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Bulldog Reporter's 2013 Press Release Distribution Buyer's Guide

How to Choose the Right Vendor
 for Your Press Release Distribution Needs

Bulldog Reporter's 2013 Press Release Distribution Buyer's Guide consists of five chapters, which are being presented serially between Jan. 28 and Feb. 7. This second chapter helps communicators size up their needs when it comes to press release solutions — which includes whether the goal is more efficient traditional media relations, meeting modern financial and regulatory standards, and/or reaching consumers and stakeholders directly through blogs and social media. Subsequent chapters will appear as follows:

"Chapter IV: A Closer Look at Pricing and Analytics—and Why These May Be the Most Important Criteria" appears Tues., Feb. 5.

"Chapter V: An Overview Of Leading Distributors—And A Comprehensive Feature-to-Feature Comparison Chart" appears Thurs., Feb. 7.

Click here to read "The State of the Art in Press Release Distribution—A Storied Past Leads to Today's Growing Options"

Chapter II

Before You Choose, Consider Your Needs

Many PR professionals purchase press release distribution services reflexively (i.e., "That's the way I've always done it") without making a sober assessment of what they're trying to accomplish and what today's multitude of options are. This can lead to overpaying on the one hand or to missing opportunities on the other. It can pay "big time" to review your intentions as well as the current options available to your organization.

The first and most important step in choosing a press release distribution solution is to clarify what you're trying to accomplish through your news releases. Above all, you'll want to consider:

1. Who you are trying to reach?

  • Are you trying to get coverage in traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and the trade press?
  • Are you aiming for local or global reach?
  • Are you trying to speak directly to consumers and investors?

2. Where will you drive journalists and consumers for more information? Do you have a place with quality content online?

3. Your goals.

  • Are you trying to meet federal financial disclosure rules?
  • Are you trying to create a paper trail or searchable documentation for journalists?
  • Are you hoping for quality or quantity of coverage?

4. Your budget.

Are you trying to get coverage in traditional media?

Reporters find information and story ideas in a variety of ways. One time-tested role and familiar goal of the press release is to catch reporters' eyes and motivate them to write about your company, product or other news.

You'll need a service that reaches the particular media outlets you're targeting. If a service provider says their releases go to 10,000 journalists, they should be able to give you a breakdown as to where these journalists work. Are they in newsrooms? Bloggers? How many readers do they have? Do they read the vertical media you need to hit? It's important to find out, too, whether these journalists actively chose to receive releases from the service or are simply getting blasted with unsolicited releases. A reporter who has a relationship with a particular press release distribution service is more likely to read your releases.

"We have learned that effective engagement is more about putting information out using multiple distribution platforms and allowing journalist to curate content on their schedule," says Daniel Jones, managing editor of SBWire.

Services often offer multiple distribution plans at different price points—ranging from inexpensive plans targeting individual journalists who have "opted in" to receive releases, to more costly plans that distribute through proprietary networks or through outlets such as The Associated Press or Bloomberg News.

Some services can provide pre-existing (custom ready-made) lists of trade press for your targeted industry or will allow you to build your own customized distribution list. Find out if a service will let you tailor the distribution of your release by criteria such as:

  • Type of media (trade press, broadcast, etc.)
  • Topic beat
  • Size of media outlet
  • Geographic location
  • Community (Hispanic media, Christian media, etc.)

Also, if you're seeking international coverage, does the service have offices or distribution partners in other parts of the world? Can it provide translation services for an additional fee if you need them?

No matter your choice, be sure to keep in mind that a press release distribution service is not a substitute for personal contact with key reporters in your niche. For the handful of journalists who are closely following your company, a heads-up in a personally targeted email is probably more effective than a mass email blast or wire feed.

"We recommend people keep their own lists for dealing with those 20 guys who really want to see your news," says Mitchell Davis of ExpertClick.

Are you using press releases to meet regulatory requirements?

Public companies traditionally used wire services to meet federal requirements that financial news be released to all investors simultaneously.

But recently, some companies have turned to the Web to try more do-it-yourself approaches to the release of financial news.

Google sparked controversy in the investor relations world in recent years by dropping wire services and simply posting its financial releases on its Web site. A few other firms are trying to cut costs by sending out very short advisory releases that direct the public to the company Web site for full information.

Iconoclasts say such do-it-yourself strategies are a wave of the future. Critics, on the other hand, call them a poor substitute for full wire distribution.

