When last we met, I was huffing and puffing over the PR anathema commonly referred to as “spray and pray” – i.e. the practice of public relations practitioners indiscriminately carpet bombing the media battlefield with news releases and pitches in the hope that one might hit a receptive target. It’s a tactic loathed by reporters and many PR professionals alike, and what makes it all the more confounding is that it rarely works.
So, while I’m on the topic of profligate tactics, let’s talk for a bit about electronic news distribution services, which in many ways are like the electronic version of spray and pray. It’s a means for delivering news releases to the digitized masses, and while there is a targeting capability built in, most of the targeting is done more generally (e.g. send the release to business publications in the Northeast with circulations over 10,000). Admittedly, it’s a loose definition of “targeting.”
There are some legitimate (albeit some more than others) reasons why you might want to distribute your news release in this way.
If you work for a publicly traded company, and you have “material” news to share – your quarterly earnings or the hiring of a new CFO, for example – you are required to send your news out in this fashion. Okay, that’s a no brainer.
I’m told that using electronic distribution services helps you with your SEO, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the impact quantified, and even assuming that you do get an SEO bump, there are likely far less costly ways to get the same effect, if improving SEO really is your underlying motive.
We have had some productive results in working for an international relief organization during times of crisis, and when reporters and potential donors wanted to get up-to-date information on the evolving situation, releases distributed via news wires often percolated to the top of web searches.
If you have a massive base of people who are so interested in your news that they have set up Google news alerts with you as a key word, then by all means, zap your release to their inbox.
On the other hand, if your goal is a media placement – i.e. getting pickup from an actual news outlet that can be read by real humans – then, congratulations, you have just entered the media relations equivalent of Powerball. The chances of that ever happening are so miniscule, you might as well have just flushed the several hundred to thousands of dollars (depending on word count and distribution parameters) down the drain. To put an empirical face on it, Muck Rack’s annual survey of journalists recently found that just 3 percent of reporters actually rely on a news wire- delivered news releases, a figure that is actually higher than I would have guessed.
We worked with a client not long ago that, despite our protestations, regularly distributed news releases in this way. Imagine how thrilled they were to find that Forbes.com had picked up the release and was running it verbatim. There was a lot of back patting and self-congratulations, until they realized that when you went to Forbes.com and searched the organization’s name, nothing would come up. In other words, the release actually wasn’t picked up by Forbes.com at all, but the site was helping propel it through the ether.
My point here is the same as my objections to spray and pray. Successful media relations is built on painstakingly researching the right outlets and right reporters at those outlets, tailoring your pitch specifically to them and building a relationship in which they can trust you to share only relevant information with them.
Technology has provided many great tools to make a PR person’s job easier, but that doesn’t mean that we should neglect the hard work necessary to pitch stories the old-fashioned way.