Social or Not, Are Press Releases Worth Your Time?

Is it really worth your time to write and distribute press releases? It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. The most common reasons I see a companies send out a press releases are to generate awareness (in the form of publicity) or to drive traffic to their websites. Most companies are trying to do both. With this in mind, are press releases effective at doing either?

Everyone has an opinion on this question, but it’s better answered with research. Lucky for me, the folks at HubSpot just did all the work for me. I recently had an opportunity to sit in on one of their webinars, “How to Be Smarter Thank Your PR Agency: New Research on News Release Best Practices“, which revealed the results of their comprehensive research into the effectiveness of press releases and social media releases.

In their research, HubSpot estimated nearly 50,000 press releases are issued every month. Roughly one every 12 seconds. So on to the big question: is it worth it?

Before deciding whether or not it’s worth your time to keep sending out press releases, let’s focus on how effective press releases are for generating publicity and driving traffic to your website.

Do Press Releases Generate Publicity?

That really depends on your definition of publicity. If publicity for you is any website that publishes your release, then releases are very effective when you distribute them on press release wire. If on the other hand you consider mainstream news media to be your target, you’re probably not going to have much luck with press releases.

But do journalists read releases from commercial newswires? According to the PRWeek/PR Newswire 2009 Media Survey, 38% of journalists look at opt-in press releases from commercial newswires when researching topics and writing stories, and 27% search the websites of commercial newswire services.

If formatted correctly, your news could appear across a dozen or so sites in the newswire’s syndication network (HubSpot provides some suggestions for formatting press releases in their webinar). In its research, HubSpot found that traditional press releases were syndicated 20% more than social media services. While most of your press releases will not result in a bunch of requests for interviews from journalists, they can produce a fair amount of online coverage for your news and may be worth your time.

Do Press Releases Drive Website Traffic?

Traditional press releases and social media releases both support your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, but are not a substitute. Most of these services provide many features designed to help you improve your search engine rankings by driving traffic to your site and providing you with more inbound links (the number of sites that link to content on your website). HubSpot also compared the link benefits of press release services in its research, finding once again that traditional press release newswires generate more links than social media releases. In fact, traditional releases were linked 14% more often than social media releases in their study.

If it’s links your after, press releases services can help. If you’re just starting out, this can be a great way to get your number of inbound links up. Without getting into the details of SEO, the more sites that link to yours, the more valuable search engines consider your content.

Is There a More Effective Way to Generate Publicity?

But are press releases the most effective way to generate publicity? The short answer is no. According to the 2009 Media Survey, 90% of journalists prefer email pitches over every other media. If email is the top way that journalists like to receive information, then a press release isn’t the best way to get their attention. True, a release could be excellent supplemental information to use in supplement to an email, but it should replace your pitch. A well-crafted and brief pitch letter sent via email can be far more effective at getting a journalist’s attention.

I believe a far more effective strategy for generating publicity over the long-term is to make it easy for journalists to discover you. The more information you provide on your website relevant to your company, products, services, experts and other useful content that journalists might find interesting, the better your chances for attracting reporter interest and interview requests.

Is There a More Effective Way to Drive Website Traffic?

Hands down, blogging is the best thing you can do to drive traffic to your website. Of course, using search engine optimization and search engine marketing strategies in conjunction with your blogging efforts is even better. If website traffic is a top priority for your organization, you should start with blogging and search engine optimization. These two areas will pay dividends that far exceed the results you would get from press releases. There are some exceptions. For example, if you’re a big company, your news may generate hundreds of stories that link back to your site. HubSpot also echoed this advice on their webinar. For their own marketing initiatives, press releases don’t drive nearly as much traffic as their blog and social media content does.

So, Are Press Releases Worth Your Time?

