The news business

Newswires have evolved from conduits to partners.

Newswires have evolved from conduits to partners.

For most PR pros, it's a procedure that comes as almost second nature: sending a press release over the newswire. Yet that seemingly simple action is at the core of an industry that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year and spends millions of dollars on research and development of new products and technologies.

The newswire model was originally designed as a way for companies to effectively disseminate information to financial audiences at the same time. But in the more than 50 years since the first, PR Newswire (PRN), was introduced, the industry has grown to include much more. Not only has technology increased the speed at which press releases can be sent, but newswire companies also have diversified their services to meet the evolving needs of their clients, as well as the ever-changing media landscape.

Newswire companies have to stay on top of current trends in PR, IR, and the media. For the industry's biggest players, keeping ahead of any changes has been a philosophy for many years.

In fact, Michael Lissauer, SVP of marketing and business for Business Wire (BW), notes that one area where both BW and PRN - its biggest competitor - have managed to stay ahead of the curve is technology. Both companies launched websites within weeks of each other in 1995, long before many companies had taken such a step, Lissauer says.

"It's kind of interesting from the perspective of the PR community that the two leading wire services had websites before 90% of Fortune 500 companies," he notes. "It says something pretty interesting about the leadership role that we both have played over the years."

BW and PRN are undoubtedly the leaders in the industry - in terms of size, age, and volume - and as such, each has made significant strides in areas like global presence, technology, and the exploration of IR and PR trends. This year, BW became the first US-based newswire to have an owned presence in Japan with the opening of its Tokyo office, part of BW's overall strategy for establishing a greater presence in the Asia-Pacific region. This year, the company has established distribution agreements with Jiji Press in Japan, as well as Thai Business News. "The key for our clients is getting their news in front of as many people as possible," says Neil Hershberg, VP of global media for BW.

And developments are specialty-based, as well as geographically based. Both PRN and BW are taking steps to deal with the new financial standard, extensible business reporting language (XBRL), although it is still years away from being required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. PRN introduced Dragon Tag, an XBRL document-creation tool while BW formed Core Filing, a company focused on XBRL, as a joint venture with UK-based XML vendor Decision Soft.

Mark Nowlan, SVP of marketing and communications for PRN, says it is important for newswires to not only perform their expected functions well, but also to know what is coming down the pike. "Customers should expect their newswire to keep pace with their communication needs," he says. "We feel our responsibility is to anticipate needs before they're really on their radar."

Keeping on top of trends was the impetus behind BW's recent decision to partner with CSRwire, a niche wire devoted to disseminating news with corporate social responsibility themes. Lissauer says the partnership is something that the company is stressing to its clients as a way to reach audiences concerned with such issues, something that could ultimately have an effect on a company's reputation. "I think it's a trend that is starting and that is going to evolve more and more in the coming years," Lissauer says. "Consumers are going to look at what role corporations are going to play in society."

BW and PRN are undoubtedly the two giants in the newswire industry; both companies have well over $100 million in annual revenue, and daily press release transmissions of approximately 1,000. And while there is obviously competition between the two, their decades of domination in the industry have created a situation that provides a clear-cut motivation for several challengers.

Jim McGovern, president and CEO of Market Wire, which has been around in one form or another for a decade, likens his company to Southwest Airlines, emphasizing the "three legs of the stool" - product quality, service, and price. "We see ourselves as the David against two Goliaths, and we're determined to break down the oligopoly," he says. Market Wire distributes approximately 2,000 press releases per month.

Despite its smaller size, McGovern says, Market Wire has the same aspirations and concerns as the bigger players. The company also has increased its international presence within the past year, developing reciprocal agreements with the London Stock Exchange's Regulatory News Service (RNS) and DGAP - a joint venture between the German Stock Exchange, Reuters, and VWD, which distributes financial information to German-speaking Europe. The company reports it has seen a 50% growth in the past two years, something McGovern hopes will continue.

Direct to the consumer

One of the primary concerns for all newswires is the evolving media landscape. "When the industry first started, the exposure the company would gain was when media would write about it," says Nowlan. "We were really addressing the media outlets as the only intermediary between our clients and their customers." However, the development and proliferation of the internet has made press releases available to a whole new audience, and Nowlan says the newswires have had to react accordingly. "At one point, we relied on the media to get the message to their audiences," he notes. "Now we still rely on the media to get their message to their audiences, but we also reach our customers' audience directly."

Not only have Yahoo's and Google's news sites become an automatic destination for news releases, they are also increasing in popularity among consumers. Brian Taylor, VP of marketing communications for US Newswire - a wire owned by Medialink Worldwide that specializes in public policy and nonprofit news - notes that the company has seen viewership of its press releases skyrocket at Yahoo News.

"While traditional media is not dead, and probably never will never be, people are getting their news when they want it from whom they want," he says. "The mass media are currently being bypassed."

