Customer service lessons from a news distribution service

Disclosure first: CNW Group, Canada’s main national newswire service, continues to be a valued client of my firm, Thornley Fallis.

I just wanted to get that important point across up front. This relationship is already a matter of public record and something I’ve blogged, tweeted and even appeared in videos about in the past.

Still, given the topic of this post, it’s worth repeating in full: for the past three years I’ve done a fair amount of work with CNW Group in our role as their Agency of Record. Naturally, as a PR firm, we often use the services of a newswire. CNW Group gets a lot of our business, out of loyalty (of course) but also because we happen to think they do a very good job.

Having said that, there are – as our friends at CNW know – times when we’ve used other wire services. It’s entirely appropriate that we should. Personally, I’d love it if 100% of our business went through CNW, but that’s not the way it works.

Sometimes, we have clients who express a particular preference for a different service. On occasion, we’ve also been asked to experiment with some of the newer web-based news distribution services, just to evaluate their effectiveness.

Point is: I like CNW a lot and I’m naturally inclined to be loyal to them. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in offerings from other news distribution services. Quite the opposite, in fact – I’m more inclined to want to learn about competitive services, for all kinds of (fairly obvious) reasons.

I felt all this contextual blah was necessary before getting into the real meat of this post. You’ll soon see why.

Earlier today, I had a lengthy and, let’s say, “interesting” email exchange with the provider of a competitive service. I’ve posted the entire exchange, below.

I was tempted to give this the detailed, line-by-line fisking it so richly deserves. On reflection, though, I’ve chosen to just post it with minimal additional commentary. Frankly, I don’t think it really needs much help.

For the record: I’ve altered absolutely nothing of substance from the original email thread. I have made only three cosmetic edits worth noting:

1. I have removed the name, company name and address details of the other party. Given my relationship with CNW, it wouldn’t seem entirely fair to name the competitive vendor involved in this rather vigorous exchange of views. Let’s call the other protagonist “George” and his company “OtherWire”;

2. I’ve reversed the order of the email thread, to save you having to do that bottom-to-top scrolling thing, and;

3. I’ve added colours to make the two sides of the discussion a little clearer, just in case. The messages I received are in blue, my responses are in red, any additional comments that were not part of the original email thread are in italics. Where I’ve removed links or any other info, I’ve said so in CAPS. Those of you reading on a handheld or through an RSS reader that doesn’t support the formatting can either click through to the full post, or just follow along – it’s probably not that hard.

So, with all the lengthy disclosure our of the way, let the tomfoolery commence:

—–Original Message—–
From: admin@otherwire.com
Sent: July-09-09 1:40 PM
To: Michael O’Connor Clarke
Subject: Unlimited Press Release Distribution

I noticed that you do not currently use OtherWire to distribute your company’s press releases.

*******************

If you would prefer to have your email address removed from this list,
please click the link at the very bottom of this message. Do not reply
to this message.

*******************

I founded OtherWire in April 2001 and offer the same or more exposure
for your PR pieces, for considerably less money, compared to any of our
competitors.

In today’s market, you need to save money where you can.

[REMOVED LINK TO COMPANY'S HOMEPAGE]

Also, please read this comparison:

[REMOVED LINK TO COMPETITIVE COMPARISON CHART]

With OtherWire you can:

* Reach more than 230,000 bloggers and 170,000 media contacts
* Increase traffic to your website
* Optimize your ranking in search engines
* Guarantee placement of your press release on top websites like Yahoo!,
AltaVista, AOL, Google News, Google Finance, Twitter and Topix and
thousands of others
* Have all of your press releases published and remain live during your
paid subscription period
* Post your release to thousands of media contacts
* Track your press releases in real-time (newswires and blogs) with
custom software developed by OtherWire
* Get 10% of your paid subscription donated to a charity of your choice

We offer a one-off price of just $39.99 per press release or you can
subscribe for unlimited access and send any number of press releases for
just $59.99 per month (discounts are available for advance payment).
This includes agencies, who can submit all of their client’s PR through
a single account.

Yours sincerely,

George
Publisher
OtherWire

P.S. If you do not send more than 5 or 6 press releases each month, or
if your annual press release distribution spend is less than $612, then
consider using LINK TO ANOTHER SIMILAR DISTRIBUTION SERVICE FROM THE SAME BLOKE

On the other hand, if your company would like to have your own White
Label version of OTHER SIMILAR DISTRIBUTION SERVICE, either for your multiple offices’ use or to get into the Press Release Distribution business, please visit LINK TO OTHER SIMILAR DISTRIBUTION SERVICE

*******************

Michael O’Connor Clarke wrote:

Thanks George,

As the Agency of Record for CNW Group (the main Canadian national
newswire, co-owned by PRNewswire), I don’t think we’ll be switching
service providers any time soon.

Also, your comparison chart is plain wrong, IMHO. But please feel free
to prove me wrong. If you have examples of client-issued releases that
have received more coverage due to distribution through your service
compared to a major newswire, I’d be interested.

Regards,

/m

*******************
OK, so perhaps my initial response was a little snarky. I’ll grant that. But I could have just hit ‘delete’ or flagged his message as spam. I thought I should give him a chance to respond and educate me. As I said above, I’m genuinely interested in all kinds of news distribution services – it’s part of my job.

I didn’t have to wait long for a response from “George”…

*******************

From: OtherWire
Sent: July-09-09 2:25 PM
To: Michael O’Connor Clarke
Subject: Re: Unlimited Press Release Distribution

Michael,

I didn’t think you would be interested, but then, you never know.

In any event, well, as you say, it’s your opinion. You are incorrect. But that’s your right–to be wrong.