It’s really your call. Do you have adequate staff or external resources to develop and distribute high-quality press releases that journalists will want to read? Do you have a high-volume of legitimate news to share with the media, or are you making up excuses to send out releases? Can you afford the $200 to $4,000 per release it may cost you to distribute the release on a wire? If you’re already leveraging more effective strategies and tactics for generating publicity and driving traffic to your website, and you’re looking for a way to boost results further, then press releases may be worth the investment. I think you should only focus on press releases when you are confident that you are exhausting all options with your online content and SEO.

If you are going to do press releases on a regular basis, I strongly recommend that you review the information on HubSpot’s blog regarding their recent press release research. They include a link in the blog post to the webinar, which I also recommend. Keep in mind, HubSpot is in the business of helping companies publish, optimize and promote content, and measure marketing. They know a thing or two about driving demand. If you take your marketing seriously, you could learn a lot by taking a look at how they do things.

If you haven’t done so already, I also suggest you review the results of the PRWeek/PR Newswire 2009 Media Survey. The more you understand about media preferences and media relations, the more effective your media relations efforts will be.

What do you think? Are press releases worth your time?

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

20 Comments

  1. News releases have a place – they are still the workhorse of media relations – but they don’t replace personal contact and a well-researched pitch.

    Adam.

    P.S. This was my first visit to your blog and I almost turned away after seeing the grammatical and spelling errors in the first two paragraphs. Just as important to blogging is proofreading! 😉

  2. Jeremy,

    Good post. Optimizing releases for seach is becoming a must now-a-days. May I add a shameless plug for Newsforce?

    1. We have a very easy to use and inexpensive SEO tool for optimizing releases befor sending through a traditional wire service. The tool has a keyword analyzer and you also get three ranking reports at different time intervals showing how your releases did on the the search results pages for each of your keywords.

    2. Also, our Newsforce Network is a paid placement network specifically for news announcements and PR. We secure the best ad spots in online premium news, and turn them into PR headline units. So, with our network you can bypass the editorial channel and take your story directly to the people. Check it out here: http://www.newsforcenetwork.com

    Thanks for allowing me to comment.

    -Vince

  3. Press releases to reach the press? No, not worth your time.

    Press releases to reach your interested parties, get search traffic, add to SEO/pagerank (including links), etc.? Maybe – especially if well-supported with other tactics (blogging, Twitter, etc.).

    We’ve been sending out customer win releases at my company Tableau Software and we see the impact.

  4. As a reporter for a midsized regional newspaper, I pretty much only deal with press releases with some sort of local angle, so I can’t speak specifically to how effective press releases are in reaching larger, national audiences.

    But on my end, what my paper usually gets is a bit of a hybrid. For example, we’ll get a pitch email with a more formal press release attached as a Word file or a PDF. We have several colleges and a thriving medical/biotech sector in our coverage area, and that’s usually how those organizations get a hold of us, along with the good ole’ fashioned phone call every now and then.

    I’m not an editor, but it also seems helpful to keep sending press releases, even if it’s just so the editor can print something out to physically drop on a reporter’s desk.

    Other than that, the age-old lessons of how to contact the media still apply: get to the point right away, try to make personal contact, make sure it’s relevant, and make sure you get the right person–it’s amazing how many items get “lost in the shuffle,” even at a paper our size.

    Press releases do work, however. Maybe not all the time, but I’ve had dozens of press releases turn into great stories.

  5. Press release is still part of marketing strategy (be it for an internet business or not). I still believe that it is worth doing and can generate some traffic to your site. You just need to make sure that the PR is good enough to catch peoples interest.

  6. This post is a thoughtful summation of the Hubspot webinar, and you’ve added some value to it too. However, it was good to see Steve Foskett’s comments here, as a refreshing perspective that was missed in this post and in the Hubspot webinar.

    I’ve polled a number of regional journalists with whom I work, and for many of them, press releases are still their bread and butter pool from which they pull story ideas. Many do search the web, news wires and services like Twitter for story ideas as well, but my have never even heard of a social media release.

