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 enough...at 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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9 comments

  1. Wow, great article Jeremy. Lots of useful information. I've just let Todd Van Hoosear of Topaz know about it, I suspect you've given our investigation into the SEC/wire service thing more meat to chew on.

    You wrote: "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?"

    I couldn't agree more, and perhaps I didn't emphasize that enough in my article on search releases (http://snipurl.com/lirs). I'll do that in a followup posting.

    Thanks again,

    - Amy Gahran
    Contentious.com
    RightConversation.com

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  2. Wow -- that's a Moby Dick of a blog post, Jeremy.

    You make very good points on this topic, as we've discussed before. I'm curious what journalists think about it.

    To be honest, when I was a reporter I can't remember one time when I looked at the PR wires for a story... of course, I worked Metro, not in the Business section. But I knew that the editors reviewed, and I knew they had value.

    In this day and age, I dunno. Still wondering whether Warren B. did the right thing...

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  3. Yeah, I generally agree with you and in terms of writing press releases I like to think of myself as the last buggy whip maker Michael Douglas' character refers to in Wall Street.

    That said, let's be clear. SEO PR is not PR and should not be confused with it. SEO PR is SEO using the old tool of press releases for marketing purposes.

    I disagree that press releases will die, I do think that to PR agencies the value of wire services will diminish immensely, but even outside of the SEC requirement, I think press releases (even just posted to the company Web site) have value (as opposed to individual corporate bloggers) as writing with the authoritative voice of the company.

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  4. I just wrote a "Press Release" at my site about the demise of the press release to insert a little humor in this debate.

    I have always gone light on press releases, but I do think they still have some limited use as follows:

    1. SEC disclosure requirements for public companies, most blogs (individually) and corporate Web sites don’t have enough reach to be construed as widely available (until Amy and Todd figure a way around this, welcome to bureaucracy)
    2. Online press rooms need them for content that means something to reporters, RSS-enabled is better but not widely used by the non-tech media
    3. Search Engine Optimized releases get read by media consumers

    In 2004, even Amy Gahran chided people that had online press rooms with no news releases. I think that this kind of content helps organize information at the corporate site, but it clearly doesn't win news coverage most of the time.

    In my role as an trade press editor, my journalist hat, I use press releases, but do a lot of editing. Still, I wouldn't be able to get our Cutting Edge section, about new and interesting product, out without press releases and the professional photography that goes with them.

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  5. While I agree with some of your contentions and Amy's contentiousness, the fact is that the practice of putting out news releases in this day and age can be as much about capturing consumer attention and driving sales as it is to deliver information to journalists. Journalists are being minimized by the Internet and consumers can find out about companies directly. If a journalist writes a story about a company and 8 people see it in the Sunday paper...great. If an Internet savvy consumer wants to find out about an industry or particular product on their own...they will and likely they don't read the paper anyway.

    So call it SEOPR or whatever, but it's information put out by a company to promote something they're doing. Whether or not it's newsworthy has ALWAYS been up to the consumer of the news. Since when is a journalist's spin on a particular "news" story any more credible than what the company cranks out themselves. It might have been in the day...but no more. For certain companies in certain industries...B to B particularly...who cares if they're ignored by the media?

    For an interesting case study, read David Scott's recent foray with his free ebook.
    http://www.webinknow.com/2006/01/anatomy_of_a_vi.html

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  6. Amy - thanks again also. It's funny, but people seem to think it's okay to send out that many releases. First, they all go over the wire and then the junior PR person is going to email them ... each day. It's terrible for PR and doesn't help tell any story. Most of those releases - if they should be sent out - should be combined to make one succint release.

    Scott - heck, I think it's hard to find any reporter that is going to respond with a press release, but will respond with a good (or great) pitch letter. I found better luck with my pitches ... which were short and to the point with a link.

    Usher - Blue Horse Shoe Loves Anacot Steel. Sometimes, it is like that Wall Street mentality with press releases, just pushing stuff out for buzz. Yes, I agree that releases are not going to die, but they do need to evolve and become more useful than they are now. And, that's going to be a relationship with client and company.

    Kami - I agree with your points, especially that RSS is not yet highly adopted by non-tech reporters. Heck, some of them aren't even using email! But, you are also talking about using press releases as they are meant to be for Cutting Edge: a repository of news in a quick and easy digestible format.

    Dee - You are becoming somewhat the unofficial PRN spokesperson. And, while I realize that companies use press releases beyond just reaching the media - to get placement on Websites and Yahoo finance boards, etc - that does not mean that companies need to push out four releases a week. Combine those into one release, make it a good release (meaning actually have someone that can write), and then send it out.

    Even with the Internet growing as a source of news - and that's a misnomer if people are getting news just from press releases - it does not excuse badly written press releases, or press releases that say nothing. It has nothing to do with journalism or the public, but has everything to do with the ability to write a press release that is germane.

    But, I would be surprised if any company would say "we'd rather have a good footprint on the Web than good press!" Particularly with B2B, who want and need the trade media.

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  7. Jeremy;

    I also think that press releases, even if you don't send them out to the press, are really a good thing to have in your online pressroom (attached to easy-to-get photos as well). When I put the online press room together for my old employer, my media calls decreased and coverage increased. The media only called to get a quote, rather than asking me to educate them about the industry.

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  8. Kami, now we're getting into press rooms - a totally different issue. I've had fights with past companies that a perfect press room has everything possible for reporters - graphics, logos, product shots - so they never need to bother a PR person, because that's usually the last call they want to make.

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  9. I think this article touch some serious issues which I do not note being discussed here.

    Firstly I agree wholeheartedly that it is wrong to put out so many press releases. Which company has news worthy events, or is launching products etc every week of the month?

    Maybe we should distinguish between writing articles, optimized for the search engines and publishing search engine optimized press releases when there is newsworthy news.

    I also think that an important issue that is neglected by PR persons is the fact that you still need to build a relationship with the journalists - wether it is online or offline.

    Surely with every press release that is to be published, facts need to be verified before the news is published? Or are the journalists not verifying facts and news anymore?

    To be honest, I am quite amazed that the false press release got as far as it did. Thumbs up on the security issues.

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