EDITORIAL: Like PR, newswires aren't commodities

Despite heavy use, my Sprint PCS cellphone service costs me less than $60 a month, because I am one of the millions who have "benefited

Despite heavy use, my Sprint PCS cellphone service costs me less than $60 a month, because I am one of the millions who have "benefited

from the price war that saw Sprint, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, and Cingular Wireless trying to undercut each other's long-distance, roaming, and off-peak rates. But that doesn't stop me yearning daily for my pricier old network provider, Orange.

Orange might have been more expensive than Sprint, but it had the basic advantage of working whenever and wherever I wanted to make a call - and the added value that contact with customer service representatives was tolerably pleasant and occasionally even productive.

The point here is that price wars do not always benefit every consumer.

Sure there are probably plenty of happy users out there for whom cost is far and away the most important criterion, but there are also plenty like me who would rather Sprint had charged them a bit more and invested a bit more in its network infrastructure and its customer service.

Services to the PR industry are no different. In recent months there have been suggestions that the two oldest and biggest newswire services, PR Newswire and Business Wire, should cut their prices for issuing press releases, potentially starting a price war, simply because one or two of their competitors are cheaper. This would make complete sense if the services were identical - but they aren't.

The press release is still the most important tool for many PR pros as they try to effect change on behalf of their corporation or clients. Given that fact, it is vital that the agency or corporate communications department issuing a release considers not only what it says, but also who it will reach.

Does the newswire service being used really reach all the journalists it needs to reach? Is it available in a form that they find easy to use?

Do those journalists regard the supplier as a credible source? Does the service reach all the analysts and institutional investors that the communicator needs to influence? Do they trust it?

It is also important to know that the newswire service provider is secure enough that no imposter can break into its system and issue a misleading release on a company's behalf.

And PR pros might also like to ask what added value their service provider is offering. Does it monitor releases? Does it distribute internationally, or at least have that facility? Does the release get automatically filed with all the key database and information retrieval services so that it is found every time someone conducts a search?

No one is saying that price is not going to be a factor in a PR pros' decision about which wire service to use - that would be naive. But it is equally wrongheaded to make a decision based entirely on price, without considering the other factors. The news-wires are service providers - not commodity traders.

In addition, a price war in the newswire market is unlikely to benefit anyone in the long term. Price cuts tend to result in quality and service cuts. Quality and service cuts would mean more releases going out without the proper checks on their origin and editorial content, and will eventually undermine journalists' and analysts' trust in the services.

Of course, if you don't agree I look forward to hearing your views - just make sure you call my landline and not my cell.

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