TopLine's Luke Budka (@lukebudka) questions the role of newswires in PR. Are they a vital resource or just a drain on clients' budgets? Why not post a comment and let us know your thoughts?
You got up out of bed this morning (or not if you're my mate Webby - lazy f**ker) and switched on your computer before reading this. Firstly, well done. That whole process is fantastically statistically improbable in the grand scheme of things and the result of millions of years of evolution. However, remarkable as it may be, do you think we should write a press release about it? Is it newsworthy? 'Man wakes and activates computer' probably won't make the front page any time soon. Why not? Because it's drivel. Because it's a non-story. But, unfortunately for PROs everywhere, not uncommon. “Why is this, oh grand master of public relations?” I hear you cry. The answer, dear reader, is because of newswires. *Wolf howls, thunder rolls, lightning flashes across a suddenly sullen sky.*
Ahhh newswires, my favourite subject. They're designed to make the everyday PRO's life as har... I mean easy as possible. After all it's a pretty simple process. The client tells you what they want to release. You bash it out in the standard format and ring your account manager at WankWire or CheeseWire or ShootthebuyerWire and they take it off your hands and distribute it to hundreds, maybe even thousands of journalists across the media appropriate to your client before, with stellar punctuality, it pops up on notanotherwebsite.com, thisiswhatalltheITdirectorsread.org, youresurelytakingthepissnow.net or that bastion of worldwide news reporting, the Earth Times. Probably. That, from my experience, is a best case scenario and it'll only cost you a few hundred quid.
However, what have you actually achieved here? Let's relay the steps.
The client tells you what they want to release: yes it is their company, yes it is their marketing budget you’re spending, yes they do have news. Is it what they tell you it is? Not always. You are supposed to be a media professional. The media is supposed to be your domain. You're paid to advise as well as obey. Don't forget that. Sometimes you have to push back for the good of the client, the press release and your relationship with the journo. You do it with respect and you do it with honesty and you build mutual trust. If you get it right, you get the most newsworthy release, the most coverage and the respect of the journalist whose time you've not wasted. Again. Get it wrong and the client will more or less tell you to do one and stop being so disrespectful at best, at worst you can wave goodbye to the retainer. It's a fine line. That's agency life for you. Deal with it or get out the kitchen.
Your BFF newswire account manager distributes the news: Let's think about this for a second. Newswires charge for the privilege of mass distribution. Do they want your money? Yes. Do they want to tell you your release isn't worth distributing? No. Are they prone to offering objective constructive criticism? Probably not then. In my experience they'll distribute anything. I mean seriously anything. They're pumping more drivel out on a daily basis than the Maccy Ds at Olympics HQ. How valuable do you therefore think journos find the service? Now I'm happy to stand corrected but I'd guess newswires are half the reason most journos I meet think email's irreparably broken. They pay attention to the Press Association - assume that's it. So what have you achieved by engaging in this process? You've spent hundreds of pounds to make sure your release ends up in the inbox folder marked 'shits and giggles', devaluing your client’s brand and successfully getting them nowhere near their target audience. I had one client who revelled in his monthly lunches with a newswire service that shall remain unnamed. This client was spending close to £100,000 a year with them. Little tip for any businesses reading this: if your newswire agency starts taking you out on regular lunches then you need to consider the irony behind the fact they're feeding you five-star gourmet because they're delighted you're feeding them shit on the regular.
Your release hits every relevant journalist in the country: first off this means that your newswire team knows more about the media than you. This is wrong. They don't and shouldn't. It's your job to know which publications are relevant to your client and the beats of the journalists at those publications. This in-depth knowledge will be what makes you good at your job. Now most newswires will talk about their 'circuits', a descriptive term for the number of journalists they will distribute a release to. But just how many do you think your news will be relevant to? A handful at the nationals? A few at the trade press? Now admittedly I would probably accept that B2C news would have a larger relevant audience, but B2B? In my experience you're looking at about ten or so for most trade specific stories and maybe up to 20 for stories suitable for the nationals as well. And you're using a newswire to hit 'em up instead of picking up the phone and calling each one with a well thought out newsworthy story. Not a recipe for success.
The release is covered by a series of websites: have you ever rung your client to relay the good news or added the links to a coverage/activity report? Probably not. Why? Because it's a little bit embarrassing for everyone involved and it kind of emphasises just how far the client's pants have been pulled down (and I do mean to the floor).
Why use them then? Why do a lot of agencies consider it job done after the release has been scheduled for distribution? To be honest I don't really know. Are there companies out there that have experienced success using newswires or is it really the case that we've got ourselves in a fine mess where agencies are too scared to tell clients what is news and what isn't and the client is happily requesting that the CEO’s son join the company for a week's work experience is worthy of the newswire treatment. What I do know is the longer it carries on the more damage is done to the relationship between the public relations industry and the media. I also know only you can change it. It's not going to be easy and it will hurt in the short term but trust me, it will be worth it in the end.
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing, B2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on [email protected].
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