of interior pages presenting further sales/marcom content with more calls to action, and deliberately has no exterior links connecting to your main Web site. I almost always find such closed-loop landing pages irritating and offensive. If the aim of your release is to publicize your organization, interested visitors following your release’s customized landing-page link should always be able (and encouraged) to learn more about your organization/product(s)/service(s) by browsing through your primary site.

    • Wilde Words says:

      Hi Steven,

      Apologies – your comment mistakenly went to my spam filter so I’m just seeing it now. You’re right, there are certain exceptions – but in general I really feel that solid media relations, clever use of owned media and dominating social is the best way to go.

      All the best,


  5. Steve Momorella says:

    Thanks for the great article Katie! I wanted to share two links with regard to the “SEC-required financial disclosure” comments.

    There are many publicly traded companies that are using their own “self-distribution” and an online newsroom or IR website to satisfy SEC disclosure requirements. Some companies are even using social media channels to satisfy Regulation FD.

  6. George Affleck says:

    Good article. Two points: One, there are less and less media outlets and journalists to pitch to, so most PR companies are trying find any way they can to make it look like they are getting coverage; that’s why I have moved my agency away from PR and over to content and media buying. And two, your description of the over thinking of a press release is generally the death of any good story that may have been there and that the agency may have wanted to tell. Big companies want coverage but they are restrictive in how much freedom they give their PR people to tell the stories that journalists might be interested in telling.

  7. Laurie Riedman says:

    Thanks for the article. I agree – as a PR consultant for the past 25+ years I can’t imagine a PR agency not investing in cultivating relationships with key media on behalf of a client. That is what we are paid for and a key part of our craft. While newswires are sometimes a necessary evil – there are ways to use them for less cost for discolosure purposes. As I seek new business with companies – it’s amazing to me how much money companies will spend on retainers for “big name” agencies getting minimal results. While I don’t have a big agency name or logo behind me – often times single practitioners can bet even better results because we don’t use cookie-cutter PR.

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