"You do not have to use a wire service to send financial releases, but you have to meet a whole host of requirements," says Alan Knepfer, managing director of global corporate solutions NASDAQ/Globe Newswire. "Most public companies have no way to get news out in a fair and simultaneous way."

For now, at least, wire services remain the most common way for companies to meet their disclosure obligations. Keep in mind that not all services are equally suited to help you meet regulatory requirements. If regulatory compliance is one of your goals, you need to make sure your service disseminates releases broadly.

And in today's world, where simultaneous disclosure means ensuring that everyone can access news at the same micro-second, a service should also be able to guarantee an exact time of transmission. The service you choose must be able to handle the formatting needs for financial releases, as well.

"Even among public companies that need to adhere to RegFD with their material and market-moving news, there are companies who are digitally and legally savvy enough to adhere to those regulations on their own, letting the right parties—exchanges, investors, stockholders, etc.—know that their news would not be via newswire but instead posted to their Web site so those stakeholders would have to come to the site to get it," says Lisa Davis, director of marketing at Marketwire. "But those instances are few and far between and the model of 'non-newswire' disclosure continues to be heated and controversial."

Are you trying to reach consumers and investors directly with your news release?

The Internet has created an explosive new function and opportunity for press releases—sharing company news with the public directly, with no filtering required by reporters.

Online news releases can help companies engage directly with customers, investors and partners. Online releases not only convey your company's message, but also can stimulate buzz in social media and, through links, bring people to your Web site.

Is Web marketing your primary—or only—goal? A press release service focused on the Web (rather than on traditional newsrooms) will almost always be less expensive than a traditional wire service. Some online press release packages are even free.

Although newcomers such as PRWeb pioneered the use of online news releases, today all the major providers offer releases geared to the Web. Some offer different tiers of distribution and pricing based on whether your goal is Web or newsroom exposure, or both.

MyPRGenie, for instance, offers a free service that distributes to Web search engines and news aggregators, as well as a paid service that goes to some 500,000 journalists via PRNewswire.

Even Business Wire and PRNewswire now offer lower-cost, do-it-yourself options for online releases—EON by Business Wire and iReach for PRNewswire.

Services that distribute online press releases may offer:

  • Distribution to news aggregator sites such as Yahoo News and Google News
  • Social media tools that make it easy for people to share your release on Facebook and Twitter, as well as other emerging social media channels
  • RSS feeds by industry, topic or company
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Permanent archiving and availability of your releases online

Find out if these features are included in the price you've been quoted or if they are add-ons.

For instance, some companies charge a low base price for hosting your release and submitting it to search engines. It costs more to add social media features allowing readers to share your release through blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

When it comes to search optimization, nearly all major services today have automated SEO software that can format your release for the needs of search engines.

Some services go beyond basic SEO formatting to advise clients on how to draft releases in a search-friendly way.

"Our editors clean up releases and counsel clients on how releases should be written to show up higher in search results," PR Newswire's Mozarsky says.

But overall, SEO is less of a differentiator between press release services than it would have been several years ago.

"It's a challenge when you are dealing with a company like Google who thinks they run the world," NASDAQ's Knepfer says. "They make changes arbitrarily. They continually change the algorithms without telling us. This can change the search results day to day. All the newswires have that struggle. A lot of it is a race or a game with Google that we're playing."

Some in the industry think importance of SEO, for this reason, may be diminishing.

"We are starting to see more people now going back to newsworthy content," Jones of SBWire says. "Asking, 'Why would the journalist care about it?' rather than 'Why does Google or any other search engine care about it?' I am a strong believer that good content always wins even as things constantly change."

Some PR professionals use a combination of services—a traditional wire service for financial releases, and a Web-oriented service for other news such as product announcements or consumer news.

In addition, there is growing discussion about press release distribution as a means of content distribution and creating conversations more generally.

"Companies are able to write their releases, produce their content and cater the language they use in their releases to match what their customers are already talking about on Twitter, Facebook, etc., so that it resonates with them," Marketwire's Davis says.

So, consider whether this option is something you want to pursue – looking for supplemental avenues for moving the conversation forward.

"The content marketing trend is going to be really huge in this space, where people are starting to write their own content or work with freelancers to write their own story," Cision's Mahoney says.

In the next three installments, Bulldog Reporter analyzes the different features and services offered by press release distribution services, and the analytics and pricing models that can help maximize your return on investment. That's followed by a chart comparing the features of several leading press release distribution services.

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