Friday, November 26, 2010

News Releases - The New "Online Advertising"

Note - this blog has been edited for clarity based on reader comments - thanks, Andy!

I've been reviewing David Meerman Scott's excellent 2nd (2010) edition of his seminal "The New Rules of Marketing & PR" and was impressed by his view that while "press releases" should continue to target news media gatekeepers (editors, producers, reporters), "news releases" should be targeted to information (or product/service) users, rather than to the traditional news media gatekeepers. He makes that distinction in naming, and I think it's helpful in understanding, how the role of these releases has changed.

This role--change is at the heart of what I call "PR-Marketing 2.0," and in this (as in most marketing and PR concepts), David and I are of one accord. For more than five years now, I've been encouraging clients to embrace the use of "news releases" as a way of getting "the word" posted on the many news websites - those that (under contract) republish releases placed via BusinessWire and other wire services - sites such as Yahoo, Marketwire and a host of other news (and news release) aggregators.

Some media will occasionally pick up a well-written wire-distributed press release - one which contains real news, and turn it into an article, or use it to justify an interview-based feature. However, I find I get more placement success by emailing specific editors, reporters and producers directly - or by picking up the phone and pitching them. But wire-distributed news releases do get picked up and used by those online news aggregators, and when people key-word search, they will find those news releases.

After reading David's insights, I had one of my own. News releases placed over one of the major wire services - the ones that, via contract, feed content to the big online news sites - are nothing short of a new online advertising medium. Without quite intending to, these wire services have become a fee-based way of getting your news out, through the Internet, to news-reporting places where potential clients or customers can find that news.

Here's what I mean. In traditional advertising, your ad-buy guarantees that your message (in print or broadcast form) is placed in a certain medium, generally at a specific time and often in a specific location. However, in traditional PR, you were not buying a message placement - instead, you were buying a means of reaching out to a news media gatekeeper, asking for coverage and using the news value of the release as justification. If you used a wire service such as BusinessWire, you were increasing your odds of being picked up, but you were not buying placement.

Today, when you place a release on BusinessWire or one of it's competitors, you are buying the placement of your message - not only in a direct feed to reporters and editors, but also in a direct feed to Yahoo Business and Marketwire and all the other sites that contractually place releases provided by the wire service. You are, in essence, buying an ad on Yahoo and all the other sites.

For as little as $300 on BusinessWire (and less on some of their competitors), you get a very controlled, up-to-400-word message placed in some very prestigious and well-traveled websites. So if you're following David's recommendation to put out news releases on the Web to reach consumers directly, then - when you use one of the wire services - you are, in essence, buying a guaranteed placement in specified locations and at specified times. In short, advertising. A different kind of advertising (more like an advertorial than a traditional print ad), but still an ad.

When you compare the relatively nominal costs of a BusinessWire placement to the relatively astronomical costs of an advertisement in any mainstream medium, this becomes a huge bargain. One ad on an ABC/CNN/Fox News program costs thousands of dollars and is here and gone in 15 or 30 seconds. But, a much longer message placed via BusinessWire lives on up to 150 news-aggregator websites for 30 days, 90 days or an infinite number of days, there to be found by any Google, Bing or other key-word search.

In the world of PR-Marketing 2.0, a traditional low-cost PR distribution tactic has evolved into an incredibly cost-effective targeted-consumer advertising tactic, making use of the way that press release distribution wire services ensure that their clients generate coverage through their news-feed contracts with Yahoo and hundreds of other other online news aggregators.

I'll be interested in your take on this new "advertising medium" and how it can be made to work for you, your clients or your employers. Thanks.

Ned Barnett - ned (at) barnettmarcom (dot) com -

Thanks for the inspiration: David Meerman Scott -


  1. Ned: Congrats on your new blog! Keep it up. Your first post’s premise is interesting, but the similarities between an ad and a press release are paper-thin, and huge differences remain. A press release is still a press release -- not an ad -- regardless of its new & wider distribution with Web 2.0 or its new-found use as a direct-to-consumer sales tool. Here are some reasons why [I’m sure you can think of others] . . .

    -- ads tell part of the story and can be intentionally ambiguous; press releases can tell the full story
    -- press releases have a dateline, and can be more timely and time-specific than ads
    -- ads usually have a short shelf life and are targeted to specific media; a press release, as you acknowledge, can live forever with the "long tail" of SEO, and transcend specific media
    -- the budgets for media relations / press releases have always been – and still are -- mere rounding errors of an ad budget
    -- In pre-Internet days, BusinessWire was used in the same way you suggest it is now: "Pay a fee for a message to be placed with a news medium." It wasn't advertising then and it's not now. It's paid distribution of a news item, even though the distribution is wider today.
    -- granted, press releases today can be used as a direct-to-consumer sales technique, but the format and copy of a press release usually differentiate it from an ad
    -- press release pickup is intended to generate third-party endorsement from the media or end user, potentially achieving more credibility than an ad.

