Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Cheapskate’s Guide to PR


The Cheapskate's Guide to PR

With Apologies to Warren Buffet: 

A Review of Free Press Release Distribution Websites

 The major news release distribution services have done a great job of creating "feeds" into the websites of major news organizations.  These feeds provide the illusion that the news websites have "published" or covered a news release because it was newsworthy.  For better or worse, that's not the case.  Thanks to agreements the newswires have with these sites, just pay your money and your mediocre story can live happily on where, for a few days anyway, you can show-off your brilliant media relations triumph to unsuspecting superiors and clients alike.  These "hits" provide you with some great "clips" for your electronic or printed collection of media relations "results."  Now just sit back as the kudos come pouring in.  And all of this can be yours for ten clicks of your mouse and a few hundred dollars.  What a deal!

But what if you don't have a few hundred dollars?  What then?  Never fear cheapskate, for I am no doubt cheaper than thee (or is it thou?) and I have researched the free press release distribution websites so you don't have to.

Here's the deal:  There are a number of websites out there that would like to publish your press release.  Most of them are fairly easy to use and work pretty well.  Some will try to up-sell you to a paying service, others are content to have your content so their site will have the keywords needed to generate google adsense pay per click ads.

While I have no doubt that the major news release services do send your release to the media you select, I doubt very much that the "free" guys send your stuff anywhere.  The free sites are good for one thing and one thing only: getting your news release onto the web so that it shows up in search engines when someone google's your client's name.  And for that, they work astonishingly well, given that you're getting quite a bit more than you paid for.

The rub is that each free site works a little differently and you need to figure out these little quirks in order to put each site to its best use (and avoid paying anyone anything).  If like me, you decide one day to send a release out to each of these sites and haven't used them before, the combined registration and submittal process may take you half a day.  After that, releases can be sent out relatively quickly.  Warning:  Most sites ask for your email address as part of the distribution process and some will mask your email and some won't.  Be careful, these releases can generate some significant spam for you if they publish your email address.

One last tip;  If you're not a public relations professional and don't have experience writing and distributing news releases, I strongly suggest that you do not attempt any of this.  You'll just make a mess that may live on the web for what will seem like forever.  The free sites are only useful to people who know what they're doing and should not be used as a substitute for more effective media relations tactics.  So there.

Now that the disclaimers have been disclaimed, here's my review of a whopping 13 different free press release distribution websites.  You're welcome!

I found this site to be quite user friendly and once I completed the process, the release posted immediately.  There's nothing better than free instant gratification.  I had to cut my release down to fit their 3K character maximum (no problem for a crack editor like myself) which took a few tries because I didn't see a character counter.  I liked that I could use html coding to bold, italic, etc. and that they sent me a confirmation email that the article had posted.  Bonus:  The story showed up on a google web search of my client's name almost immediately and was near the top of the results.  I liked how you can easily delete a release if you need to and the handy "members area" shows how many "hits" your release has received.


Free Press Release Center

The process was very straightforward and fast.  I liked the fact that I could pick a keyword within the article and create a link from it to my client's website.  I also like the cheap upgrade option.  For just $2.99, I can buy a top position on their website for 7 days, make my release available in PDF and add second and third keyword links.  I know from past experience that the upgrade also buys immediate posting, but I was "queued for approval" when I chose not to buy the upgrade.


Newswire Today

The process was quick and easy.  The website includes lots of little tips sprinkled around that may come in handy if you don't know what you're doing.  But if you don't know what you're doing, I wouldn't suggest doing this in the first place.  The site offered me a number of optional paid upgrades that were free on other sites, so don't you bite.  I didn't like the fact that they would not let me include a link to my client's website in the release and then prompted me to remove the one I tried to sneak in.  How dare they! I promptly received an email that my release had been received and that I would receive another email when my release was published.


PR Compass

I think these guys may have the slickest looking interface.  I liked how the site invited me to upload up to three images, but as I experimented with what worked best, it wouldn't let me delete any of the images.  I kind-of fixed the problem by uploading a client logo which wasn't really the right size but worked okay because it opened up completely when clicked.  I tried to upload two client photos, but they wouldn't post.  So I was left with the "okay" client logo.  Be advised, you may not be able to remove what you upload.  I was offered the option to "enhance the placement, display, and interest of your press release by purchasing votes," up to 100 votes at $1 per vote.  I'm not really sure how that works, but I passed on the opportunity.  I could also target specific publications at a buck-a-pop, but alas, again I passed.  Finally, for just $2 I could edit a very generic "pitch message" to customize it with my own witty prose, but being the cheapskate I am, again I passed (witty prose is hard to come by).  I saw an immediate preview of my release as it would appear and I received a quick email saying my release had been received and had been queued for approval.  Closer examination showed they had not masked my email address (keep a sharp eye out for this) but a link in the email allowed me to edit my release to change the email address to a generic "info@" spam bucket here at the agency.  I left my phone number in the release in case anyone wanted to prank call me.  The next day my release was approved and posted and they even provided me with a handy short URL to link to.


