Why You (Probably Don’t) Need Press Release Distribution Services – A PR Pro’s Perspective

Kari DePhillips
Kari DePhillips, TCF’s Owner

This may sound surprising coming from the owner of a digital PR agency, but I’ve got a love/hate relationship with press releases. If I’m being honest, sometimes it’s mostly hate (and primarily directed toward press release distribution services that make big promises and rarely, if ever, deliver). And I’m not alone: many pros in the PR industry are ready to dance on the grave of traditional press release distribution.

Here’s what most people don’t realize about distributing press releases:

  1. The inherent SEO value of press release distribution via wire services is exactly zero, and has been for years.
  2. Press release distribution services are expensive and rarely produce ROI.
  3. Most ideas for press releases don’t need to be transformed into a traditional press release – a blog post will be sufficient.
  4. You get better results by developing relationships with reporters and pitching them directly – or even cold-pitching reporters directly via email.
  5. Unless you’ve strategically created something targeted to your audience and worth talking about, the news you have to share probably isn’t news at all.
  6. Mass pitching is a terrible idea, and you (or your PR rep) should never do it.
The inherent SEO value of press release distribution via wire services is exactly zero, and has been… Click To Tweet

Let’s tackle these one at a time, and then review when it is a good idea to send out a press release.

The (Nonexistent) SEO Value of Press Release Distribution

As mentioned and linked to above, if you’re expecting the hundreds of backlinks that press release distribution services provide to rocket your site to the top of SERPs, you might as well be waiting for Godot. Here’s what happens when you upload and distribute a press release via a traditional wire service:

1. Your release gets posted on PRWeb, PRNewswire or whatever press release distribution service(s) you choose. One-off, DIY national press release distribution via these services costs around $400. PRNewswire has a nifty option that puts your press release headline and photo on a giant screen in Times Square for just long enough for them to capture the image, which you can use in future marketing materials. This costs substantially more.

Your press release is then posted online and added to an email digest that gets sent to reporters…along with all the other press releases in your industry that were distributed that day. I asked Dan Tynan, former editor of Yahoo! Tech and current reporter for The Guardian, if he ever scrolled through these press release digests.

“God, no. Do people actually do that? Wow,” Tynan said. “I have a sudden vision of some pathetic freelancer desperate for stories to cover. That just makes me want to hug a puppy.”

Beyond the money you’ll spend, there is a pretty significant time cost to using press release distribution services as well. Plan to put in at least an hour uploading the release, image assets, videos, hyperlinking to resources, etc. Here’s what the finished product will look like once it’s live on the site:

press release distribution services

2. The PRWeb version of the release will likely get “picked up” by 200+ media outlets, ranging from Digital Journal to The Boston Globe. This is automatically syndicated and not editorially reviews, and, to be frank, isn’t worth much of anything. Here’s what this looks like in action:

Press release pickups by other outlets

3. You’ll get a pretty report. The release distribution service(s) you choose will send you graphs and charts that detail how far and wide your news has spread. This will include the websites that picked up your news (there will be hundreds, but like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, does content really exist if nobody sees it?), headline impressions (they don’t really matter), page reads (a significantly lower number, that may or may not matter), and interactions/clicks (see previous parenthetical). These reports look impressive, but when you dive into the actual KPIs and ROI, the results of the distribution will probably leave something to be desired.

4. It’s very, very likely that none of the 200+ pickups will do anything for you at all. In all of the years that we’ve been writing, distributing and pitching press releases, only a couple of unique pieces of earned media coverage (from smaller bloggers) ever came from the “higher visibility” that press release distribution services offer.

However, depending on the news you’re distributing, you will get weirdos who will call the number listed on the press release and A) try to sell you something, or B) try to convince you of a conspiracy theory – this actually happened to me a few years ago, and if you’re curious the conspiracy theory involved chemtrails.

If this is painting a bleak picture of what you can expect out of standard press release distribution via wire services, good. It’s meant to. I’ve got nothing against the distribution services, and we still use them at TCF (old habits die hard, plus press release distribution is included as part of our large and very expensive PR software package).

But I want to make it clear that you shouldn’t waste your time or resources, or rely on, press release distribution services as an exclusive method of getting your news “out there.” Even if you do everything right, they probably won’t get the job done.

I’m not saying that press releases are useless – far from it. In fact, we regularly use press releases as a way to generate earned media coverage for our clients, across all kinds of industries.

