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How We Killed the Press Release

Disruption is de rigueur in modern markets. New business models powered by the communication and universal availability of Internet tools have disrupted almost every industry on the planet. Some of these innovative disruptors have worked like a charm, while others have stumbled and failed to achieve their promises. However, failing early and often is the hallmark of the lean startup machine currently dominating business thinking. Even in their failures, many of these companies still managed to change the game, even if they did not end up winning it.

Disruptors are businesses or business models that are new to an industry, and roll out a new technology or model within that particular industry. This technology offers the industry and its customers a cheaper, faster, and more efficient way to conduct vital operations or fulfill important services.

Evolution of the press release

During my time in marketing, the time-honored press release has undergone many transformations and has been disrupted several times. In the old days (like all the way back in prehistoric 1995), it was literally printed out, mailed in an envelope to individual editors, and you simply hoped for the best. Then came the first digital revolution, when PR began to be emailed to editors and publications - although most of the time, you still had to use a PR service to get it into services like AP and others. It was still a dicey, random-feeling shotgun approach.

Then came the purely digital PR distribution services like PR Newswire, I-Newswire, PRWeb, and others. These services enabled a massive increase in brands using press releases to announce news. They still tried to connect brands to the big networks like AP, but they began to morph into engines on their own. It did not take long for these digital PR services to realize that by hosting all of these press releases, they were creating a massive content farm that Google and Yahoo search engines seemed to love. They began to get massive traffic and some realized that selling ads was at least as profitable as selling PR distribution services.


Of course, once this started working well, the barrier to sending out a press release became essentially anyone who could type and had an Internet connection. The race to the bottom was on like Donkey Kong. The number of these services exploded into the thousands. The number of “press releases” grew exponentially like well fertilized kudzu. The volume and quality quickly went completely out of alignment and press releases became essentially click farms and the butt of jokes.

As Matt Cutts said,  “This is why we can’t have nice things on the Internet.” Google took a step back and changed their algorithms. Recently, Google’s latest algorithm updates started penalizing these types of link and content farms. Too much of a good thing is too much.

So because of the excess of the worst of these services, even the honest and professional ones began to lose their influence. The PR industry went through several dramatic changes and each was disruptive. Each added great improvements and simplified the complex and hands-off nature of the typical brand-reporter relationship. And the content marketing revolution has come along to dramatically change the nature of reporting, content, and sharing as well. I won’t even attempt to address the dramatic implosion of the entire publishing industry from newspapers to magazines, as most of them failed to grasp the fundamental changes that the communication revelation was bringing.

Disruption of the cranky PR machine

Innovative companies are unveiling better ways to get legitimate company news into the hands of the press in this post-PR, post-Google penalty, post-click farm world. Social media outreach, storytelling, and freelance journalists compensated directly by brands, are pointing to death of the little-value add PR middle man. “Instead of spending part of your precious cash on outside help, become your own PR representative,” Lynne Golodner, owner of the public relations firm Your People, advises. “It's not as difficult or as time-consuming as you may think.”  

And some industry shakers are making it even easier. A newly released service from Brand.com called the ‘News Media Platform’ seems like it has the potential to be the new disruptive business model innovation that could do for the PR industry what Zappos did for shoes, Netflix did for home movie watching, and Buffer did for social sharing. Brand.com is looking to flip the PR industry on its head by connecting major corporations and brands directly to reporters and writers at great publications in a much more mutually beneficial way. The company’s news media platform connects brands directly to publishers, circumventing the PR middleman altogether.

Brand.com shares some space with the likes of Ebyline in looking to streamline and disrupt the press industry and brand journalism. These new models seem to be the future of PR, as the typically stodgy old media is struggling to survive and laying off journalists and writers. The future of PR does not lie in posting your press release to dozens of PR sites and hoping that someone sees it and cares. It lies in directly connecting with journalists and publications with real news stories.

Publicity is a tough business. In an ecosystem in which literally anyone can blast out hundreds of press releases, getting positive press and publicity is tough sledding. And the bottom line is, people don’t care about your latest software version release or your CEO’s birthday. In the world of content overload, what matters is relating an exceptional story, actionable advice, and delivering on a reason for today’s reader to care long enough to read the content from his or her mobile device.

PR is no longer a free or surefire way to get positive press, though agencies like to think and charge as if it were. In the new paradigm of bloggers, influence, and social media, you sometimes have to pay to play. Luckily, you get what you pay for

Like all good SaaS platforms, they offer some sleek, clean analytics and data reporting to track your campaign’s effectiveness and reach.

In the old days, brands paid a copywriter to write a press release, then paid to distribute those press releases to the media. After that, they crossed their fingers and hoped for a bountiful harvest of glorious positive press. The industry is no longer trending that way, as services like WPP and Omnicom saw PR fees flatlining or declining in both 2012 and 2013.

In the new days, brands pay a writer to create newsworthy content (that copywriter is now a brand journalist via Brand.com, or a freelancer), pay to get their news story seen and covered by reputable publications, and track and measure their positive press via a detailed dashboard.

There are few things as black magic and archaic as the ‘drop, push, and hope’ PR process of old. The entire industry is ripe for disruption and ready for some true innovation. ‘Cause someone needed to do something, and the ones doing it are delivering high-value content without the middleman. 

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