Press Method

This was perhaps the fastest entry form of all.  After submitting my release, I received 9 upgrade options priced between $5 and $74.  For $29 the release would be sent to google news, for $39 it would go to google news and all the major search engines and so on.  I'm cheap so I chose "free."  Submitting the release took me to an overview page which listed my releases, allowed me to view the one I had just submitted, allowed me to modify or delete my release and also gave me a "times viewed" counter for all my releases.  I couldn't tell if the release was "live" or queued, but I assumed if it wasn't live, it would go live soon enough.  I particularly liked that my email was masked.  The layout was very clean and didn't include any images or other bells or whistles.


PR Leap

This site annoyed me right off the bat by randomly generating a password that you'll never be able to remember.  I became even more annoyed when I noted that my last news release (I really should follow up more closely) had never been posted.  I couldn't really tell what the problem was, whether they wanted me to buy a $49, $99 or $149 upgrade or if I'd just been stuck in an approval queue for two weeks. Being the trooper I am, I persevered and submitted my new release anyway.  After submitting my release, I was prompted to select an upgrade or change the date of my release to two days after the date of submission to obtain free distribution.  I changed it to three days to be on the safe side.  My failure to follow directions the first time probably moved my release to "wrong date/no upgrade" purgatory.  I was glad I didn't make the same mistake twice.

This was probably the fastest submission process of them all.  They had saved my information from my last use and it uploaded with the release.  No bells and whistles, just fast and efficient.  I like this site.  I received an email shortly thereafter, informing me that my release had been posted and that the process took a short 15 minutes.  The release looked great, the contact information was well organized and my email address was masked (hallelujah!).  A google web search for my client's name turned up the press release shortly after I submitted it.  Later, it showed up prominently in Yahoo! search, was the top item in an news search, was the top and only relevant result in an MSN News search and was the top result of a google web search.


My Free PR

I was initially excited to see this site had formatting options available for the text of my release (bold, italics, etc.) as most similar sites don't allow this.  When I tried to highlight the text and push a button to bold it, nothing happened.  Maybe you'll have better luck.  I was also excited when the site prompted me to upload images to the headline and body copy areas of the release.  I uploaded my client's logo to the top, a photo of the CEO to the body.  There is no "submit" button and the first time I tried to upload a release I couldn't figure out how to do it.  Then I noticed a clip-art image of a disk located on the right side of the page with no markings.  That's the submit button.  When I uploaded my release this time, it started to upload, then got stuck.  I let it sit for a few minutes, thinking that uploading the images would take some time, but then I gave up and hit the disk icon again.  This time I got a message that said my images were in a format that was not supported.  They were jpegs, so I don't know what the problem was.  I resubmitted without the images.  The release posted immediately (the way we like it).  Microscopic icons on the right side of the page allowed me to produce a text only PDF, print or email my release.  A row of 24 social bookmarking links lined the bottom of the page.  Nice touch.


Press Release Point

Once I remembered my log in information, the submit process was very simple.  Unlike almost every other site, this one did not provide a space for a sub-headline.  That's okay.  My headlines can stand on their own. A line prompted me to upload an image or link.  I successfully uploaded my client's logo, but I couldn't figure out how to upload a link.  Press Release Point offers tons of helpful suggestions for people who don't have any idea what they're doing.  They suggest that "press release must be written like third person reporting your news story," and do not "include 'advertising' or 'hard sell' language…"  Sage advice indeed.  Also be advised that "users ignoring above instructions will be banned with their posts purged from this site."  These guys remind me of an old journalism professor.

When I hit the "preview button," I received a mean red warning message that I must include "PressReleasePoint" in my slug.  I hadn't included a slug, so I went back in and included one along with Press Release Point.  I previewed again and got the same message.  The problem turned out to be the spaces I included between Press Release Point (it's one word of course).  I removed them and I was able to submit.  The release posted immediately and I was provided with some nice, inexpensive upgrade options.  $8 moved me to the front page, $12 moved me to the front page AND submitted to 50+ free press release websites.  (You mean I could have had all of this done for me for $12?!)  I'm cheap so I  passed anyway.  They even provided me with the HTML code to link to the press release from my website or blog.  Nice!  I liked that my client's logo appeared at the bottom of the release and I also had the ability to add a comment, download a PDF version, Search PR Sites and produce and printer-friendly version.  The printer-friendly version had a box to email it to a friend and the Search PR sites brought up links to other websites where the release had been posted.  I also received a prompt email that included a link to my release.  Very handy!  The release showed up on the second page of a yahoo search and was the 5th and 6th results of a google web search,