Press releases are still a legitimate way to help tell company stories, educate potential clients and customers, and secure earned media coverage. We have great success with writing and pitching press releases – we’ve sent a couple this year that have generated earned media coverage with an ad value equivalent worth $1 million or more.

If You Want Earned Media Coverage, You Need More Than a Press Release – You Need Actual NewsTarget your press release audience

Now that we’ve established that press release distribution services tend to provide garbage ROI, let’s talk about what does work: telling interesting stories in a way that’s easy to understand and ties in with company messaging, while providing value to your target audience. This is difficult to say and even harder to do — which is where a PR agency or in-house resource can come in handy.

Let’s start with the release itself. What kind of news are you sharing? Here are several good starting points:

Launch of a new product or service – you’ll have the most success with this if the product or service is unique (like the press release about the first Bitcoin ATM in the US we used as an example above, which was covered everywhere from Mashable and CNET to The New Yorker, all as a result of directly pitching reporters). If you’re not launching something new or that provides a unique value to buyers, you’re going to struggle to get covered.

Unique statistics – if you’ve got enough customers or a big enough user base to poll and get statistically significant numbers, you can use the data to generate earned media coverage for your company. Reporters love fresh, compelling, unique stats for their articles, and if you can give it to them you’ll find those numbers being cited and re-cited all over the internet (often with links back to your website).

Major milestones – Are you the first to do something substantial? Did you just hit your 100,000th user? Have you sold 1 million gallons/dollars/units of your widgets? These can all be pitchable moments.

Company stories – Do your company executives spend their vacation time saving endangered species? Do you have a killer company culture and a 0% turnover rate, and you have secrets to success you can share with others?

Events – Are you hosting an event that provides value to your target audience? Are interesting/successful people attending/speaking? If so, reporters will likely want to be there as well.

Newsjacking – Is there a something going on in the news that you have a unique angle or an educated perspective on? A potential solution to a problem? Newsjacking could be your best bet. This requires you to act fast, but can pay off big time.

Stories that are difficult to pitch and get media coverage out of include:

• New promotions/hires (unless the person is well known in your industry)

• New versions of your product (unless your product is very widely known/used)

• Website redesign (unless you summoned the ghost of van Gogh to design it, or something equally impressive)

If you’ve done your job and the news you’ve created is interesting, the next step is to tell that story. This is where the press release comes into play. In my opinion, it’s still the best and easiest way to share your news and spread your message.

how to write a press release

I tapped Dan Tynan for some advice on writing a press release that gets noticed by journalists, and here’s what he said:

A press release catches my attention when:

A) It is really bad, in which case I mock it mercilessly, sharing it with PR friends
B) It pisses me off – I will sometimes shoot off a curt reply
C) Is really good (almost never, like 0.00001%)
D) It’s about something I happen to be writing/researching at the moment (also pretty rare)
E) Is about something I was not aware of and I think my editors might be interested. Again, pretty rare.

Two recent examples of that: some company sent me a release about WIFI in prisons. Did you know that prisons are now, finally, getting WIFI? I didn’t. So I pitched that to my editor at The Guardian, and she came back with an idea for a larger story about prisons and whether the internet should be considered a “right” for inmates to have.

Another, slightly off topic: this wasn’t a press release, but someone responding to a HARO query about AI, who pitched me on an idea called “augmented eternity” from her client. That turned into this story.

Some stories don’t need to be made into full-fledged press releases to become pitchable – the news is just as easily shared as a blog post that gets sent to journalists. In fact, all press releases should be posted on the company’s site (as either a blog post or as a page in the news section of the website) before it gets sent out via press release distribution services anyway. In most cases, a blog post version of a press release is completely adequate.

If you’re writing your press release correctly, it should read as though it’s a news article itself. Click To Tweet

If you’re writing your press release correctly, it should read as though it’s a news article itself. There should be quotes that can be pulled out of context and still convey the right message, from both the company and a customer/user/other person getting benefit from the news you’re announcing. Often, reporters will copy/paste these quotes into their coverage – or even copy/paste entire sections of your release (you’d be surprised how many major media outlets do this).

This is why the easiest, most organic way to thoroughly cover the who/what/when/where/why (+why anyone should care) is still a press release, even if that press release takes the form of a blog post. Anything else is a just an inconvenient patchwork of email strings, phone calls and DropBox links.

If you send a well-written press release with links to all relevant assets to reporters, they’ll have everything they need to write a story. Occasionally – less than half of the time, in our experience – you’ll get contacted for more information or an additional quote.

