Monday, January 23, 2006

Wither Goes the Wire Services

It's been an active new years for the Wire service. First, PR Newswire let go of approximately half of their sales staff - Dee Rambeau has a good explanation of the layoffs (as a partner) here - and then BusinessWire got bought by the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.

Now, to add to the pain for the Wire services, Amy Gahran re-raises the issue of should the press release wither and die. But, she's taking it a step further by joining forces with Topaz Partners and finding the answers on whether or not you need Wire services for SEC guidelines.

This all comes on the backend of me having the chance to interview the founder of Primezone, Tom Madden, and getting his views on the future of the Wire industry. And, who knew this, but Primezone is the third largest Wire service.

Okay, the idea of this post started with two things: first, InternetWire's PR firm sent me a bad blog pitch touting the security of InternetWire - mainly at the expense of BusinessWire and an SEC investigation - yep, Estonian hackers got into the system and traded on illegally stolen data. Yes, I'm sure Buffett knew about this.

Oh, I'm sorry, I mean MarketWire. That's the irony - those in glass houses, etc. InternetWire became MarketWire after a little incident involving a person sending out a fake press release to goose the market. Heck there is even a Wikipedia page about it.

The second was a fake press release posted to a service in the UK - a free Wire service, which leads to the "get what you paid for" saying. Someone had sent out a fake press release about Tom Cruise and Scientology on pressbox ... the story was picked up by Radar Online as fake, but not before a few people were fooled.

First - MarketWire.

Here's the pitch ... way too long for a blog pitch:
We're sure you are aware of the recent news stories regarding the Securities and Exchange Commission charging an Estonian financial services firm and two of its employees with stealing confidential information from Business Wire and walking away with at least $7.8 million in illegal profits.

Market Wire certainly empathizes with Business Wire's most recent crisis; scandal, fraud, hacking, employee wrongdoings, and insider trading are all very real in today's technologically-powered and information-rich environments. While this incident is just another reminder that not one of us can always predict or prevent fraud, we must learn from our experiences, good and bad, and work toward improving and perfecting our products, systems, and processes. That's what Market Wire did as a result of Emulex more than five years ago. And today, we're stronger because of it, with our foundation and reputation being built on leveraging the latest technologies to securely distribute company news and safeguard client data.

With that in mind, we wanted to keep you informed about Market Wire's systems and processes and let you know that you can feel confident about sending your news securely through us. Whenever you use a newswire, we recommend that you:
  • Investigate your newswire's internal access policies and procedures.
Who at your newswire actually has access to your release? And when are they able to view and edit it? Newswires that limit internal access to releases further safeguard against the possibilities of any internal wrongdoing. When material news is submitted at Market Wire and queued up for a later release date and time, any viewing, editing, etc., may only be done through a selected senior-level team member assigned to that specific release.
  • Ensure that secure submission and authorization policies are in place and adhered to.
Newswires should only allow secure online submissions. Allowing email or fax submissions is dangerous and introduces several opportunities for security breaches. At Market Wire, we've designed our user interfaces to be easy for clients to navigate while at the same time intuitive enough to recognize authorized users, restrict permitted accesses accordingly, and assign unique passwords to each release submitted.
  • Insist on your newswire employing the highest level of encryption allowed by government standards.
Basic encryption is not least not for us. Sophisticated spiders can break primitive codes. Make sure measures that hide or encrypt URLs are in place to protect unauthorized spidering. Not doing so would be similar to someone putting gates and fences all around one's home, but leaving the front door unlocked.
  • Confirm that your newswire continuously monitors online activity.
Continuous monitoring of procedures, submissions, and processes is extremely important. Market Wire's tech team diligently employs these practices and is alerted at the first sign of any suspicious activity, prompting swift and early action.
  • Evaluate a newswire's computer systems.
What servers and operating systems does your newswire utilize? Are multiple servers used? Is the technology constantly being improved? At Market Wire, multiple servers and an intricate, multi-faceted network allow for constant checks, balances, and safeguards.

Market Wire has invested in its technologies and processes to maximize security. By the same token, we encourage all communication professionals who submit material news through a newswire to be proactive and diligent in ensuring that they and their companies are protected, as much as is possible through the latest systems and processes. Finally, we encourage working together to stay one step ahead of those who would take advantage for personal gain.