1-888-press release

Once I logged in, the site remembered me and submission was easy.  I cut and pasted the headline, subhead and body copy fields and then checked the automatically generated contact information.  I changed the contact website from my agency's to the client's.  When I submitted the release, I moved to a preview site and everything looked good.  The site had generated a slug for me (without location) and my client's URL was intact at the bottom of the release.  I then moved to an upgrade page that provided me with four upgrade options that cost $10, $25 and $50.  There were 15 items listed in the upgrades, several of which (uploading a logo or images, ability to download a PDF, etc.) are available for free on other sites reviewed here.  After figuring out I needed to select "free," I got this message: "Your press release has been submitted. will begin the process of distribution shortly. Most press releases are approved with in 48-72 hrs depending on the queue. For more immediate approvals please upgrade to the 'Gold Plan'. This email is to acknowledge that we have received your press release and will be reviewed within a few business days depending on the current queue. Thank you for your support and have a wonderful day."  I really liked that they wanted me to have a wonderful day. My day was pretty good because this post landed me on the 2nd page of a google web search.


Page Release

I went immediately to the "submit a release page," no log in required!  Yahoo!  I mean, hooray!  I really like the user interface for this site.  I laughed when I saw the suggestion to, "Make it Descriptive and Compelling," next to the headline field.  I think I can handle descriptive, but compelling is far more challenging, particularly with my clients.  There was a link to google results for a search on how to write a headline.  Another link told me where I could read an article about "how to write a press release."  Maybe I should read those articles.  There was a very handy spell check feature in every field and the HTML formatting worked great.  The best part was a live preview in a box on the same page where I could check my HTML formatting as I went. I got my hand slapped for including more than one link (ouch!), so I removed the offending link and submitted the release for approval.  I immediately received a confirming email.


24-7 Press Release

After logging in, I moved to a page that asked me to select my press release plan.  The plans started at $349 (wow!) for mass media distribution, $89 for search engine professional, $49 for search engine plus, $20 for Top Position or "free," where releases were not even guaranteed to post.  I chose free anyway.  When I agreed to the terms and conditions and breezed past the coupon box (coupon?), I was informed that there were 57 releases ahead of me.  For $49, I could move to the head of the crowd.  Fortunately, I'm very patient.  I cut and pasted my release and after filling in some of my contact fields (I was so sad they didn't have that information already filled in), I previewed my release.  Everything looked great! I was able to include plenty of keywords and the industry selections fit great.  I loved how my email and website were masked.

It's kind of astonishing that no company of substance owns the URL ""  I would have thought that one of the big PR agencies would have jumped on it.  Then again, they tend to be cheaper than I am and may have thought it wasn't worth the money.  Their loss.  When I logged into, I jumped to a page that showed the status of my previous release and I submitted my new release from there. The cutting and pasting was very straightforward and I was offered the opportunity to include links in the body copy.  Hooray!  I included one link to my client's website.  Unfortunately, closer inspection caused me to discover that they wanted me to pay $29.95 for the pleasure of including each link.  Boo, Hiss! I guess they don't know me very well.  I removed my link using the handy "remove link" button reserved no doubt, for cheapskates like me.  I was offered the opportunity to upload an image for the low, low price of $60.  I passed.  As I scrolled down, I noticed my contact information had already been filled in.  I edited the contact information to point to the client's website and then included the "info@" spam-bucket email address because this site failed to mask my email address, so be aware.  The last box offered me the opportunity to upload a file to be associated with this release.  I was unsure of the benefit of doing so, but I uploaded a PDF of the release anyway.  Previewing the press release took me to an upgrade page where I could choose "Visibility Enhancements" that cost $30, $50, $60 or $100.  I chose "other."  I hit SAVE and surprise!  That file attachment I uploaded just cost me $30!  Slightly annoyed, I hit the link to edit my release and I was able to easily remove the attachment.  I hit SAVE again and was informed that if I wanted the client's URL to be active, it would cost me $29.95.  I selected the "no active hyperlinks" option instead.  Hitting submit informed me that I still owed them $60.  I went back and saw that next day distribution would cost me $30 (I don't know where the other $30 came from) so I changed the distribution date to 48 hours from now and that seemed to do the trick.


That's it.  All of these press release distribution sites worked as described when reviewed, but given their revenue models, don't be surprised if they tend to come and go or change how they work over time.

Now go forth and be cheap!

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