Direct Pitching vs. Using Press Release Distribution Services

A few years ago, I decided to keep track of how many pieces of earned media coverage came from direct pitching vs. the press release distribution services. That experiment ended after six months, when I realized I had literally hundreds of links to articles that featured clients…and all of them came from directly pitching reporters.

Sure, I had thousands of links to pickups of various press releases – and some of the headlines have tens of thousands of impressions. But again, when you track that down to ROI…I have yet to find anything significant.

Aly Walansky writes for the Today show website, Food and Wine magazine, AskMen and many other media outlets you’ve heard of. When I asked her when the last time she went through the releases that get sent to her via the press release distribution services, and then actually covered one of them, her response was telling:

“It’s probably the most discouraging answer ever – it was months ago, and even then it was because it was something I was already looking for. I didn’t become interested in the topic BECAUSE of the press release.”

If you want reporters to cover your news, you’ve got to know what it is that they’re covering at the moment and reach out to them directly to let them know what you’ve got going on. Acceptable methods of outreach include:

Twitter (e.g.: we sent a tweet during CES that resulted in a client getting profiled in Wired magazine)
Email pitching (a quick Google search usually turns up most email addresses)
Submitting tips to websites (when you can’t find a direct reporter to pitch, but the outlet is relevant)
Phone calls (only if you know the reporter already – nobody likes getting sales calls from strangers, especially busy journalists on deadline)
Snail mail (if you’re launching a physical product and want to ask for reviews – physical addresses for all major outlets are easy to find)

Again, this is where a PR agency can be a huge benefit. The media monitoring and outreach databases that PR agencies use are incredibly expensive, and can be cost prohibitive for many companies to take on internally. The tools and services we use at TCF cost over $40,000 per year, which gives us a lot of capabilities and contacts that the average business owner or marketing department doesn’t have.

These fancy PR tools give us access to every reporter, producer and editor at every media outlet you can imagine, as well as thousands that you can’t. They also allow us to track the ad value of each piece of media coverage, and let us know when media coverage goes live, including client mentions on TV. In short, if you can afford to hire a PR agency to manage your press release (or ongoing PR needs), you’ll find immense and immediate value in the tools they have at their disposal. That said, it’s still possible to DIY and get results.

Although targeting is important and you should research every reporter you pitch, at the end of the day pitching is largely a numbers game. If your list of journalists to pitch your release to is only 3 lines long and you haven’t built a relationship with any of them yet, you’re unlikely to get any traction unless your news is truly spectacular. Typically, we pitch 20-100 journalists that we research in advance and reach out to individually (NOT in a mass email pitch to everyone at once).

This brings me to my final point…

Mass Pitching Your Way to Press Release Distribution Is for Amateurs (at least, it’ll make you look like one)

Whether you’re pitching your press release yourself or hiring somebody else to do it, make sure those pitches go out individually and not as a mass pitch to everyone at once. If you’re hiring a PR pro to manage the writing and/or pitching of your press release, ask if they plan to mass pitch or individually pitch to their list, and insist on the latter up front.

Those same fancy PR tools I mentioned earlier enable PR pros to mass-email your release to as many journalists as they want. This is a terrible feature and PR reps as a whole will get a much better reputation if it ever goes away. There are even “coverage wizard” options that will auto-pull lists of journalists, editors and producers for you based on a specific beat. While this can be a good starting point, it’s important to A) research each person before you reach out to them, and B) never mass pitch everyone at once (in case I haven’t made that clear enough yet).

There are a couple of reasons why mass pitching is a horrible idea. For one, it’s likely to land your message in Gmail’s Promotions tab instead of in the actual inbox of the person you’re reaching out to. This drastically decreases the likelihood that your pitch will actually be read by the person you sent it to.

Google Promotions Tab

Seriously, if you ever want to hide a dead body, stash it on the 3rd page of Google search results, or in the promotions folder of somebody’s Gmail account.

Second, when you use PR software to mass pitch emails the same rules apply as when you’re sending email newsletters – there’s going to be a big ugly “unsubscribe” option for journalists to remove themselves from your list (which they never subscribed to in the first place). That’s weird, impersonal, and indicative of a lazy or incompetent PR rep.

