Enhanced, smart; whatever the preferred term, multimedia news releases are here to stay. Sara Calabro finds out how clients are using them.Technical advancements in newswire companies' offerings are spicing up the routine process of sending out press releases - for the distributors themselves, as well as their clients. Sending releases with photos and company logos has been common practice for some time now, but more recently, including streaming video and audio content has become possible. "We are trying to focus much more on making multimedia materials easily available for the press," says Paul Araquistain, manager of PR and corporate communications for Palm. The company used a Multimedia News Release (MNR) from PR Newswire's (PRN) broadcast company, MultiVu, to launch its spring 2003 product line. "It's all about instant distribution - providing enough content in various ways and formats to maximize our chances of pickup," he says. Sending out an MNR through PRN costs $2,450. With that, an HTML-platform release is built for the client that can include photos, logos, PowerPoint slides, and video and audio content. In addition to the included distribution channels, a link to the page is supplied for clients to post to their websites. It currently costs $1,390 (rates are being lowered on January 1) to nationally distribute one of Business Wire's (BW) Smart News Releases, a multimedia press release that BW has repeatedly enhanced since it was initially developed in 1997. By making releases "smart," BW clients can incorporate photos, logos, charts, slide shows, and - through BW's joint-venture website with Medialink, Newstream - video and audio content. BW recently launched a new delivery system called News Express, an internet platform designed to deliver multimedia content in News ML. Reporters can access text, video, pictures, and graphics simultaneously. Medialink's newswire division, US Newswire, adds multimedia content to its clients' releases through its parent company's broadcast services. Users of the service can add a photo to any release for $95, and streaming video or audio for $995. The degree to which clients will benefit from paying more for taking their releases beyond standard text is undoubtedly incumbent on the nature of their news, but instances are limited in which some form of multimedia enhancement would not prove worthwhile. Kelsey August, coauthor of a cookbook called Mad at Martha, for example, says she would have added video capabilities to the Smart News Release she sent out over BW's circuit announcing her book if it was necessary, but the results garnered with just a photo were more than sufficient. The day after the book announcement went out, August was contacted by The New York Times, which ultimately ran a story on page two of its business section with a picture of the book's cover. Several print, online, TV, and radio spots followed, and many displayed the book's cover art - which shows August and her coauthor standing in a kitchen looking disheveled and confused about the recipe they're performing - that went out with the original release. August, who was planning on sending out a standard text release prior to BW's advice to add the visual component, says, "That picture ended up being used by every single media outlet that picked it up." Larry Thomas, MultiVu SVP, says the consumer-products, entertainment, and healthcare industries are the early adopters of MultiVu's MNRs. "Whether it's running a trailer, playing a music track, or depicting roller-coaster enthusiasts screaming their heads off on the newest ride, the MNR allows for a dynamic visual enhancement," says Thomas. Brian Taylor, director of sales and marketing for US Newswire, agrees, and points to an example of a visually enhanced press release that his service sent out for the National Aquarium in Baltimore. The aquarium's director of media relations called US Newswire, concerned that the standard text release she sent out (with another wire service) about the increased interest in the aquarium since the release of the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo had generated no media interest. US Newswire sent the release out over its own circuit, but this time, with a photo of the movie's famous clownfish, Nemo. Shortly after the enhanced release was disseminated, USA Today ran the photo of Nemo, and later ran an article featuring the National Aquarium. The story was eventually syndicated to several local papers. Across the county, several other papers ran similar stories, but localized them to feature each city's aquarium. FDA approvals can also be well served by utilizing the wire companies' advancements because of the large number of audiences interested in that type of news. In addition to the standard PRN distribution circuit, purchasers of MNRs, for example, are able to send targeted HTML e-mails to special-interest groups, plus 200 of their own proprietary contacts. In the case of an FDA approval, this is useful for reaching doctors, pharmacists, patients, and employees who might not be included in PRN's normal distribution channels. Thomas cites the financial industry as one that has been slower to incorporate multimedia capabilities, due in large part to the nature of its news. Standard text releases are generally sufficient for a company's earnings or dividend statements because they mostly deal with hard numbers. It's also a matter of old habits not dying fast. When Palm used an MNR for its spring launch, it also issued a standard text release, and let recipients know via a link that additional information was available. "Since we're still issuing text over the wire, there has not been a change in the way our media contacts are receiving our news initially," explains Araquistain. "But now we're making sure that the additional multimedia options are available to those who want them." Thomas agrees. "As we speak with more and more of our IR clients and educate them on how to use the MNR to communicate financial messages," he says, "they are beginning to see the value of providing more visibility of their CEO or CFO." MultiVu has begun developing MNRs for financial clients that contain a corporation's CEO presenting quarterly earnings, speaking at a shareholder meeting, or opening a stock exchange for trading.