With more people going online to get access to press releases, newswire clients are discovering that journalists aren't their only audience.For US Newswire, the hits started multiplying when thousands of people mistook a press release about John Kerry's 2003 tax returns for a news story.
As Brian Taylor, US Newswire's VP of marketing, explains, internet gossip Matt Drudge copied the release from the newswire's website in April and posted the link on his website, the Drudge Report. From there, people - regular people, mind you, not journalists - clicked through to US Newswire.
Only after so many regular people began clicking toward the release did the media pick up on it and make the tax returns of Kerry, a US Newswire client, into a genuine news story, replete with bylines and an editorial process.
This illustrates the increasing reality that more and more consumers are getting newswire releases through the internet without having to go through traditional media for their news. For communications pros, it can pay to know about this, says Michael Lissauer, SVP for business strategy at Business Wire.
"If I'm a marketing person," Lissauer says, "the two most important audiences to me are, one, the 18-to-34s, which are elusive because they're not watching TV like they used to in the past. They're spending more and more time on the internet, and they're the biggest consumer buying audience. The other, which would probably be the wealthiest audience, is senior executives, and 99% of them are using the internet at work, and 97% are using it at home.
"To me, it's a no-brainer," he adds. "[Newswire releases] become a marketing tool because you can reach the consumer audience directly with a message that has credibility because it's a press release, and it's not an ad."
Lissauer's statistics come from two studies, one by The Wall Street Journal Online that notes that 99% of senior executives at US companies use the internet at work, and 97% log on at home. The other is by the Online Publishers Association and shows disproportionate internet use by 18- to 34-year-olds. Although they make up less than one-quarter of the US population, this demographic accounts for 38% of the total time that Americans spend online. Both studies were released this year.
"There's something new that has taken place," Michelle Horowitz, VP of content development at PR Newswire, says of consumers. "Their gateway is the search engine."
Realizing the potential of reaching consumers not through traditional media but through Google or Yahoo! is the challenge for newswires, one that can be met through what boils down to simple marketing principles: Give consumers what they want, and make sure they know they can get it.
"We're making as many releases as smart as possible," Lissauer says. "The whole thing with the internet is, one, they want content, and, two, they want content that stands out. If you can give them photos with the release, if you can give them logos, if you can give them audio, you're going to enhance the presentation of that release on a website."
Clients, too, see the potential marketing use for getting releases right to consumers, but they might still crave an air of authority.
"There's two things that we look at and experience," says Gary Glenn, president and CEO of NewsWire One. "Some clients will like to just have whatever they're saying in their press release go out there, and then it'll get picked up by Yahoo! or somebody like that. And that's OK. But then the other side is that they want to have the comment or the review from a journalist."
This increasing consumer access might mean a blurring of the lines between PR and advertising online. Clients may see newswires as just another way to pay for their messages to reach the public. Of course, newswires have traditionally functioned as ways for clients to garner media coverage - in other words, to generate PR for themselves.
"It's akin to advertising from the clients' side," Taylor says. "A lot of our clients will come to us and see us as, 'I'll use US Newswire to get my information on the web.' What I see developing is we're becoming an advertising mechanism or marketing mechanism. For the [newswire] business, it's OK. It's something that groups can't do on their own."
While this adds another dimension to newswires - and helps their clients - it might also present a long-term risk for the industry.
"I think the danger is that's what wire services become - just a way to get things on the web," Taylor says. "And the value of what we really provide, the core business that we've always provided, is an efficient mechanism to get press releases and advisories and other information in front of other reporters so that they can enterprise it and provide context for the story. That's in danger of losing its value."
Toss into this the reality that consumers sometimes can't tell the difference between PR and advertising, that a press release popping up on internet sites like the Drudge Report or Yahoo! News might look just like an article in the newspaper to some.
To meet the challenges, newswires must keep in mind that they hold many of the cards foretelling their futures.
They also can rely on an industry that continues to grow, often in tandem with the internet that's changed it so much, such as with Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a quick and easy way for formatting online.
The traditional role of newswires - providing PR for clients - can trump the reality of consumers snagging releases via the internet.
"The meat of the stories, the ones that [clients] want to get, is something where the journalist is involved," says Glenn. "I think it adds credibility. It's that third-party certification of whatever they're trying to say."
And it all starts with newswires.
"You can't have it sent to people by going through search engines," says Michael Shuler, SVP of marketing at Market Wire. "You have to use newswires."
DO discuss with clients the possibility of consumers getting the release unfiltered
DO optimize keywords in the release
DO include the stock ticker symbol in the top paragraph
DON'T release sensitive company information in a release
DON'T forget to edit releases closely
DON'T include contact information a client doesn't want in front of the general public