If you have any questions about technology or security or newswires...or if you'd like more information about Market Wire and the systems and procedures we have in place to distribute material news securely, just reply to this email, click on the button below, or call us. We're here to help.
Now, come on. Did MarketWire really learn any lessons here, or are they just taking potshots at a competitor - one that is so far ahead of them, that even smaller services like PRWeb are nipping at their heals. I am hard pressed to think of who uses MarketWire, and when I have a reporter note to me that he does not even bother looking at their feed because it's bottom feeders and nothing of note, I sit up and notice.

But, the email pitch - the long, long email pitch - did bring up one issue that is true. Who does have access to your account? I know PR Newswire and BusinessWire do have safeguards, which include phone calls, in place. They have forms to sign, and check boxes on the site. PRWeb - while I love them - is different, and mainly just for SEO PR. It gets the release out there, is likely not read too much, but does give you a place to link to in a pitch (a nice, short pitch like all pitches should be). pressbox is the same way - it's a free service and who really knows the safeguards in place. Come on - someone posted that Tom Cruise story, and it went out. At least at PRWeb, I know there is someone reading my press releases (I had one rejected there because of content), but that likely is not the case for all these freebie sites out there. Caveat emptor is the case, but are we listening?

For further clarification, I was emailed this:
Candidly, this type of 'security' issue for newswires is something that the big guys like PRN and BW would have used against smaller wires like U.S. Newswire, Market Wire, PrimeZone, etc. to "shut them down", or, at a minimum disparage their reputations in the PR community. I just found it interesting that Market Wire took the high road when it learned of such an aggregious 'breach' in Business Wire's systems that caused such an issue. Market Wire (and other newswires for that matter) "could" have used this information to deposition or beat up on a competitor. Instead, Market Wire chose to use this unfortunate event to educate PR/Marcom professionals about ways to 'ensure' that they're newswire is secure vs. taking a competitor to task for a challenge that virtually anyone can face, at any time.
I don't buy it. Sorry, just don't buy it. The Wire services are old and long in the tooth, are not providing any real value outside of SEC. For a private company, most of the time I would recommend saving money and doing no press release. If you have a good database, an ability to write a pitch letter (a very sadly dying art in PR), and have relationships, you can get more accomplished than with a Wire releases. Aside from SEC issues, I agree with Amy. It's time to kill the press release of old, and to stop relying on Wire services. Plus, let's admit it: PR firms lie to clients. After a meeting with a potential client recently, he said that his launch press release got 60+ hits ... I had to explain to him that those were not hits. Those were sites that carried the feeds from PR Newswire or BusinessWire. Those aren't hits, that's not coverage, and PR firms should know better than lie to clients like that.

When discussing this issue with one of the biggies, the account executive had a good point: because of the massive amounts of emails to reporters, Wire services are even more important for reporters because they help weed out the valuable from the invaluable in the space that they are looking in. Well, in a perfect world ... that would be true. However, in the real world, there is so much crap put out on the Wires that even the Wire noise is deafening.

This all brings me to the lunch with Primezone. Madden was surprisingly candid about the Wire services.
  • He noted that the reach of the Web is immense, and while reporters are still using the Wires to get the kernels of news, reporters are just as apt to use Google News as research for articles. It's a plain information overload.
  • He noted that personal connections with reporters are just important as the Wire services, and that private companies can use Wire services effectively to get the ball rolling, but it comes down to relationships [which is why DIY PR only goes so far].
  • He noted the importance and growth of RSS feeds, how bloggers are growing in influence and important, and how Primezone is working on stock symbol specific RSS feeds, to help reporters weed through the immense amount of information.
  • He noted that there has been a tremendous shift in ways people are receiving information, and what they are doing with the information - and Primezone is working to find the best ways to filter the information and weed out the noise.
  • He noted - most importantly - that it is about the quality of the news and the quality of the company. It is about the news, about the content. Let me repeat that ... it is about the quality of the content, the newsworthiness of the release.
Let's re-read that: it's the content of the release that gets pick-up, not the fact that it is just a press release. And, that's part of why the press release will not die, but will die. It's about the quality of the writing and the ability to tell a story, which is a lost art in PR. While the crap that is SEO PR will tell you to put out four press releases a week to juice the rankings, the lost fact is ... you will soon be ignored by the media you want to write about you. Who wants to be spammed with that much of non-newsworthy stuff? One of the bigger offenders in this camp is GoDaddy - who used to like to push out as many releases as possible. Now, since the PR department is run by two former news assignment editors, I hope that the practice ends ... but I somehow doubt it.

People ask why I care about the Auburn PR bloggers. That is why, because blogging can make them better writers and give them the ability and skills to tell a story in a straight forward, succint way.
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