Finally, when you mass pitch reporters…the reporters know. You’re not fooling anyone by customizing the name in the greeting line for each recipient. And reporters like to feel special, like they’re the only one you’re pitching your news to.

when you mass pitch reporters– the reporters know. You’re not fooling anyone by customizing the name… Click To Tweet

I asked Aly Walansky what would make her NOT want to cover a press release. Her response: “If it’s being sent to EVERYONE. What’s the news value in that?”

The Bottom Line: Press Releases Work, But Only When You Work Them Right

Press releases are a valuable, time-tested tool that can be used to generate earned media coverage, increase sales and spread your company’s message – but only if you’re strategic about everything from story identification and development to messaging and pitching. For the best results, avoid relying too much on shiny press release distribution services that are unlikely to deliver the ROI and media coverage that you’re looking for.

Paying attention to detail is absolutely critical, especially when you’re attempting to get national media outlets to cover your news. If you’re sloppy during any part of the process, your efforts can have a negative impact on your brand (and your ability to get media coverage in the future). Or worse, Dan Tynan will mercilessly mock you to his PR friends.

If you’re tired of going the DIY route with your PR and you’re interested in finding out more about the costs of bring in the professionals, click here to download a free copy of our generic proposal and pricing list. If you have any other questions, let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ContentFac.

26 thoughts on “Why You (Probably Don’t) Need Press Release Distribution Services – A PR Pro’s Perspective

  1. Hi Kari, I read your article and am really curious about how to get the word out about our launch of Enjion.com at the beginning of this month. You seem like a person who knows her stuff on the topic of media exposure and I could really use your perspective if you had a moment and some wisdom to share.

    Re: Our Launch we have our announcement here:
    http://blog.enjion.com/2016/09/02/enjion-launches/

    and a breif explainer video here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt8Q1RmZ5fo

  2. Another site that has appeared to make a fairly strong entry is NEWSLINE360 – They allow for unlimited submissions of press releases, articles and more while providing an amazing looking newsroom that integrates with your social media. It is actually kind of trippy, all the things it does!!

    A great platform – worth the look!!

    Larissa.

    1. I’ll look into Newsline360 as a press release distribution service, thanks for the tip! Does it result in actual news coverage from reporters, or just press release pickups? And does it get your release on Google News?

  3. Some excellent information and tips!! I was a little surprised that 24-7pressrelease was not mentioned in your first point? Haven’t they been around since forever? We have used PR web with some success, however bang for buck, although the press distribution doesn’t get QUITE as much reach, for $139, we have had success.

    Just my $.02

    Sam
    Aim Marketing

    1. Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your comment! Curious to know how your reach is calculated – and what tangible impact it has from the press release distribution and subsequent pickups alone. Do you get actual reporter coverage via 24/7PR? Or are the results similar to PRWeb?

      Kari

  4. Thanks, Kari! You’ve confirmed what I thought. I’m a (very) small business on a shoestring startup (or maybe just baling twine) but with a unique, timely and as far as I know, unheard of product. Waiting to be discovered is a bitch so I want to make some noise that will be heard. As far as one-on-one emails to reporters, do I start at the top with GMA? 😉

  5. This is a great read. Really helped me understand some of the questions I have been trying to get answered. I run a public company so we mainly focus on our Investor Relations and I totally agree that distribution services are for the most part worthless. So I have set out to learn how to obtain a better ROI and it has been tough. I have also found that many companies when sharing their results of you utilizing their service seem to be fluffed or not completely transparent.

    Done right the power of IR/PR can change a companies direction and provide such an advantage. Thanks for the great read.

    -Wil
    SinglePoint

  6. The companies you have mentioned just post/ syndicate press releases onto other websites, its a spam service to be honest!

    You want to use Pressat, they are cracking at getting real coverage.

    PRWEB not effective for me.

  7. Hi Kari,

    I am working with the ca.1886 photograph Vincent van Gogh used as his model to create his self-portraits. It can be seen at vangoghfoto.com or google Van Gogh photo.

    Being a historian I have very little money and none to waste. Oh yeah, I’m old.

    Thanks!

    What should I do with this story.

  8. Thank you for the informative post. I would like to clarify one question of mine: so it is not true that these authority backlinks coming from the news sites will boost google ranking of the page they are pointing to ?

    Looking forward to your reply,

    Sebastian

    1. Not from press releases pickups – there’s a difference between these copy/paste press release pickups and real news coverage. If it’s organic, unique media coverage as a result of the press release (but not just a rerun of the press release itself) the backlinks will likely help your overall SEO.