    If your goal is to generate media coverage (rather than just links to your site), a well-written short pitch with a one-page press release below it in the email, or attached; sent to a selective, well-researched targeted list of reporters/editors can still be very effective. It also needs to be newsworthy, and have a good hook/story/angle. It works best if you are sending what I suggested above to a select list of editors/reporters (or freelancers) with whom you have already built a relationship. Getting hard copy ink, often leads to stories ending up on newspaper websites, which leads to links to your website.

    To work with mainstream journalists this way, you don’t HAVE to spend $20 – $4,000 using the bigger services, just spend some time reading the publications (and journalists) you are targeting, looking at their mastheads (online and off, as pubs often have two sets of editorial staff), and contacting the publications to check their deadlines and contact info/preferences. Reach out to journalists you meet through social networking. I forget the exact stat, or who said it, but really only about 10% of the journalists you reach with a big wire services list, are likely to wite about your topic. So skip the middleman and find them yourself.

    One of the two key reasons why journalists complain about press releases is 1) the sheer volume of them, as noted in your post & 2) that most releases are not targeted. Too many PR types grab a list and send the release without ensuring that the right person at the right publication is getting the right pitch. By the way, bloggers make the same complaint. PR staffers often pitch a product review (or whatever) w/o ever reading the blog to find that the mom blogger only does reviews for tots, not teens.

    As for getting online coverage, I almost wish there were a third category of release – one targeted to journalists, one targeted to social media uses, and one just for search engines – an SEO release. It’s a waste of journalist’s time to sort through thousands of SEO releases, to find the one that works for them, but although they clog the system, we’ll all probably continue to create them, as getting a release on Google can lead to traffic; I just wish there were a better way.
    You can find me on Twitter http://CathyWebSavvyPR

  7. @ Cathy Larkin
    Your point about an “SEO only release” is interesting. And I would tell you that there is such a thing, it is called a blog article. If you write an article for your website, Google will find it and index it. This is what we do with many of our less important news announcements – they go on a special blog just for company news that is inside our main website.

    • I agree, a well-written, thoughtfully “key-worded” and titled blog article does definitely serve as SEO to attract search engines, and can be an effective way to get the word out about a less important news announcement – especially if as you suggest, you post it on a specific blog on your site for that purpose. As your main blog readers may, or may not be interested.

      But on a different point, I believe that blog posts, and social media releases sent by various PR news distribution services are often each indexed in different ways by search engines (not always). A release sent out via these wire services often appears in the “news” section of search results, not always in the traditional results (it depends on how the service submits their releases and how they are picked up as well). This is not always the case, but it often is. Sometimes this can be good – you can rank for something timely, or on-trend, where your smaller site might not be able to compete with larger sites in the standard top search results.

      Great info by the way Mike & Jeremy

  8. “If it’s links your after, press releases services can help. If you’re just starting out, this can be a great way to get your number of inbound links up”

    “For their own marketing initiatives, press releases don’t drive nearly as much traffic as their blog and social media content does.”

    Ok, so I am not a Journalist, but do appreciate learning from one. Thank you very much.

    I am on the search for best use of press release material for the purpose of SEO PR for blogging.

    It seems to me that if a blogger is astute, they can post relevant, narrative, value based press release on their site strategically. That is, not to be manipulative, but, genuinely wanting to provide good information to their readership on a topic that might not otherwise come across their table.

    As in everything, there has to be balance, keep the blatant ad language out of it, use keywords appropriately.

    So press release in blogs can achieve good results.

    Thanks Jeremy, for another great post.

  9. When doing research on the subject of press releases, I was glad to find your blog post because of the debth of the topic you have covered. Now, I am off to read HubSpot and thank you for the information.

    Right now, I am planning to do press releases becauses of changes to my business but also for the link juice that it will afford. So for those two reasons alone … press releases are worth my time 🙂 … now to check out the social angle.

    Again thank you for such a comprehensive article.

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