Are Press Release Services Worth It?

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Why Free or Low-Cost Press Release Services Might Not Deliver What You Really Want

Since the early days of consumerism, there is one catchphrase that is still difficult to deny: you get what you pay for.

In the PR business, I’ve had experience – as have some of my clients – with the free or low-cost press release services that seem to have proliferated all over the Internet. In fact, if you Google press release services, you’ll find a wide variety of them. Moreover, a reasonable number of them can deliver on the promise of getting your press release picked up by a good number of Web sites with hits that will show up on your Google and search engine profile. And, once in a while, a release on these services may indeed garner the interest of one or two sizable news outlets.

However, the question you have to ask yourself is, “What does that really get me?”

My view is simple – good PR isn’t just about the numbers. That’s what advertising is about, and in advertising, nothing is free. You get what you pay for, so if you want a lot of eyeballs and impressions, you’d better have a big budget. In PR, however, numbers is only one part of the story. If it was just about the numbers, then why would anyone want to do PR? Where’s the added value?

PR delivers the one element advertising cannot – credibility. When a legitimate news outlet features you or your company in their pages or as a guest on their shows, it acts as a tacit endorsement of you. It’s third-party verification that boosts your brand, as well as your positioning as an expert in your field and a respected source of information. It makes you attractive as someone other people may want to engage in business, whether it’s to buy your product, buy your book or hire you as a consultant. So the next question is, “Do press release services deliver that value?”

First, let’s examine how it all works. Most of these press release services have content aggregation agreements with other search engine optimized Web sites that do little more than provide visitors with press releases. The vast majority of the placements garnered are not typically with highly respected news outlets. That’s not to say that on the odd occasion a press release service can’t deliver that kind of exposure, but rather, it’s not really set up to do so. You see, with most major media outlets, there is a level of follow – up and response necessary to bag the big hits. But, these services don’t provide a PR person to follow up with anyone. They simply take your press release and distribute it. That’s all.

Now, a PR professional would not only have the industry know-how to understand the needs of the media outlets who respond, but they would also write the press release in such a way as to cause a response in the first place. That’s something else the press release services don’t do – they generally don’t write the release for you. Some might offer that service, but it would cost a lot more than the standard distribution service, sometimes into the hundreds of dollars.

So when it comes down to it, these companies are not set up to serve the needs of the media.  They exist to serve the needs of clients who pay them to distribute their press release, in the hopes of getting some media coverage. If it does, that’s great. But if not, then all that’s been achieved is the placement of the press release on a variety of Web sites that, by and large, wouldn’t qualify as legitimate news media. (I define “legitimate media” as media that generates revenue from advertising.)

For someone who has little to spend, it’s not a bad start. And, it’s not that these services are deceptive in their practices. They’re not — they don’t promise more than what they deliver.

But, don’t confuse their actions with that of a real PR campaign.  A press release service is not comparable to engaging a professional public relations firm. PR is not about hits on a Google listing. It’s not about accumulating a lot of listings in search engines.  PR is about penetrating the din of the media to become well-known and well thought of as a company, a thought leader or individual with valuable information, products or services to offer the consumer.

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