Strategy, anti-newsjacking, pro bono releases: How newswires are pitching in

Wire services are guiding clients on appropriate statements and thwarting newsjacking attempts amid COVID-19.

Virtually all parts of the economy have been forced to adjust to the “new normal” over the past month, including PR professionals at agencies and those working in-house. Press release distribution services are no different. 

Newswires’ relationships with clients have changed, due in no small part to the additional sensitivity with which releases must be handled in the face of coronavirus. 

“While the coronavirus hasn’t changed what PR Newswire does at its core, it has amplified the importance of wire distribution services in disseminating information,” notes Brendon O’Donovan, global head of product marketing at PR Newswire parent Cision. Clients are struggling to earn media coverage using the same tactics they employed pre-crisis and have changed their messaging and strategy. 

What sets this crisis apart from others is that it is having a direct impact on nearly every business, O’Donovan adds. Close to half of the releases PR Newswire is receiving from clients are related in some way to coronavirus. There also has been a spike in healthcare and life science news releases, and O’Donovan says the platform is also seeing more statements related to NGOs and governments, corporate social responsibility, business closures and service disruptions and financial news.

Business Wire has noticed an increase in stakeholder communications, notes Sarah Shepard, VP of the New York region. Clients are not only trying to communicate consistently and transparently, but “being particularly thoughtful about communications during this difficult period,” she says. 

Ben Chodor, president of Intrado Digital Media, points out that it is a complicated time for media relations because companies need to sell products and services even amid a global crisis. GlobeNewsWire is advising clients to be careful in their media outreach and pay more attention to their distribution strategy. 

Chodor says PR pros are “being thoughtful in how they approach the media and are working to provide sources and information that will add transparency and real value to stories.” 

Newswire is offering a needs analysis assessment to help companies identify the best way to communicate their message and develop a plan to recover after the worst of the crisis is over. It is also working with clients to ensure their content is sensitive to the global pandemic while showing their value. 

“[Newswire is] putting additional emphasis on reaching out to our customers to understand how they are impacted and how we may be able to help them to get through this uncertain time,” says Charlie Terenzio, VP of earned media advantage business at Newswire. 

A crisis such as the pandemic not only forces businesses to make sure their messages are appropriate, it also drives an increase in fake news and newsjacking, which creates another challenge for newswires. 

O’Donovan says PR Newswire’s goal is to “remain a trusted source for the media,” so its teams are being even more careful to maintain the standards of the statements they distribute. Its guidelines allow the platform to refuse any release that is trying to unfairly profit from the pandemic or is newsjacking to promote a product or service not connected to it. 

Chodor also highlights the need for newswires to be trusted sources for this same reason and says that companies are leaning on reputable information to communicate with stakeholders. 

“The rise of fake news and misinformation has caused brands to prioritize owned media channels and make better use of traditional tools like corporate newsrooms and newswire services,” he says. 

Some newswires are also offering discounts or free services to clients that are helping the public. 3BL waived fees for 3BL CSRwire starting on March 16, allowing companies and organizations to distribute statements about how they’re responding to the pandemic, says 3BL CEO Dave Armon. The company ran more than 500 releases free of charge, enabling companies to highlight the work they are doing, in many cases where the federal government fell short. 

Armon highlights Medtronic, which “went open-source for its ventilator design so other companies could make them quickly enough to save lives at hospitals overrun with COVID-19 patients.” 

3BL has since set limits and scaled back the program to avoid newsjacking, though it continues to “feature organizations with a national or global scope and with innovative content,” says Armon. The aim is to provide a curated, inspiring feed for 3BL’s audience of business leaders at purpose-driven companies.

Business Wire also has a history of providing complimentary press release and multimedia distribution during times of disaster or tragedy. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is “providing complimentary services to companies and organizations specifically announcing financial donations, supplies and services to assist in the effort to contain the spread and repercussions brought on by COVID-19,” Shepard says. The platform has provided this service to more than 200 companies and organizations, and it is also providing a 100% matching contribution toward nonprofit charitable donations made by employees to efforts related to the coronavirus.

Newswire, meanwhile, is taking a different approach, offering discounts to the agencies that represent many of these organizations, recognizing that firms are facing client losses and staff downsizing. The program allows agencies to pay monthly for bulk wire distributions to help with cash flow and gives them a campaign manager to build custom media lists, launch campaigns and detail reporting. 

“[The program] allows for flat-cost wire distribution, with no additional charges for things like extra words, images and links,” explains Terenzio. 

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