  2. Andy - you make some interesting points. And you made me realize that I need to edit this to differentiate between "Press Release" targeting the media gatekeepers and "News Release" targeting consumers, end-users and the public. So thanks for that!

    With regards to your specific and very insightful comments, here are my responses:

    1. My concept is at least partly an analogy - but not entirely. When you pay to place a message to reach consumers, that is (to my mind) paid advertisement. Paying to distribute to media is not advertising, but when you're doing it primarily to get picked up on Yahoo and MSN and other news aggregators, you're advertising.

    2. Your differentiations on ad vs. PR are choices, not mandates. I, like David Ogilvy, like long-copy ads that tell the story at least as well as press releases. And Bizwire press releases, if you're budget conscious, run under 400 words and may not tell the whole story, either.

    3. With the Internet and YouTube and such, ads no longer have a short shelf-life - some live forever.

    4. Format (ad vs. PR) again is style. Think of advertorials, which are paid-for-placement press news or feature releases.

    5. Your last point hit the nail on the head - traditionally, press releases were aimed at news gatekeepers, hoping for pickup. Today, many "news" releases are aimed directly for consumers (I've been doing that for about six years), and that's the point here - when you do it that way, paying to be picked up by Yahoo and other news aggregators without a gatekeeper deciding if it will run (the pick-up is automatic, and guaranteed by buying the Bizwire service), you're in essence doing what advertising does - paying for a placement in a medium.

    Thanks again, Andy

  3. The following is an explanation to a friend of mine who works at BusinessWire what this blog was all about (he'd seen the tweet, and I was sending him the URL, but I also wanted to explain it a bit better ...

    I thought I'd covered some additional ground, adding to what I'd written earlier, so rather than write a new blog or rewrite this one, I'm adding it as a comment. Hope it helps make the case ...

    Ned (scroll down)

    ... if you haven't read David Meerman Scott's new 2nd Edition of his New Rules of Marketing & PR, you should ... and once you do, you'll see why I recommended that you buy a copy for every one of your clients.

    I don't know David - never met him or corresponded with him and I'm not shilling for him - but the book articulates what I've been doing for five years but which most PR people (unlike David and his readers) don't yet seem have a clue about. He makes the point of differentiating between "press releases" targeting media gatekeepers, trying to persuade them to give them coverage - and "news releases," targeting consumers and using BizWire's contractual links with Yahoo and MSN and all the online media which pick up your wire releases.

    This blog is, in essence, about what you've become - the newest (and lowest-costing and possibly the most efficient) advertising medium.

    PR is about trying to persuade the media to pick up a story and run with it - press releases are essentially one form of a media pitch. But advertising - when you buy a placement, you know exactly what you're going to get. And when you place a release with Bizwire, you know for certain that all those media you contract with will use that release (so, in effect, it's a paid placement - hence advertising).

    This is a metaphor for saying that with Bizwire, as with blogs, a PR communicator can step around the media's gatekeeper mode and reach directly to consumers.

    This is huge, and while I've been doing it intuitively and pushing my clients to do it, I hadn't put it all together conceptually until I read David's book (the part on press releases vs. news releases).

    He makes a great case for using BizWire as a low-cost means of reaching online consumers directly. It could easily (and, done right, potentially effectively) effectively reinforce traditional PR efforts. Think about this:

    PR has, for most of your client companies, a relatively micro-budget compared to their advertising budget, and your PR clients are constrained by that limit. But if you also position yourself as a way of guaranteeing paid placement on (list all the media who pick you up) - then position that as a kind of advertising-like outreach direct to online consumers, and therefore worthy of some ad-budget support, your PR clients could really stretch client placement budgets - and do a better job of reaching target audiences directly.

    A major benefit of this approach (vs. traditional advertising) is that, as Seth Godin has effectively explained, advertising is based on interrupting someone, trying to get their attention, then trying to interest them in something the really don't care all that much about. However, by placing messages (that don't look like ads) on news-aggregator websites such as Yahoo and MSN and all those hundred-plus media you contract with, people only find them when they look for them.

    These messages, unlike more traditional advertising, are not interruptions - they are, in fact, the goals of searches for information. Logically, this should improve their impact and value, dollar-for-dollar, vs. traditional advertising. I say "logically" because I haven't seen studies on this, but I think it makes sense.

    Or so it seems to me ...

  4. Hey Ned

    Glad to see that you've been a clever user of news releases too. It is amazing how effective the once lowly medium can be.

    Glad that my book was helpful. Thanks for mentioning it here.