Why don’t PR agencies publish clients’ news releases in an online platform owned by them?

Imagine you are in a PR agency. Considering most readers of this blog, you may actually be in a PR agency!

Ok, consider it, if you’re not.

How will you go about doing ‘PR’ for the client? The actual act of doing PR? Let me simplify it for you.

You’d speak to the client and see if there’s anything newsworthy. If yes, you’d craft content around that newsworthy item. Then you’d look at appropriate media to ‘sell’ (pitch, in PR parlance) that story. Then, you look for ‘coverage’, to put it crudely and report it to the client. This, in short, is the nuts and bolts of PR, to explain in a crude way. (This is just about the newsy, news release’ish way – I’m not including so many other useful things an agency does for a client, for a purpose)

Let me dig deeper here, for a bit. When you create the content for the client, what do you do? In my example above, you pitch it to appropriate media.

But, you also know that with the advent of social media and digital publishing, everybody is a media producer and a media outlet. So, why don’t you see PR agencies publishing client content on their own channels?

Confused? Let me explain.

A PR agency creates content, but looks to get it published it on a neutral, 3rd party website – not on its own website. It could be a media website (or media print publication; PR agencies don’t own print publications anyway), or it could be a newswire service etc. The point is, you don’t see a PR agency publishing a client’s news in online platforms owned by them.

Sure, agency folks cross-promote client news on their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, but such promotion is of news that has been published elsewhere…and it usually is in a news publication, blog or some other source not connected with the PR agency.

Consider the other angle – one of the things many PR veterans are asking PR agency folks to do is to create more video content. We are advised to create a lot of video using smartphones and make such videos available online, for PR purposes.

A nitty-gritty question – so, you the PR agency guy, has shot a video on your phone, of your client talking about his product. You have the 3 minute video ready – where do you publish it online? YouTube, right – but who owns the channel in which it is published? Your YouTube channel or the client’s? Chances are, most PR folks would upload the video in the latter, or at least look to share that video with someone in the media.

After that lengthy, testing introduction, here’s something remarkably different.

Indian film industry PR is usually considered a murky affair. I don’t know much about it and I won’t venture into the good or bad of it – let me just say that it is a lot unorganized. Dale Bhagwagar is one of the better known guys, in Bollywood and Nikhil Murugan is his Tamil film industry equivalent. The strange thing is that these two gentlemen are turning PR, as we know it, on its head!

Dale has a blog where he posts items as if they are written by a 3rd party – it even addresses himself in the 3rd person! In many cases, much of these posts are carried as-is in many online blogs and sites. Sample this.

Sunny Leone is in the business of exposure and awareness. Entertainment and hype are her tools and ammunition,â? remarks celebrity publicist Dale Bhagwagar; a specialist with Bigg Boss, having handled the media for the maximum number of controversial celebrities on reality shows including Shilpa Shetty (during Big Brother), Rakhi Sawant…

Nikhil Murugan has taken the game to a new level. He has his own YouTube channel and even his own TV-channel style logo! In the YouTube channel, Nikhil publishes videos of his client’s work – a film’s audio launch, an interview…a muhurat shot and so on.

Sample a post from Nikhil’s blog.

Muppozhuthum Un Karpanaigal (MUK) movie team, after had been receiving praises for the breezy manner in which they conducted the launch of the filmâ??s album has released an awesome Trailer of the movie. Young hero Atharvaa plays the role of Ram and Chirpy â??Mynaaâ?? girl Amala Paul plays his ladylove while Santhanam ablaze the screens with his comedy tracks. G.V. Prakash has composed some mellisonant melodies in foreign country. The film directed by Elred Kumar is produced by RS Infotainment (co-producer of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and KO). With such a poetic title of â??Muppozuthum un karpanaikalâ??, itâ??s obvious that the romance will be embellished with a difference

Now, I’m not trying to judge the work of these gentlemen – they are doing what works best for them. But let me ask this simple question – why don’t you see even a single, professionally run PR firm publishing their client’s news themselves, in an online media channel owned by the agency?

Let me list my thought process here, for an answer.

1. Credibility – PR, by nature, is 3rd party endorsement and validation. It is the art of getting seemingly unconnected people (usually media) to write or talk about a client. That’s when the client gains credibility. If an agency publishes a client’s news in a online channel owned by themselves, however insignificant that act may be, it may not be credible. You could argue that an agency can publish a raw press release in a channel owned by them (say, on Scribd or a blog) just for the purpose of sharing it with media (and not send it as an attachment on email, for example). But then, how many agencies do it?

