Why PR pros should ditch newswires

This communicator says the oft-employed media relations tactic isn’t up to snuff, advising that you should spend your time and money on other efforts. Do you agree?

This article was originally published on PR Daily in July 2016.

Not long ago, I worked for a large multinational with a one-person public relations team (me).

Given that we wanted to garner 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, and I’d edit it again. Then it would go through an arduous approvals process involving the stakeholders, the legal team and senior managers, each with their own thoughts marked in the tracked changes.

After weeks—or, in some cases, months—we’d get the go-ahead to release the news. The agency, a global leader in the industry, was responsible for distributing the news to media outlets, and their approach was to simply fire it up on the newswire and see what happened.

With newswires, what’s the return on Investment?

A global press release with a photograph cost up to 5,000 euros. 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 euros to the annual PR bill.

Sure, they would call the trade magazines (who would always print our news in any case), but we wanted coverage in national news outlets, and all they could give us was excuses. The best practice would have been to build relationships with journalists in our industry, but that would have been time-intensive and altogether too much effort.

What were the results? 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.

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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 to me were no more than vanity metrics.

Here’s the truth about national media outlets: If your announcement is relevant, they will cover it; if it’s 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 newswire 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 that anyone could handle in-house.

What is the PR agency’s role?

Companies pay PR agencies to fill gaps in their own teams. The duties of a top PR practitioner in this scenario are 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 interest those journalists.
  • It’s their job to use these contacts and abilities to deliver coverage of genuine value to their clients.

Putting a press release on a newswire and crossing your fingers is like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. It’s not good enough; it’s a sham.

So I say: No to newswires! Commit to achieving real coverage—in publications that your client’s audiences actually read. Yes, it will take longer and you will have to work harder, but the results will be so much better.

Do you agree, or do you still think newswires are worthwhile?

Katie Harrington is a PR pro and blogger. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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