You don’t know how OtherWire is distributed. We have more than 200,000 journalists who receive our twice-daily news feeds, plus more than 400,000 distirbution points through a number of partnerships including Moreover and frankly, all the rest.

So if you can show me where I am not correct, I will accept what you say, but speaking without actually understanding how my system works suggests inexperience at best.

Yours sincerely,
George
Publisher
OtherWire

*******************

Michael O’Connor Clarke wrote:

If you didn’t think I would be interested, then why send it to me? Is that the same philosophy of approach you use when sending stuff to journalists?

I’m not trying to be a dick, George. Even before starting to work with CNW as a client, I’ve had a long-time interest in the business of news distribution and the necessary evolution of the wire services in this disintermediated world. I’m genuinely interested.

I believe your comparison chart is incorrect for a couple of reasons:

– The pricing shown for competitors’ “global distribution”. If a BusinessWire release goes directly into the editorial systems of the majority of mainstream international media (plus Bloomberg, Reuters, AP, etc.) and is also simultaneously submitted to Yahoo! News, Google News and so forth – how is your global reach any better than theirs?

– I don’t know how all of the services you compare work, but do know how to get a release out through the PRNewswire network within 30 minutes. That’s about as close to “immediate distribution” as I think anyone can offer. What am I getting wrong?

But, again, for Public Relations professionals, the mechanics and reach of a distribution service are, in truth, rather less important than the results. Results = coverage. And coverage is not the same as distribution or syndication.

This is an argument I’ve had with wire services for many years. Just because they can pipe a client’s news release semi-directly into Yahoo! News, for example, does not mean that my client should consider that a mark of success. That’s output; we’re focused on outcomes.

When a journalist (traditional or citizen) reads a release and chooses to cover the story – only then do we have something worth measuring. If you can demonstrate to my satisfaction (i.e. with evidence) how OtherWire makes that process more effective, I’ll concede, apologize, and even blog about it.

Of course, there are many reasons for issuing a news release beyond just getting coverage, but that remains the principal objective in the majority of cases. Outcomes drive business results. Firing content out to hundreds of thousands of distribution points is of relatively limited value.

Usual caveats apply: IMHO, YMMV, etc.

/m

*******************

From: OtherWire
Sent: July-09-09 2:59 PM
To: Michael O’Connor Clarke
Subject: Re: Unlimited Press Release Distribution

Michael,

Journalists subscribe to our service. Your email was gathered with a number of others and frankly, I could not be bothered to remove it. What I said is that I would not have thought or didn’t think that you would be interested.

In addition to the network that I have already described, we have more than 400,000 RSS feed readers who receive their news directly into their inbox. We submit to every one of the services you mentioned with the exception of Yahoo News and frankly, we prefer Google News and Finance. That having been said, I am told that we will be indexed by Yahoo shortly. In any event, I say we have the same or better exposure than the companies mentioned. Period.

I have been an NUJ member for 23 years, so that’s for the advice about how journalists work, but really, I didn’t need it.

In any event, I don’t really care about the competition since they are all too expensive and really don’t offer anything different that we offer. In today’s market price is everything and looking at the number of press releases our competitors submit each day (we scan all of the sites), I think I am correct in thinking that their business(es) are going down, while I have seen an 800% increase since May.

Yours sincerely,
George
Publisher
OtherWire

*******************

Michael O’Connor Clarke wrote:

Well thank you, George, for missing my point – indeed, all of my points – by such a wide margin.

I was truthfully, genuinely interested in learning more about how your service might help my clients.

For what it’s worth, notwithstanding our understandable preference for our friends at CNW, we continue to use a range of different services to distribute news. Some of our clients insist on using BusinessWire or Marketwire. Sometimes, we just experiment with PRWeb, PRLeap or other services to see if we can help enhance our clients’ success rates.

Again: at all times, what we’re interested in is the outcome of our efforts. On this point, I wasn’t presuming to offer any advice about how journalists work, but merely sharing some thoughts about how PR people and their clients do.

“Exposure” through push-based distribution is never a factor in the measurement schema my clients apply. They honestly don’t care (and I can’t bill for) the number of points of distribution our releases reach; they only care about tangible evidence of our results.

[REMOVED: IRRELEVANT PARAGRAPH WITH COMPARISON OF A DIFFERENT VERY BAD WEB-BASED NEWS DISTRIBUTION COMPANY]

Again (one last try): if you have any solid evidence of results, we’d be happy to consider your service for the portfolio of options we offer to clients.

Over to you,

/m

*******************

From: OtherWire
Sent: July-09-09 3:32 PM
To: Michael O’Connor Clarke
Subject: Re: Unlimited Press Release Distribution

Sorry. You’re too wordy.

Try a book publisher.

Best wishes,
George
Publisher
OtherWire

*******************

And there you have it.

Or, well… not quite all of it. There was one final salvo.

From my obviously biased point of view, I believe I was being remarkably restrained in my last message to “George”, but I’ll let you be the judge. Here’s what I sent back, and his immediate response:

*******************

Michael O’Connor Clarke wrote:

No thanks. But I think I will try a blog post. Be interested to see what my readers think – I’m trying to figure out whether I’m being the dickhead here or…

/m

*******************

From: OtherWire
Sent: July-09-09 4:44 PM
To: Michael O’Connor Clarke
Subject: Re: Unlimited Press Release Distribution

You are.

*******************

Nice.

So tell me. Do you agree with “George”?

2 thoughts on “Customer service lessons from a news distribution service

  1. I’m with George on this one only because you keep shifting intentions (you attack then you say you want to learn about his business and back to attack) with no evidence of genuinely wanting to engage in a constructive dialogue if even to diplomatically challenge his facts.

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