Such a situation also dramatically affects the potential for press releases, says Lissauer. "The credibility of the press release, the ability of the consumer to read full-text press releases directly now... has made the press release a really relevant marketing tool," he adds.

The fact that consumers are reading press releases unfiltered by journalists has not gone unnoticed by newswires. A multimedia component has become an important way to capture the attention of not only journalists, but also consumers. PRN offers a multimedia news release through its broadcast PR division, MultiVu, which combines audio, video, photos, text, and links to downloads. BW has a similar offering with its Smart News release, which it first launched in 1997. Market Wire and US Newswire also offer multimedia components to press releases.

"[Clients are] appreciating the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words," McGovern says. "It's going to get more attention. It's going to have more impact. It's going to be a differentiator when a journalist is completing his or her story."

A multimedia component is a necessity when dealing with the so-called "MTV generation," Lissauer says. "People have shorter attention spans," he says. "They want to see; they don't just want to just read [about it]." Taylor concedes that the multimedia press release is not as powerful in the public services sector as in consumer products, but says that of the multimedia releases sent out, 75% to 80% include a photo.

The proliferation of press releases on news aggregate sites also increases a consumer's chances of seeing company news as a result of a search engine query. Because of this, newswires have also applied search engine optimization technology to their press releases. PRN works with iCrossing, a search engine marketing firm, to apply search engine visibility to all of its nationally distributed press releases. "It's an online world," says Nowlan. "Every purchase, whether it's b-to-b or b-to-c, typically begins with research on the web, and we want our clients' messages to be there. Today getting pickup is not just being in the newspaper. Getting pickup is being read and used by your audience."

Interacting with media

Even with consumers making up a significant part of the readership of press releases, newswires still recognize that the media are the primary arbiters of such information. As such, ensuring that the appropriate journalists are being targeted is still both a concern of clients and a selling point for the newswires. "Anybody can spam the message out there. That's not accomplishing what true newswires do," says McGovern. "If you look at it from the client's perspective, they want to know, 'Where does my news go, and does it go to the right places?'"

Nowlan says that PRN's Mediatlas product seeks to do just that. The database of 450,000 journalists - offered in English, French, and Spanish - includes information on their preferred method of delivery, which he says creates a "climate of respect" between the journalist and the newswire that ultimately transfers to the client. A good rapport with the media is essential to a newswire's effectiveness and success for its clients. "[Clients] should expect [their] newswire to be as concerned with how they manage the relationships with the media as how they manage the relationships with paying customers," he notes. "It's not a one-way street. You have to cultivate both areas of the pipeline."

While highly targeted distribution lists are of great concern, the method in which information is delivered is equally as important. For many years, the core distribution system for most newswires was the satellite wire feed into newsrooms. Releases go in a text-only form into a central news terminal. Taylor says this model is still the "bread and butter" of every wire service because releases go into a central wire terminal accessible by journalists.

"It's still the most resourced information source in a newsroom," he says. "It's continuous, it's real time, and it's easy to access." Additionally, it serves as a good way for clients to get through to journalists for whom they may not have contact information. "People are using the wires to make sure that new reporters, reporters who have changed beats, reporters who have changed news outlets, are in the loop about what they're doing, even though they might not know who they are yet," Taylor notes.

Still the majority of newswires use a multiplatform distribution system, which all parties agree serves clients, the media, and end users in the most effective and targeted way. In 2003, BW launched its NX technology, an internet-based delivery platform that serves as the backbone of its operation. PRN uses a point-to-point internet-based system, and Market Wire uses an internet system, as well. Such systems allow for an increase in the speed by which releases can be sent. Lissauer notes that the NX system can send 50 news releases simultaneously.

Other methods of distribution, such as fax, HTML, FTP, and RSS feeds, are also common. RSS feeds in particular have become a popular option within the past year or so, as they can increase a story's chances of getting picked up.

Years ago, a successful transmission of a release signaled a job well done for the newswire. But clearly that is no longer the case, as most newswires have realized that what happens after a release is sent out is just as important. Both PRN and BW began offering monitoring services a few years ago. PRN has eWatch, which also began monitoring blogs earlier this year. BW recently signed an agreement with Cyber Alert to develop a product for monitoring traditional news outlets, as well as blogs and message boards. US Newswire launched its NewsClips service in 2004, and it recently began monitoring blogs, a big concern for clients. "In the public-interest space there are ... blogs covering everything," Taylor says, emphasizing the need to monitor the space. Recently, the company also launched a web-based video-monitoring product called MediaVision.

Knowing what is being said about your company is important, but knowing the impact of placement, tone, and relevance have become a concern not only for PR pros, but also for the newswires, as some have gotten into the measurement space. BW has teamed with Delahaye for the past few years to offer its Compass product. And PRN introduced its Media Sense measurement product just a few months ago. "It's such an exciting area because the idea of proving your value to the company as a communicator has been dogging public relations people and communicators for decades," Nowlan says.

