The web has transformed the once lowly news release into a strategic marketing tool used by thousands of smart organizations to reach buyers directly. What was once a paper document (typically sent via fax and only to journalists) has morphed into a way for marketing and PR people to deliver messages directly to consumers and professionals alike. Financial market participants see news releases in real time via services such as Reuters, Dow Jones, and Bloomberg, while professionals working within corporations, government agencies, and law firms have access through services like Factiva and LexisNexis. And, of course, news releases are available for free to millions of people via the web.
More and more marketing and PR people understand that news releases sent over the news release distribution wires appear in near real-time on the screens of millions of people. Now, the challenge is to write and distribute a release that will be read by all kinds of people with access to news releases online, not just a handful of journalists. Forward-thinking communicators maximize the effectiveness of releases as an important component of the marketing mix and an ideal direct consumer-communication channel.
The news release distribution wires (Business Wire, Market Wire, PrimeNewswire, PRWeb, and U.S. Newswire) have been quick to add valuable services for marketers. Many now include tools like RSS feed distribution, trackback ability, Search Engine Optimization, the addition of social media tagging (think Technorati, Digg, and del.icio.us), and multi-media distribution to include audio, video, and images. Most of these tools help reach buyers directly, not just the media.
I find it fascinating that as the news-release-as-direct-communication-channel has taken off in the past several years, the news release distribution wire companies have become hot properties. In fact, each of the five major U.S. news release distribution services have broadened their missions or have become part of larger companies in 2006. The deal frenzy began in January 2006, when Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway acquired Business Wire, a full service news release and public disclosure wire service. This deal says a heck of a lot about the news release distribution business. If legendary investor Warren Buffett sees value in a news release distribution service, it must be a good business for the long term. Then in April, CCNMatthews—one of Canada's leading newswires—acquired Market Wire, a full-service distributor of company news releases and material news in the United States to form the full-service newswire with the largest media distribution footprint in all of North America.
Direct-to-consumer news release pioneer PRWeb teamed up in August with Vocus, a company with strength in the media-relations aspect of communications services. This transaction confirmed what I had been saying on the speaking circuit and my blog: The lines between communicating with the media and communicating directly with buyers is blurring. Then, just a few weeks later, PrimeNewswire, a news release wire and multimedia services firm was acquired by the NASDAQ Stock Exchange to become a part of the NASDAQ Investor Relations and Corporate Communications suite (earlier in the year NASDAQ acquired Shareholder.com). This union means that communicators at NASDAQ-listed companies have a one-stop shop for public-and investor-relations communications services.
As I write this column, there are still two months left in 2006. Given the pace of acquisition in the news release space, I hesitate to say the "last deal of the year" was struck (because there could be more), but in October, PR Newswire, a top news release distribution service for corporations (owned by United Business Media) acquired U.S. Newswire from Medialink Worldwide. U.S. Newswire is the first news release distribution service dedicated solely to servicing the needs of government agencies and nonprofits, so this deal is interesting because one of the two biggest corporate news release distribution services has combined with a major public and nonprofit distribution service.
For organizations buying news release distribution wires, I think that the deals make sense and the timing is terrific. The volume of direct-to-consumer news releases will continue to expand as more and more organizations tap this form of web marketing. However, I particularly admire the smart entrepreneurs who established the news release companies that were acquired. They had vision and their hard work paid off.