In my house, I am outnumbered.
Between my husband and two young boys, I find myself challenged in many ways.
My children’s way of looking at the world can produce some of the best “a-ha!” moments for me (one of the joys of parenting).
Case in point, they recently asked if I would fix their broken screwdriver. Given that I can’t melt and form plastic, I said it wasn’t possible. We’d have to buy a new one.
Moments later, my son says he found one.
Found one? We don’t have another one.
My curiosity piqued, I found them using the claw-end of a hammer to twist the screws.
In that moment, a hammer wasn’t a hammer. It was a screwdriver.
This scene came back to me when reading a recent thread on the Spin Sucks Slack channel. They were debating the topic of using wire services for distributing news releases.
As I read through the comments, many bemoaning using news wire services, my brain couldn’t process it at first.
In college, professors taught us to revere The News Release.
We spent countless hours memorizing formatting, crafting headlines, preparing for THE RELEASE.
Could this really all be over? (Am I that old?) Is there no use for it anymore?
Then I thought back to the hammer scene–what if a newswire news release wasn’t a newswire news release anymore?
What if the tool we thought we knew, isn’t the same tool at all?
If the tool has changed, are we using it in a way that we’ll see results? And are we ready to measure results of a hammer acting as a screwdriver?
Newswires and the PESO Model
To use a tool effectively, we have to understand it in relation to the job at hand.
So let’s re-examine the newswire service in light of today’s communications strategy.
Much of the debate around the use of wire services focuses on whether the content we put is earned or paid.
I argue that it’s neither, exclusively. It is also owned.
News releases of old were designed to reach reporters before it was economical and cost-effective to do it one-by-one.
Today, I propose newswire services and the online record they create for a company is a paid tool for publishing owned content.
Yes, we pay for the service to distribute it, but it is substantively different from an advertisement or “sponsored” content (if you are doing them right).
Value of Newswire Content
Beyond getting the message out there, newswire content offers important value to communicators in the following ways:
- The content creates an official “record” for the company. This may seem like a small thing for a large company whose communications plan has been running for years. But for companies like mine, who don’t have records of past achievements, announcements, or published timelines beyond PDF newsletters and emails, we can’t overlook this value. Regardless of feature stories and earned media that you can place moving forward, the lack of “official” (read “published”) history an editor can quickly search and find is a challenge to overcome. By using newswires selectively and with specific content and purpose, you can build up searchable, published history as you move forward. Your media contacts can reference this for future stories. And it’s useful to potential clients who may Google you during the sales cycle.
- Content becomes an asset to the communications plan. The uniqueness of the news release–its purpose, precision, and permanency–is what makes it such an important asset to communicators. Imagine it as the anchor to which we tie each of our other media outreach messages. It is the beginning of our messaging–not the end goal. As many know, a single piece of content does not a communications plan make. In the same vein, a news release (and the strategy for distribution and measurement) should not exist in a vacuum. So when debating its value, we can’t discuss it as though it’s our only tactic because it shouldn’t be. It is part of a comprehensive and varied strategy using specific tactics for specific purposes.
- The content’s audience is no longer JUST reporters and journalists. Many traditional PR practitioners will automatically equate “news release” with “way to reach reporters with a story.” But this is no longer the most compelling reason to place newswire content. Most wire services publish content in well-regarded publications (alas, a debate for another day). And that content is instantly findable and searchable by the general public. This means we have at our fingertips, a way to put content in front of large numbers of people relatively easily, while still controlling the message.
Yes, this is why many people still argue for using wire services.
But, before you scroll down to tell me off in the comments, consider this perspective. Vanity metrics aside, there is an advantage to publishing a news release on a site seen by potential customers as reputable.
If you write your release well–making it compelling, not “sales-y”–some of those readers won’t even realize they’re reading company-generated content.
Is this deceptive? No, it’s just the truth.
Many readers, especially those who don’t engage in our industry, won’t immediately recognize the news release format unless you give it away with marketing language.
If you write like a journalist—for the end audience—then having a reputable name at the top of that page as the “publisher” will benefit the ultimate goal.
Which brings me to my last point.
Know Thy News Release Objectives (And Metrics)
A news release does not exist in a vacuum.
If that is how you are treating it – “Oh, I’ll just write that and send it out to tick the box” – then you NEED to join the Spin Sucks 30-Day Communications Challenge and get right with your strategy.
Each tool in your PR toolbox is just that – a tool.
But, if you wield these haphazardly and without care or plan, they will not be effective and may cause damage.
You must use each tool for its specific purpose, with its uses, drawbacks, and results understood and carefully weighed.
As a tool, newswire services and the content we distribute through them can be effective. Their purpose and uses have changed. So we must understand that the results will change.
But before we close the drawer on the tool, let’s sit back and see what else we can make from it.
What can you “make” from your aging news release strategy? How do you, or would you, measure it with today’s metrics?