PR & Journalism EducationJournalism

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 companies send out 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 our 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 Survey38% 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 links you 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 in 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 media preferences and media relations, the more effective your media relations efforts will be.

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