Shut up and get to the point http://t.co/pbBXdcctHA
Think I’ve finally gotten to the bottom of this PA Newswire issue, and my research leads me to conclude it’s not worth the spend. But why don’t you decide for yourself? By @TopLineFounder
When I invited the Press Association Newswire (along with PR Newswire, Sourcewire, Realwire and Businesswire) to get involved in our series on newswires, a spokesperson told us that their company guidelines prohibit them from contributing because anything that might seem to affect their impartiality is “strictly forbidden”.
I found this to be an interesting response from an organisation that takes money to distribute news. So which is it, PA Newswire, are you impartial or are you partial to money for news?
The relationship between the Press Association and newswires has confused me for years. You pay the major newswire services to distribute your media release. And then you pay them more to distribute it via the Press Association’s newswire. I’ve done it before on behalf of my clients. But every time it has added no value (the most recent got no hits from newswire distribution, but was published on the Mail Online a few weeks later after we pitched it over the phone to a journalist there, and has subsequently picked up a fair bit of coverage in the personal finance and trade media – so it wasn’t a case of the story not being strong enough) and I can’t find any evidence that this helps give a story legs at all. If it was free, it wouldn’t bother me. But it’s not, so it does. It costs up to £145 and organisations buy the service in on the basis that it will get their story better coverage, but in many cases, it simply doesn’t do this.
As one of the original newswires, the PA has built itself a pretty robust reputation, and any seasoned PR knows that getting your story out through the PA can result in heaps of coverage across local and national outlets. So why is it that when a PA journalist contacts you for an interview you’ve hit the jackpot, but when you send your story out on the PA’s newswire, it seems to die a sudden death?
I had to work hard to find the answer to this, but I think I have finally gotten to the bottom of the issue. Eventually I spoke to sales manager (who was compelled to inform his legal department after our conversation, where all I asked him was about the organisation’s products!) and I now understand how the PA Newswire works. I think it’s only fair that this very confusing issue is clarified.
The Press Association has a number of products, but the backbone is the newswire. For 140 years the PA has been the national news agency for the UK and Ireland: the organisation has an enormous team of journalists (second only to the BBC in the UK I believe) who write stories and send them out to all the major news publications on their national newswire. The benefit to publications (such as national and regional newspapers) is that they don’t need to have a large team of reporters to gather news from all corners of the earth. Instead they can use stories from a single reliable source, and all they have to do is credit the PA in the article (you see this quite a lot in the mainstream media).
The sales guy was keen to remind me that the PA has no political allegiance and its news service is designed to be “fast, fair and accurate”.
Mediapoint is a product that the PA sells to non-media organisations. As a company, you can subscribe (for a few grand a year) to the service, and you can log in and see the PA’s news at the same time as the press. In principle, a great resource, enabling organisations to monitor the news and respond / get involved at the same time as journalists are writing their articles. It also presents news in single batches, so, for example, if the Conservatives were to make an announcement about tax rises, and then Labour were to respond with their own announcement, followed by the CBI, all of those announcements and comments are presented in a single stream, making it easier for journalists across the UK to develop their stories. As a PR professional, you can use this handy resource to get your comment in quickly or to address factual inaccuracies in a story at the source. Seems like a pretty good service and a great way to make money through news.
All great: a sensible business model and valuable from a PR perspective, but what most organisations are probably interested in is how they can get their comment into that stream.
If you want to get your story onto the PA’s newswire, then your best bet is to pitch it to the PA’s journalists, like you would with any media outlet. That’s a little more difficult than one would imagine, as they don’t seem to share their contact details with media databases. However, you can contact the editorial team (their details can be found here) and, assuming your story is newsworthy, it genuinely is worth pitching. Genuine Press Association coverage is gold dust.
Your other option is to pay to have your media release sent out on the PA’s Newswire. So, alongside the “impartial”, “fast, fair and accurate” news reports written by PA journalists, that are sent out to media organisations, you now have news releases that have been distributed for money by the organisations that wrote them. I don’t think it is unfair to say that this means that the PA can certainly not guarantee that they are impartial or fair (as the news source is now a paying customer) or accurate, but the fast bit probably still stands.
I was a bit baffled by this business model, my first thought being that if a media outlet subscribes to the PA’s wire, they’ll get the great, impartial, fast, fair and accurate stories from the PA’s industry-leading journalists straight to their inboxes, but they’ll also be spammed by as many organisations as can be bothered to write a media release and stump up £145 to have it distributed for them. So, trying to put myself in a news editor’s shoes, I asked the PA’s sales manager how media organisations can filter out the spam, to only receive the genuine PA news stories (I clarified this three times on our call to make sure I got it right). It turn out they can do pretty much exactly that. They can filter their subscription based on a number of criteria (e.g. region, subject), one of which is whether the news was authored by the PA. He was not able to tell me how many of their media outlet subscribers do this. However, surely it’s pretty high. Putting myself in a journalist’s shoes (someone looking for interesting news content for my readers), I probably wouldn’t want to receive these media releases (all sent out via the PA Newswire recently) and would therefore probably filter out commercial content:
According to Businesswire UK, a PA reseller, you can “Deliver your news via the Press Association, the national news agency, and reach 100% of national and major regional newspaper, (sic) and every TV and radio station across the UK and Ireland.”
Now that I understand how the PA Newswire works, this seems like a bit of a stretch. You pay to send your release to 100% of national and regional media outlets, and one of two things happens:
To further test this theory, last week I called the news desks of four major UK newspapers and asked the following question:
Hi, I’m thinking of sending a media release out on the Press Association newswire and I was wondering if that would reach you – do you pick up the news releases on the PA newswire or just the stories that are authored by the PA journalists themselves?
I got the following answers:
This led me to wonder if paying for the PA Newswire adds any business value at all. I put this to the PA sales manager during our call. I think he misunderstood my question because his response was: what’s good for anyone who sells our products is the providence and the gravitas. We have a journalist with the prime minister every day.
While it’s great to know how the PA benefits its resellers, that doesn’t really answer my question. The fact that one of your journalists hangs out with Dave might help your resellers to sell more of your product, but if they use this as a selling point, they are misleading their customers. All that gravitas and providence applies to the PA’s salaried journalists, and is completely separate from the paid-for newswire. Is far as I can see, it doesn’t affect the media releases that organisations pay good money to send.
So, is sending your release out on the PA Newswire worth £145? I would advise anyone who is considering doing so to first establish what results they would judge to be worth the spend, then decide how likely it is that they will achieve those results using the PA Newswire.
I’m sure there are instances where a good story distributed on PA Newswire has gone big. However, I think the way the PA Newswire is sold does tend to lead businesses to believe their story will be all over the national, regional and broadcast media within days of being distributed. In my experience, no media coverage hasn’t been worth any money we’ve spent on the PA Newswire in the past. However, I would be very interested to hear from other PA Newswire customers on their experiences with the service.
Read more on our value of newswires series.
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