      1. So if I (or a professional) would write the story myself to be unique and stunning and etc, and it would be distributed to some hundreds of pages, then it would make a SEO effect or not, in your opinion?

        There are some paid distribution service providers advertising with videos… showing a bummm in Google ranking.

        By the way, how could Google filter out backlinks from these 200-500 news sites? And why would they do that?

        1. If the outlets simply copy/paste your story, you’ll run into 2 issues.

          1) Your story will quickly become duplicate content on the web (bad for SEO).

          2) News outlets with stronger authority sites will outrank your site using your own story.

          So this is a double-edged sword. What you really want is for journalists to see your story and cover it in their own unique way (ie, original content they create on their own). If you can also become a valuable source of unique info in your industry, that’s your bigger win. Kari touched on that well as part of this article.

  9. You know many individuals do not know the power of premium press release distributions. Especially paid ones. I had a product and hired someone to write a press release for me. Then I logged into my prbuzz website to submit the press release. This I found out did not work for me till a friend sent me a link to a Public relations expert who charged me $60 only and submitted my press release to over 500+ news outlets. She sent me a complete customized PDF report showing the tons of sites where my press release was submitted to. In no time I started getting steady traffic to my site and calls from philanthropists. I don’t know for you guys, but the point is having the best public relations expert for your PR needs. In case you guys need her services I found her on Fiverr. You certainly will not regret this. I use her services on a weekly basis though. Its the best so far. I can now boast of international contacts for my products.

    1. Somehow I doubt the validity of this story, if you found her on Fiverr – and the customized PDF report is available through pretty much all standard press release services. Curious to know if these were copy/paste reruns of the press release or if it was unique coverage that resulted in actual media interviews and original stories.

  10. Kari,
    I found this posting to be both highly informative as well as interesting!
    As you’ll quickly figure out, I’m a newbie in this field 😉
    My startup business supports recreational boat owners in the US.
    How would I go about getting a list of relevant publications to target?
    PS – I started with the local newspaper

    1. That’s a good place to start! I’d recommend looking at boating outlets, with a national audience of boat owners. Build a list of those outlets (magazines, websites, blogs, influencers) and who you’d like to reach out to. See if you can find their email addresses online, and add them to your Twitter lists for regular engagement.

      You can also hire an agency that has access to a media database – we use Meltwater for this, but Cision is also a good option and there are several others. You can gain access to these databases yourself, but it’s very costly (around $20k/year). When you go with an agency, you’re splitting that cost among other clients – and some agencies will pull you a media list for a fee, and let you handle the outreach. Contact us if you’d like to learn more!

  11. I find the opposite to be true. PR people are dinosaurs. Paying people to try to get you free advertising for more than the actual advertising would cost. Well placed ads are more effective. I run a popular local interest web site and get PR people all the time trying to get a blurb printed; for the cost of those people they could get prime placed advertising for a year. Another problem is that nobody reads traditional media anymore; in the old days you were paying for relationships between PR people and publications. Now those relationships aren’t much become few people read the publications. And there are so many more publications, if you do get placement only a tiny fraction of people read it.

    PR is not as effective as it once was, because people are only the BS. People want facts. Truth. And they’ll google around until they find it.

    1. If you need me, I’ll be over here trying not to be offended by the dinosaur comment (I’m only in my mid-to-late 27s!). Advertising has value, but it’s only as good as the targeting, messaging and product itself – the same is also true of PR. Ideally, the business has a mix of both.

      There’s a reason that the value of earned media coverage is calculated at 3x ad rate: people tend to believe media outlets more than the advertisers. Think about it – if you saw an ad that said “This miracle drug does XYZ,” would you believe that more than if the same words were spoken by an expert and reported by a news outlet? You’d probably be more influenced by the latter. This is why influencers and brand ambassadors are so important these days.

      I’m not sure which publications you’re talking about – local news has certainly been struggling in recent years, but several online publications have really taken off. That seems like a blanket statement that certainly isn’t true for all media outlets.

      We have many clients who have seen real benefit from PR – not just in terms of media placement, but the results that the media placement delivers. Plus, advertising doesn’t give you the same SEO returns as the backlinks received from earned media coverage. PR is very rarely a one-and-done solution to a company’s problems, but it can be a critical part of the solution and it’s definitely worth considering. I just wouldn’t rely on a press release distribution service alone to make the magic happen.

  12. Interesting post. I think PR works better than backlinks on forums or creating profiles.
    And I also read on some popular digital marketing blogs that we should work on all in parallel.

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