Press Releases Don’t Work

What occurs a thousand times a day but is rarely noticed?

The answer: public relations professionals publish a press release.

SHIFT Communications delved into the raw Google News database of millions of news stories per year to extract just press releases. What we found amazed (but didn’t surprise) us:

Number of Releases

Last month, for the first time in almost 3 years, PR professionals cranked out an average of 1,092 press releases per day. Thus far in 2016, PR professionals have generated 236,356 press releases.

The Cost of Press Releases

1,092 press releases per day is an enormous flood of news to create, and press releases aren’t inexpensive. While some wire services offer “low cost” press releases, many charge between $200 and $1,200 per release. Consider what 236,356 press releases have cost companies and agencies: somewhere between $47 million and $283 million this year.

Do Press Releases Work?

Let’s take a look at some of the median content metrics around these releases.

SHIFT extracted a random sample of 1,052 releases from 2016 and scanned them for key content metrics. Out of these releases:

  • The median number of clicks: 0
  • The median number of social media shares: 2
  • The median number of inbound links to releases: 1
  • The median MozTrust score (how trusted a URL is, 0-10 scale): 0
  • The median MozRank score (how well ranked a URL is, 0-10 scale): 0

No one is sharing our press releases, other than us.

No one is clicking on them.

Because Google devalued press release distribution sites a few years ago, press releases are untrusted and therefore don’t pass along any SEO authority.

$200 to $1,200 is a lot of money to spend on a piece of content that gets shared by us, doesn’t engage the audience, and offers no SEO value. For the same $200, you could hire a blogger or two to create original, unique content on your website or owned social media properties and receive more benefit.

Conclusion: Stop Sending Press Releases

Unless you have regulatory reasons to do so (SEC Reg FD, FINRA, FFIEC, etc.), there’s no longer a reason to send out press releases. No one is reading them, no one is engaging with them, and they offer no search marketing benefit to you. You’re almost certainly getting no ROI from your spend, and you could spend that money elsewhere, like on social media content amplification, syndication, or original content creation.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Methodology and Disclosures

Using Google’s BigQuery database and its index of 411,261,459 news stories (as of the time of writing), SHIFT extracted press releases matching known newswires and distribution companies by domain name, as well as URLs matching “press-release” or “news-release” and variants thereof. SHIFT chose a time period for URL extraction of 1/1/2014 – 10/11/2016. SHIFT then ran a random sample of 1,052 news releases through its SCALE content scanner to assess social sharing metrics. Clicks are measured with the bit.ly API and represent any click on the destination URL from any source. The random sample of 1,052 on a population of 236,356 represents a 3% confidence interval at a 95% confidence level.

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Posted on October 11, 2016 in Analytics, Metrics, Press Release, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
  • Jim Samuel

    This article ignores one basic element: The quality of the press release itself. I agree that the vast majority of press releases do not work. However, drawing the conclusion that press releases, in general, do not work is an incorrect conclusion.
    Why don’t press releases work? That is not addressed in this article but my belief is that the vast majority of press releases don’t work because they offer no value to the reader, are poorly written and are distributed improperly.
    Nearly all the press releases I see focus on the company that issues the release, not on the market that would benefit from the company’s product of service. Here’s an example: I once saw a press release from a company that introduced a new wireless device to monitor vital signs for women who are in childbirth.
    The lead paragraph opened with a sentence similar to this: “Robert A. Smith, President and CEO of The Monitor Company, is pleased to announce the company’s new XC56X Monitor. The new monitor operates on the 2.5GHz frequency and has a range of 2,500 feet.”

    You had to get down to the eighth paragraph to find the real benefit to patients. That benefit was that women in childbirth could have this small, lightweight monitor attached to their hip and move freely instead of dragging a pole and 30-pound monitor with them when they tried to move around.

    Was the release unsuccessful because press releases don’t work or because it buried the lead and no one read that far down?

    The second major mistake many companies make is how they distribute press releases. Putting a release on a distribution service is not enough. Until recently, I worked with a woman who still printed releases on paper, stuffed them in envelopes and mailed them to reporters.

    Treat press releases as content. Put them on your website. Summarize the patient benefit and link to the release in social media. 

    Try writing and using press releases correctly before you decide that they don not work.

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