A flurry of mergers and acquisitions has turned the newswire world upside down over the past two years. Agencies and corporations that use the services say the consolidation has many benefits, but they’re looking for wire services to innovate more quickly.
The sector has seen considerable change in just the past two months. Last week, Nasdaq agreed to acquire press-release-distribution platform Marketwired; in mid-December, Cision agreed to buy PR Newswire from UBM for $841 million in its latest in a series of deals.
Mark McClennan, PRSA’s 2016 national chair and MSLGroup SVP, contends the consolidation among the newswires is a net positive because while it will narrow the choices for clients, it will heighten the competition among release-distribution services. Therefore, newswires will continue to innovate.
"I have not seen any endemic issues with the consolidations," says McClennan. "[MSLGroup] works with a number of different newswires, and we are happy with them all; if there are ever any hiccups, they are one-offs."
Other experts told PRWeek the consolidation is benefitting agencies because it has simplified the often unwieldy process of using various platforms. After the series of combinations, firms are more often using one platform for services such as media monitoring, journalist databases, distribution, and social media management.
The benefits are not always immediately apparent to clients, however. Communities in Schools, a dropout-prevention organization was using Vocus when it was acquired by Cision in October 2014. The organization’s VP of communications, Steve Majors, recalls there was "anxiety" among his team when the companies combined.
"We worried about things like whether the service and support would suffer now that there were fewer competitors and it was less of a buyer’s market," Majors says. "But now, I feel like I have the best of both worlds; I still have a really strong relationship with customer service and a heightened level of functionality based on Cision’s strength."
Customers are also more likely to stick with the same newswire service for a longer period of time. Prior to the spate of mergers, it was fairly common for his organization and its peers to change services about every three years.
"We used to [choose newswire providers] based on the fact someone was running a special pricing at a given time, or if there was a new piece of functionality we thought we needed," he says. "Invariably, the differences always seemed very minor."
Majors says the quality of service has improved since the Cision-Vocus combination, with Communities in Schools more easily able to monitor broadcast clips and target the appropriate journalists.
"With the service I use now, I can find a journalist’s specific email, info about the stories they have been working on, their work history, and links to their social media account," he says. "So I can follow in one platform who the influential folks are who are writing about a certain topic. I used to just find lists of journalists with bare bones information."
Cision CEO Peter Granat says the most-in-demand service his company is offering is analytics measuring the value, reach, and influence of a press release.
There has always been a push for more analytics," he adds. "Now we are trying to understand the impact of the stories that get generated from a press release."
McClennan says the wires have upped their game in terms of analytics in the past year. Historically, PR firms and corporations relied on newswire services to get impressions and breadth for their releases. However, clients now want deeper insights.
"I used to talk to newswires and ask if the numbers were real; I would question the accuracy and if it was reaching the right audience," says McClennan. "As I am microtargeting, that kind of insight is essential."
Granat says he is also seeing strong client demand for the inclusion of multimedia assets – including videos and photos – in press releases.
But are press releases even relevant anymore?
Although the newswire industry is evolving rapidly, experts say fewer clients are relying on services such as press releases or forgoing them altogether. For instance, last October, Goldman Sachs decided it would use Twitter and its own website to distribute its third-quarter earnings, eschewing newswire services.
"The reach is not the same; reporters rarely grab news off the wires and some have discontinued or don't have a good distribution anymore, and it's more for an SEO game," communications consultant Jeremy Pepper says. "There are values, and I recommend clients use wire services for benchmark news to have it on the wire."
Brendan Lewis, a partner at the Pramana Collective, says he has not used newswire services for years. He previously led comms for Shazam and was director of corporate communications at Foursquare.
"I think you're seeing a trend, especially among startups and tech companies, that their own blogs or other things like Medium are their main outreach mechanisms," Lewis says. "For larger companies, or companies that are public, services like newswires are still useful, but for the smaller or emerging folks, not so much."
Finsbury is also encouraging clients to move away from press releases. Many agencies and corporations find it easier and cheaper to use digital media to distribute news to a wide range of audiences and followers than to use newswires.
"There are more creative and strategic ways to get the news out," Finsbury partner Peter Land explains.
One advantage newswires do have is near-simultaneous distribution. However, some clients are questioning wire services’ security. Last summer, news-release-distribution services including Business Wire, Marketwired, and PR Newswire were the target of an elaborate scheme in which hackers and traders gained access to statements on not-yet-public mergers and acquisitions to trade on insider information.
Land contends that to stay relevant, newswires must evolve more dramatically to meet the demands of the digital media age.
"It's all about multimedia, and all of us – agencies and clients – need to be acting like media companies," says Land. "How can we distribute information to our audiences in formats they like and with content they are likely to engage with? The newswire services that will win have to understand that and come to the table with solutions."