These services are mostly a waste of money, yet there is one advantage to them – which I’ll come to towards the end. These sites promise to mail your press release to thousands of opted-in journalists, bloggers and “influencers”, and promise to improve your company’s search engine optimisation by putting an online press release on their website.
It all sounds a bit hocus pocus to me, and using them in the wrong way can cause more damage than good. They are, in the words of Heather Baker, Managing Director of TopLine Communications: “expertly designed to part fools from their money”.1
Firstly, Google simply doesn’t give much credibility to these online press releases. If you check the so-called Google PageRank of a press release on these press release websites, you’ll see that they have a PageRank of zero. For search engine optimisation, you probably want sites with a PageRank of 5 or above linking to yours. But given that a release on a press release distribution site is likely to have no PageRank at all, any links to your site from those releases will fail to lend credibility to your site.
This is not just an opinion. The best-known authority in these matters is Matt Cutts, who is head of webspam at Google. He was asked about the strategy of using press releases to build links to a website. According to SearchEngineLand.com, he “clarified that the links in the press releases themselves don’t count for PageRank value, but if a journalist reads the release and then writes about the site, any links in that news article will then count”.2
Separately, on his blog, Cutts wrote: “a legit press release can get you written up by reporters, or editors/sites may subsequently choose to link to your site. But the actual content of the press release itself doesn’t directly affect a site. For example, on [a press release about Avatar Financial on a distribution service’s website] those hyperlinks don’t help avatarfinancial.com.”3
The question, therefore, is: how often do journalists actually pick up on what appears on online press release sites? For most journalists, the answer is surely never. Some of these press release services say that they will get your article to appear on lots of websites. But what sort of site is likely to want to publish any old press release? Are they sites that relevant journalists or your customers are going to read? In 2011, Google took action against so-called “article directories” that were full of PR material placed there for the purpose of search engine optimisation. Google hates duplicate content, just as it hates webspam. As such, it is better to place your press releases on your own website.
Secondly, while I’m sure that these services do email many people who call themselves journalists, the vendors are not at all transparent about which journalists receive them. I, for one, have never come across a salaried journalist who subscribes to such services. After all, why would they want their inbox bombarded with the stuff? It seems to be likely that the recipients are mostly freelance journalists – which these days typically means unemployed people. According to the New York news website Gawker.com: “A few writers (and many bloggers) ask for press pitches; readers can guess what that means about the quality of these outlets’ material.”4
What the pay-for newswires may achieve is one thing: they may get your story to appear on Google News. That might be worthwhile for you – and it has been for me. I put out a press release on one of those services. It was read by someone employed in a PR department in Paris, and they paid for a first-class return Eurostar journey to attend an event. It did not, however, cause any journalists to get in touch.
In theory, using press release distribution services might be good if you are trying to piggy-back on a breaking news story and want to position yourself as a potential expert for television and radio stations. Journalists searching on Google News to find out what others are writing may see your press release. But this is only likely to work if producers are finding it very hard to secure a guest.
There is another important consideration, which can make using these services backfire. If you’re embargoing a story for a particular date, and send it out on one of these newswires, the moment it appears on Google News, the embargo is dead. You won’t be able to enforce it.
So, if pay-for newswires are of minimal use, why is it that films and dramas refer to “the wires”, as though they are important? Well, a number of them are. It’s just that the ones the media use are paid for by the media, not the PR practitioners. They are hand-crafted by teams of journalists and filter out all the worthless press releases and report on the genuinely newsworthy. If your story is picked up by one of these, such as the Press Association or the Associated Press newswires, you are likely to get a lot of coverage.
4 Nick Douglas, Gawker, http://valleywag.com/200494/dont-be-a-flack-tips-for-pr-workers-from-the-journalists-who-hate-them (accessed February 23, 2013)
This is an edited extract from The PR Masterclass: How to Develop a Public Relations Strategy That Works, by Alex Singleton, published by Wiley, RRP £11.99
About the Author
Alex Singleton is one of the world’s leading public relations strategists. Through consultancy, training and speaking, he helps organisations, large and small, all over the world. Companies such as Kellogg’s, Virgin Atlantic and FirstGroup, along with major charities and public bodies, have turned to him for his expertise.