Not all of the newswires are taking an interest in the area. McGovern says that Market Wire is more interested in concentrating on the core business of the newswire and making it better, rather than developing additional services.

"What Market Wire is doing is not 'me too' products. We're not trying to be all things to all people, " he says. "We're looking to do things much better." One of the company's main objectives is streamlining the PR and IR processes. Its Easy PR service automatically posts press releases on the client's website as they cross the wire. It also allows users to upload press kits, event calendars, and gallery images. Similarly, PRN last year released its Media Room product, which allows PR pros to develop and update the media section of their company's website.

"PR people are the stepchildren of their internal IT department," Nowlan says. "This gives communicators control over the media area of their website."

While diversification of services for newswires is definitely a given, Taylor says they are only a "Band-Aid solution" for an industry that is as cyclical as the newswires. Much of the future success of the wires, he says, will depend on the education of PR pros, many of whom may not have a strong understanding of the news process and inner workings of a newsroom.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago, most PR people came from the news side ... so they knew how it worked. I'd say 80% of the PR people right now never worked in a newsroom, and that's the challenge," he says. "I think to maximize the effectiveness of what we provide and have more people take advantage of it, it really is education [that is necessary]."

Business leaders at a glance

Business Wire

Date founded 1961 Privately owned Number of employees 500 Number of daily press releases 1,000 2004 revenue Not supplied; BW states annual sales of approximately $120 million Number of US bureaus 24 Bureaus overseas Australia, Japan, Belgium, Germany, UK, France, and Sweden

Distribution partners India United News of India China TIPS, CINIC, Xinhua InfoLink Japan Jiji Press Broadcast PR partner Medialink Measurement product Compass Monitoring product new product under development News outlets monitored 25,000, including news syndication services, newswires, newspapers, magazines, trades, TV networks, local stations Blogs monitored 5 million

PR Newswire Date founded 1954 Owned by United Business Media Number of employees 850-plus Number of daily press releases 700 to 1,000 2004 revenue $173.5 million Number of US bureaus 26 Bureaus overseas Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, France, Israel, UK, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan

Distribution partners India Press Trust of India China Xinhua Japan KK Kyodo News Agency Broadcast PR partner MultiVu Measurement product MediaSense Monitoring product eWatch News outlets monitored more than 20,000 Blogs monitored 400 to 500, plus any requested specifically by clients

Niche markets

Black PR Wire Founded in 2000 by PR agency owner Bernadette Morris, this internet-based service has more than 3,500 subscribers and distributes to more than 1,700 media and community outlets in the US and the Caribbean. While it averages 60 releases per month, that total rises during such events as Black History Month, Black Music Month, and Kwanzaa. Currently, it has partnerships with Business Wire, Hispanic PR Wire, and the Public Relations Society of America. It also produces Thrivin', a monthly e-newsletter featuring news of interest to the black community. One major recent development is the Black Digital Network, a web-based 24-hour, on-demand, multimedia information center. The site offers TV and radio programs in all areas, including sports and entertainment. The site has a deal with black college sports.

Hispanic PR Wire Also started in 2000, this internet-based news service delivers news about and for the Hispanic community. In addition to distribution to Latino media, the newswire offers specialized circuits targeting Latino organizations, as well as Hispanic elected officials and opinion leaders. President Manny Ruiz describes the company's internet strategy as the "heart and soul" of the service. Upcoming plans include a new website that will include a calendar listing of Hispanic marketing events and a career section where visitors can post or search for jobs. Last year, the wire, along with its sister company, Hispanic Digital Network, began offering clients Inteligente Release, an add-on service that distributes news releases embedded with photos, as well as acts as a photo wire, enabling journalists to obtain high resolution, print-ready images.

Collegiate Presswire Designed to give PR professionals and marketers a way to reach the previously untapped college media niche, this service counts 810 college and university newspapers among its subscribers. Started in 1998 by Matthew Farlie and Lisa Bannerot, former members of the PR and advertising agency worlds, Collegiate Presswire has since grown to include RadioWire, which has 250 subscribers. Recent additions to the service include CP NewsLink, an online press conference product, and Collegiate Reporter, a subscription-based weekly e-newsletter that highlights trends and news stories. It recently debuted a news service, CampusAdTrader, an eBay-like website where college papers can sell advertising space to media buyers and marketing pros in an online auction format.

CSRwire With corporate social responsibility a top-of-mind concern for corporations and consumers alike, a service that distributes such news was a natural development. Among CSRwire's readers are contacts at such media outlets as USA Today, the AP, Bertelsmann, and The Wall Street Journal. It also distributes news releases to reach investment analysts and research firms, institutional and individual investors, NGOs and nonprofits, CSR organizations, and corporate CSR officers and staff. Several PR firms, including Ogilvy, Edelman, and Ketchum, are on its distribution list. News releases from CSRwire are available on its website, through its syndication network - which includes Social Venture Network and Business for Social Responsibility - and through weekly news alerts.

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