There was a time when the transmission of text releases from a newswire hub to journalists' desks, via the AP and other portals, was considered new and innovative. Of course, such a process has long become part of the scenery for reporters and the communications professionals who are trying to reach them. Newswires, as you'd expect, are pushing technology for the new best thing.The result is a new generation of web-based press releases, no longer "merely a textual device, but tools that offer a host of ways to access information,
according to John Williams, EVP of global markets at PR Newswire. The releases feature internet links to extensive information such as annual reports, product demos, and streamlined video and audio clips.
Business Wire's version of the web-based technology, the Smart News Release, is distributed on Newstream.com and Yahoo! Finance. The releases embed photos, graphics, video, audio, and slide shows into the textual information.
The philosophy is that the media is less willing to use information directly from releases because most distributed releases are not "smart."
"Reg FD mandated more disclosure,
explains Business Wire SVP Michael Lissauer, "and companies are now looking to get more information out there, which they can do with enhanced multimedia.
The adoption of this technology, according to Business Wire, will also lessen the research processes undertaken by journalists and interested consumers.
Building in multimedia
The Enhanced News Release is PR Newswire's take on the technology, also featuring links to further online multimedia. The company also plans to launch a new product - Press Release of the Future - in the final quarter of 2002. As with Business Wire, the web-based interface was designed as a result of companies wanting to disclose more information. It will be accessible online, but it won't include links to other screens; instead, access to company brochures, webcasts, and the ability to buy stocks will all be available simultaneously in one interface. PR Newswire is using a release for Reader's Digest as a model for the futuristic releases.
While reading Digest's annual report, for example, one can also monitor stock prices.
And if PR Newswire's latest project - instant response technology - is any indication of what's to come, future developments will place an emphasis on interactive capabilities.
Instant response technology is designed to offer personalized and immediate answers to viewers' questions and comments. Live chats, expert opinions, and more interactive surveys are all being developed as part of this new set of advancements. Still with much tweaking to be done, the technology is set to launch in the final quarter of this year.
Not everyone agrees that the technology-inspired changes are part of a natural and necessary course, however. Brian Taylor, VP of marketing communications for US Newswire, is quick to point out that the new-style releases are not based on conventional wire technology. He feels that it is not always made clear that when releases are posted on the internet, it's not the same as using a wire feed. He is not knocking the changes, but is simply stating that it is a different kind of technology altogether.
While Taylor acknowledges that multimedia is a growing trend, he does not think it should have such an overpowering presence when it comes to newswires. "The whole technology thing has been beaten to death,
Nevertheless, US Newswire, aware of the need to keep up with its competitors, merged with Medialink in September 1999 in order to expand its technological capabilities. US Newswire offers many of the same multimedia services as the other wires, but with a very different approach: It doesn't push them. Although Taylor suggests organizations looking to make themselves newsworthy should "take advantage of the new environment and put their company in a good light,
he's not referring to the latest technology, but disclosure in the most straightforward form: words.
Others might point out that because US Newswire mainly sends out releases on ideas, not products, it doesn't need to expand beyond text releases.
But Taylor is speaking generally when he says he doesn't find it advantageous for newswires to position themselves as companies focused heavily on the web. "No one wants to market themselves as an internet company because of the stigma that comes along with it,
The story can get buried online
Another argument against newswire releases becoming too internet-dominated is that reporters want cut-and-dried information. They may not want to take the time to open websites and navigate through the features that some companies are spending a great deal of money on. PR people are hesitant to take the risk that journalists might not see their story because a more straightforward text release took a lot less time to view.
But many will counter that, like all technology, it's just a matter of changing old habits and getting used to it. "My biggest complaint about PR has been that the industry is slow to respond to technological advances,
explains Lissauer. He believes messages are being compromised when communications specialists refuse to accept the enhancements that need to happen in news distribution.
Williams agrees that it's the duty of those who work in the newswire industry to provide users with the most innovative forms of multimedia. "If you are in this profession, your job is to disclose the maximum amount of information possible."
Even the biggest proponents are not ignoring the potential kinks in the web-bound future of newswires, however. To ensure the multimedia enhancements have a positive effect on revenues for the wire services and their clients, special attention is being paid to measuring results. And, as Williams acknowledges, measurement is an "evolving set of capabilities that is constantly developing.
For example, in April 2001, his company launched the "T-button
measurement; it allows companies to track how many people are viewing their releases, obtain profiles of visitors, and presents an opportunity for viewers to offer feedback on the individual releases.
But if conventional "wire
technology is evolving into what is basically a notification of where reporters can go to get the real scoop, is the newswire industry as we know it taking on a new definition?
"There will be significantly more multimedia content attached to releases,
maintains Lissauer. "The media will use more and more releases - if they are more comprehensive."
But Taylor is still not convinced. "Multimedia may be a growing trend as more forms of media are being enhanced,
he says. "but it's not all there is. Words are still key."
NICHES IN NEWSWIRES
Industry- and region-specific circuits are creating more ways for newswires to market themselves to prospective clients, as well as providing more sensible options for PR professionals.
Newswires are continually putting efforts toward targeting where releases should be sent. Targeting where information is sent results in a higher acceptance rate for the newswires, and it prevents clients from paying to have releases sent to outlets that are unlikely to have any interest.
"Specialized distribution is getting big,
confirms US Newswire's Brian Taylor. His company has developed several "packages,
or specialized groups of media outlets to which clients can request having their releases sent.
Some of the more popular niches in the current market are biotech, gay and lesbian issues, politics, and environmental issues.
Newswire services are also working to target more specifically by location.
Internet Wire recently released a line of Canadian distribution circuits.
It has also launched the industry's first flat-rate European-wide distribution package. Termed "Affordable Europe,
the company's new product will cover 26 nations and be distributed to consumer, business, and trade publications in every major European market. Domestically, newswires have also created certain sectors. US Newswire, for example, offers a more-targeted national circuit, Washington circuit, city circuit, and state circuit.
Ethnic newswires are notable rising trends as well. Manny Ruiz, president and CEO of Hispanic PR Wire, explains how only one-and-a-half years ago, the newswire market was virtually void of any credible minority-related subject matter. "It was almost insulting what was out there
in terms of reading materials for and about the Hispanic community, says Ruiz. Since then, Hispanic PR Wire has grown to reach over 1,200 media.