The newswire companies have put their R&D machines into high gear in their ongoing quest to keep their users ahead of the latest media trends.
Given the enormous changes in both the media and PR industry over the past few years, it is only natural that the newswire companies have experienced a higher rate of innovation and product development in that time than ever before. Fueling that activity is a research and development process that aims to match the needs of the companies' customers with the realities of the ever-changing media landscape.
"The concept is to not just create a product or a technology, but to create a product or technology that is going to serve the marketplace," says Michael Lissauer, EVP of marketing and business strategy at Business Wire (BW). "You don't want to do it in a vacuum." So, research most often begins with those who are using the newswires on a daily basis: the clients.
Mark Nowlan, SVP of marketing and communications at PR Newswire (PRN), notes that the company regularly turns to user groups for certain existing services to get feedback on proposed improvements. Customer feedback was especially key in creating the company's measurement product, MediaSense, he adds.
Beginning with a survey of those customers, the company learned that having a measurement product bundled in with their news distribution was important. The research also showed that although ad equivalency is something not often valued by sophisticated measurement systems, it was something PRN's customers wanted included in the measurement product. So, after a beta test involving 10 customers, PRN released the product last summer.
According to the newswire companies, what clients want and need most is to update the traditional press release into something that will thrive in the online community. Gone are the days when journalists are the sole target of press releases, so newswire companies are working to make them suitable and appealing to the end consumer.
"No longer is a certain individual responsible for telling anyone what is news and what's important," says Paolina Milana, VP of marketing and media relations for Market Wire (MW). "Instead, it's the actual community."
Adds Tom Becktold, BW's VP of marketing, "It's always a concern that we stay ahead of the curve and anticipate where our client's audience looks for news."
The fragmented media environment has helped contribute to the creation of the social media release. Introduced by Shift Communications principal Todd Defren in March, it includes links to MP3 files, other relevant coverage, third-party Web sites like del.icio.us and Technorati, and access to other audio and video files.
"The social media news release is all about making the plain text news release much more helpful to the audiences that you're delivering it to," says Nowlan. "Format aside, we'd love to see the content evolve so it's much more helpful to those people who are online looking at it."
The social media phenomenon is something that PRN is carefully monitoring. Nowlan says he recently attended the first meeting of the Social Media Club in San Jose, CA. "It's clear that there's a huge online audience for news," he says.
While not an entirely new issue, newswire companies are still paying special attention to search engine optimization (SEO). Many of the companies now build in SEO strategies into each press release to ensure that it has the best chance of exposure.
"[Our clients] are always looking to reach their specific niche audiences in different ways in different locations," says Becktold. "The development in terms of improving content and SEO achieves a lot of that."
In fact, improving SEO was the impetus behind XHTML, BW's new capability, which will launch later this month.
Becktold notes that, through research, the company learned that various factors affect SEO, from the length of a headline to the number of bolded or bulleted items. Moreover, not all search engines behave the same way, so the product had to be researched in context of both Google and Yahoo.
The resulting XHTML capability, he adds, allows clients to retain original features of press releases, such as bolded and bulleted items, and help with SEO.
Clients' role in research
Because clients are often the most useful source of research information, newswire companies often make them the first step in the research process.
"We spend as much time asking our clients what they need as anything that we do," says Tom Madden, CEO of Primezone, which Nasdaq recently acquired. "If you ask enough questions about what they need, you'll find out if you can fill that need."
MW also has a client advisory board, whose members offer their opinions to the company's executives through everything from routine calls to surveys.
In addition to collecting customer feedback, BW's executives make a point to meet with several prominent members of the industry, right up to global agency CEOs.
"R&D is not just sitting in some lab," Lissauer says. "It's going out and meeting with the key people in the industry to find out what they're doing."
MW's Milana adds that research should be part of the job description for every employee. She says, "If you make it a priority to task each of your people, regardless of job duty, to actually communicate with clients and prospects, you are going to get a better snapshot of what really is needed and perhaps what you can offer at different levels to different people."
R&D for today's and tomorrow's industry
Developments in 2006
Business Wire formed a strategic partnership with Newsforce, an SEO software provider, to offer the company's services to BW clients
PR Newswire formed a partnership with social media tagging company deli.cio.us
Primezone released SEO Newswire to help clients make their press releases more adaptable to new audiences
Market Wire added embedded video capabilities to its Easy PR and Easy IR suite of products
Collegiate Presswire formed a partnership with CP News Link, an online, interactive press conference between newsmakers and student journalists using a Web-based system
On the horizon
Business Wire will shortly launch its XHTML capabilities, which will allow press releases to be viewed the way they are submitted by the client. It will also enable clients to more easily take part in social media
Primezone, given its recent acquisition by NASDAQ, will add to its financial reporting capabilities
Market Wire is looking into developing a measurement product
Hispanic PR Wire plans to launch the Hispanic Web release, an SEO release designed for small businesses and other companies who only require Web distribution
PR Newswire is improving its ability to deliver content to niche audiences, including tagging content