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News Releases Not Just for Press, Serve Wide Variety of Functions

Press releases have historically been used by PR professionals to attract the attention of journalists and media outlets, but today's online news releases are now used by many types of marketers and small-business owners seeking to reach bloggers and customers, improve SEO results and drive website traffic, according to a survey from the Society for New Communications Research, sponsored by Vocus, MarketingCharts reports.

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The study, "Exploring the ROI of Online Press Releases" (pdf), found that while press releases are still an important tool for PR professionals, "the broad range of benefits and increased accessibility have allowed a wider variety of professionals - including marketers and small business owners - to use the medium to share compelling stories," said Jiyan Wei, Vocus, online product manager. "News releases are not just for the Fortune 500, but have become a valuable tool for smaller businesses to increase their sales and create publicity."

New Goals & Priorities Emerging

In addition to reaching the press and announcing news, today’s top priorities for those issuing online press releases include:

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  • Increasing visibility and credibility for the organization.
  • Directly reaching customers.
  • Making content available to online users.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO).

Bloggers Valued Targets

Bloggers have joined traditional media as highly valued targets among those who send out news releases. Survey respondents indicated that reaching bloggers and new media outlets were nearly as high a priority as reaching traditional media.

  • 73% indicated that it is "important to very important" to reach traditional media via their online press releases while 67.7% indicated that it is "important to very important" to reach bloggers and new media outlets.
  • For small business owners, reaching bloggers and social media sites was slightly more important than reaching traditional media.

Measures of Value & Success Changing

Respondents rank their top measures of value for their online press releases by how many times the press release is published on other websites, and the number of online views of the release. Both of these metrics rated higher than articles or media interview requests based on the release.

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Those who send out online releases also indicated that the most important placements for their releases are online news aggregators, such as Google News, Yahoo News and online news sites like Reuters and Topix, followed by blogs and social media sites.

At the same time, respondents admit that it is often quite a challenge to measure the value and success of online news releases. Respondents said their top challenges in maximizing the value of issuing online press releases are "cutting through the clutter," targeting and distribution, affordability and measurement and metrics.

"Respondents seemed to want to measure the value of their online releases as they would an ad or marketing campaign," stated Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu, SNCR research fellow and assistant professor in communication studies at Clemson University. “They stated that they would like to be able to measure 'eyeballs' and dollar value."

Though the uses of online releases have broadened, the difference in priorities and perspectives between PR and marketing professionals is still clear. The majority of those who identify themselves as PR professionals say they use online press releases to announce news and enhance thought leadership. In contrast, respondents who identified themselves as marketing professionals say their priorities are SEO optimization for the organization's website and reaching customers and consumers. Small business owners use online press releases as a sales tool to reach customers and consumers.

About the survey: More than 420 marketing and PR professionals, as well as small business owners, participated in a detailed online survey that was available from March 31 - April 16, 2008. The questionnaire asked respondents how and why they use online press releases and how they measure their value. Approximately one-third of respondents were marketing professionals (32.9%) and 30% were PR professionals. Small business owners and self-employed individuals accounted for 23.7% of those who issue online press releases, according to the survey.

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