Free Press Release Services

I was recently browsing through Twitter when I stumbled upon a posting that took me aback – someone had posted an RFP to build a mirror of PRWeb for a budget of $300.

It was comical in a sense but also interesting in that it served a hyperbolic function: it symbolized the process through which free press release services come to market.

Essentially, the process goes something like this:

  1. Someone decides they want to create a press release distribution service;
  2. They build a content management system that allows users to construct a document;
  3. They get the domain indexed in Google News;
  4. They start marketing themselves as a “free press release service”

Over the years, there have been countless free press release services spring up and some of them have evolved into pay models.  Some have even developed customer bases and brand equity.

I want spend a few minutes outlining what prospective customers should understand about these services and in order to do so I will first provide a framework for thinking about what it is a press release distribution service actually provides:

  • Construction - All services provide a means through which a press release is transferred into a form that can be easily hosted and transferred via the Web.  This can take several forms.  Wire services will often allow a user to transmit a word document that will then be reviewed and uploaded via a back-end CMS.  Many of the newer services provide the user with direct access to a CMS where they can construct a release themselves.
  • Distribution - Once the release has been constructed into a structured format it will then be distributed through a variety of channels.  What ‘distribution’ actually means is probably a separate post all together but for now we’ll just acknowledge that it has to go somewhere – to journalists, search engines, syndicate sites, etc.
  • Analysis - Once the release has been distributed through the Web, the end user should have some sort of system that provides them with a sense of how much traction the release received.  Again, ‘traction’ is an entirely separate discussion that we will for the time being reserve for a later discussion.

So essentially, all press release distribution services come down to these three components.  Staying within this framework, the question then becomes, what is the difference between a free service and a pay service?

The answer brings us back to the example that sparked this post: anyone can theoretically build a CMS that allows someone to create a Web document.  A slightly more difficult task involves providing a user with some sort of analytics on traction of that document.  What differentiates free services from entrenched services is in the distribution of that document.  The development of a broad distribution network takes significant time and resources.

So the question that a customer should ask when choosing a service is “Where does my press release go?”  With the majority of free services, the release doesn’t go very far and that is because the distribution networks associated with these services are not very significant.  Now if the story has viral potential placement on a Web site and getting indexed in Google News may be sufficient for it to gain significant traction online however the truth of the matter is that the majority of news releases are not breaking Watergate and need to be distributed to the right audiences and that is where services like PRWeb come into play.

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3 Comments

  1. Josh Moscov
    on May 28, 2009 #

    With a 20 year background in public relations, I found your story to be very accurate. I have used a variety of free services and the real goal, as you said, is if gets into Google. I really don’t think that these services go to journalists. I think that their real goal is to build google adwords, etc. At any rate, thanks for the info.
    Josh Moscov
    JCM Media
    Formerly of Burson-Marsteller
    Clients: Internetwire,
    Former PR Newswire editor

  2. Jiyan
    on May 29, 2009 #

    My pleasure Josh and thanks for the comment.

  3. Scott M.
    on October 22, 2009 #

    Suddenly working for a company with minimal existing marketing budget, I found myself using one of the free sites to demonstrate the effect of PR in building our market. Convinced myself it would make for a good trial run.

    Despite the site having decent traffic and good google rank, I instantly found myself missing the slew of data provided by the PRWeb releases and received about 1/100 of the traffic. Plus posting to a “free site” meant that my release is covered with google ads. Its worth the price of PRWeb’s admission not to provide advertising space to competitors targeted to our news.

    Thanks for an interesting article.