By the end of Q1, Robert Gray, chief executive of New York–based PR Newswire, will be out of a job.
That’s when the news distribution service will merge with Cision, the Chicago-based global media intelligence company that has been on a spending spree, buying up content, digital analytics, software, and news distribution firms of late.
"We’re bringing together two complementary leaders. Once the deal closes, I will be leaving," Gray says.
And, in late February, Nasdaq completed its acquisition of Marketwired.
"Both of our companies have been investing heavily in upgrading the platforms and work flows that service our respective customer bases and we came at it from different perspectives," notes Mike Piispanen, head of PR solutions at Nasdaq. "By coming together, our combined client base will now get the benefit of that effort."
Both mergers reflect a major business model change, driven by how PR, marketing consultants, and journalists now create, distribute, and consume information.
"A decade ago you created your release and emailed it to an editor and they put it on the wire and you waited for a fax to come in the next day to tell you where it got picked up," Piispanen recalls.
"Today you create your release, send it to legal, upload it to your editor, select your direct distribution end points, write and schedule your tweets, and press publish. Your release immediately hits the wire, your email list, social, and your website, and you get instant feedback."
Owing to the 24-hour news cycle, additional social media platforms to disseminate information, and the need to distribute more interesting content with feedback than was possible earlier, a major shift is afoot.
"Clients want to know how to cut through the clutter and build engagement across channels," Gray explains. "Earned media is still very important to them, but they’re also looking for things such as greater online visibility, traffic to their websites, and clear metrics."
Gray says this is the rationale behind PR Newswire’s Visibility Reports, an integral part of the distribution product that gives customers metrics. They see who is reading what and how effective their release is.
In 2015, 42% of PR Newswire’s clients used multimedia. "That’s a sharp increase as two years earlier, only 13% were using multimedia in press releases," Gray says.
"At the same time, marketing and communications professionals are under pressure to demonstrate the impact of their campaigns," he adds. "We have invested significantly in our reporting and analytics capabilities to help them analyze and optimize their results."
PR Newswire has been responsive to changing market dynamics and implementing new technology since 1954, when it launched. In the early years it delivered news releases verbatim from agencies to 12 major news points in New York over a private teleprinter network. PR Newswire would receive one copy of the news release and send it simultaneously via the circuit for $15 per day. By the 1960s it was sending news to points in Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh.
Evolving has been central to the company’s ethos.
"To be effective, communications and marketing professionals have to assess the needs around their campaign life cycles. To help them accomplish this, we have invested heavily to build a portfolio of solutions that help our clients monitor media, create and share content, and analyze their results," Gray confirms.
Transformation in history
Peter Granat, Cision’s CEO, says the transformation of the newswire’s business model has been significant over the past five or six years. What started as Bacon’s Information in 1932 to sell media directories and press information to the agency world has turned into a giant agency go-to for the campaign life cycle.
"Cision has been working on a strategy to simplify comms and the marketing landscape," says Granat. "There’s a real need to do that in an integrated way."
That means he must acquire or merge with companies that provide influencer marketing, content distribution, news distribution through traditional newswires, social and traditional media monitoring, and engagement and insights across an integrated cloud-based platform.
To that end, in 2014 Cision merged with Vocus, one of its competitors, and inherited PRWeb, Help a Reporter Out, and iContact. It also bought Visible Technologies and Gorkana and acquired Viralheat in 2015 to help clients monitor social media conversations across platforms.
Its content marketing function sources relevant content, manages workflow, and curates existing content. Clients can engage with influencers, schedule social media posts, respond to mentions on various platforms, and interact with an audience in real time.
By acquiring PR Newswire, Cision gains a global network of more than 600,000 journalists and bloggers and a client base of more than 40,000 public and private companies, organizations, and agencies.
"Customers will start to see those investments come to market in the second half of the year," Granat notes.
"It’s a content-marketing world," points out Scott Fedonchik, VP of marketing for Business Wire and BizWireTV, a Berkshire Hathaway company.
His firm, PR Newswire’s largest competitor, sees a changing demand among clients. "Clients are always looking for innovative products and platforms to help tell their news story," Fedonchik explains.
But over the past decade, he says, "the wire business has changed dramatically." Wire services were built on the need to transmit straight text. Now it’s an industry driven by digital innovation, multimedia content distribution, global and social media amplification, analytics, and ROI.
That drove Business Wire to launch BizWireTV last October in a partnership with Al Roker Entertainment.
"The launch of BizWireTV has moved our company and our clients’ news into the video content marketing space in a very short span of time," he recalls.
The program airs on Fridays with a special Accelerator Report that features news from Business Wire clients on Sundays. By mid-March, the show had just under 2 million views in total.
"The biggest change over the past few years is that we’re being brought into the conversation earlier to help develop programs together," says Fedonchik.
Clients look for data related to media pickup, engagement, and how their news trends on social media.
"We have an entire suite of products that help them understand their news impact and how they’re affecting the audiences they want to reach," Fedonchik says. "Based on internal and external research, we see that the use of multimedia with a news release has upward of a three-time advantage in pickup and engagement."
Unlike Cision, Business Wire does not plan on making acquisitions and doesn’t plan on being acquired.
"We’re looking at expanding BizWireTV to create deeper impact across social media, mobile devices, and emerging OTT platforms that will allow journalists, analysts, and consumers to access BizWireTV anywhere they choose," shares Fedonchik.
"To break through the clutter, you need a great news story. It needs to be augmented with compelling visuals and video to take on a life of its own," he notes. "This is not a short-term trend, but an evolving space where Business Wire is helping to drive that change."