2. Search Engine love – Just like a newswire service, why can’t an agency own a press release dissemination portal and share news releases online? The more the keywords, the more the chances of people stumbling on these releases when they are searching in relevant lines.

3. Monetary relationship between a client and an agency – Continuing from the earlier point – there’s perhaps a reason why agencies don’t publish their client’s news on their own platforms – such SEO is still not credible since the source is owned by a party that has been paid to promote the client. Result – assumption of lack of objectivity. An agency will act on the client’s best interests and the content it creates is a result of a financial deal between the client and the agency. It is not written in an objective style. The brand can say anything about itself and publish its own press release in its official website, but the agency still can’t do it or risk eroding its credibility.

4. Corporate brands are different from movie stars – Ideally, everything is a brand. A film star is a brand as much as a corporate. Many film stars have their own websites too. So, why don’t publicists like Dale and Nikhil publish content created by them, on behalf of their star clients, in the respective official websites? Dissemination is a problem, I understand. A film/star publicist is supposed to be the conduit between the star and relevant media and when there’s only one spokesperson (the star himself), adding a note that address the star in the 3rd person, in the star’s own website will look mighty corny.

Going by this kind of PR by Dale and Nikhil, do you think there is a gap worth exploring, for professionally run agencies? How about an agency-owned news portal online where they publish client news, segregated by topic, vertical or industry? Why can’t they create separate RSS feeds for each of the sections so that appropriate journalists can subscribe to it, either on RSS or a Twitter feed, perhaps. This could work in 2 ways – one, the content stays online and helps in Google juice, as against it residing in the mail boxes of PR professionals and journalists. Two, agency folks may stop pestering journalists when a press release has been sent and journalists can finally get a passive channel to get news from, instead of active emails and phone follow-ups!

If the agency mentions the nature of relationship between itself and the client in the website prominently (for which a release has published online), the credibility issue could also be taken care of. In essence, what the agency is doing is to create a aggregated digital newsroom. Many agencies manage content in the client’s own digital newsroom – this idea turns that idea around and aggregates multiple client’s news in a PR agency-owned digital newsroom!

What do you think?

Update: After a Twitter chat with relevant industry folks, on this subject, I can see at least one example where a PR agency owns the platform where it publishes client news – IPAN Hill & Knowlton-owned Businesswire India. But, while IPAN’s website mentions the connection with Businesswire India, Businesswire India’s website does not mention the IPAN connection. That may be to make Businesswire an agency-agnostic service, I assume.

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10 Responses

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  1. ASSWIN
    ASSWIN at | | Reply

    A Good article on Film PR finally.But Then for most of the films all our Filmi PR use is Link ups Between actors even if the truth might be the co-stars might not  be on talking term with each other.The Problem i feel is they tend to emphasis more on actor’s personal life rather the product which in this case is movie

  2. Raj Narayan
    Raj Narayan at | | Reply

    I really like the idea of PR agencies owning online portals to share press releases with the media at large. One of the reasons why PR companies are slow on this could be the manner in which they ‘sell’ or ‘pitch’ stories to scribes. Executives are encouraged to pitch multiple stories from a single event / incidence in order to keep ‘exclusive-hungry’ scribes on their good books. If they end up sharing all releases online, they’d have to go back to clients and tell them bluntly that many of their ideas aren’t newsworthy. Needs some courage… isn’t it?

    1. Karthik Srinivasan
      Karthik Srinivasan at | | Reply

      Good point. But a press release is vastly different from other, actual client stories that are pitched by agencies. A release, by nature, goes online in the client’s website (in almost all cases), so there’s no reason why it can’t go online in a platform owned by the agency 🙂

  3. Elias Kamal Jabbe
    Elias Kamal Jabbe at | | Reply

    Very interesting article. I agree that more content is a good idea when it comes to boosting SEO.

  4. Mschanuel
    Mschanuel at | | Reply

    My PR firm, Synergy Group, has been running an online Media Center (news release portal, if you like) for more than 7 years at http://www.synergy-pr.com/media. We created the Media Center to make it more convenient for media to download photos and to get clean copies of news releases (we still distribute releases by email and follow up by phone), and to expand our clients’ presence online. We don’t consider it a publication — the credibility is the same as advertising since we sponsor it. But it does certainly bump our clients up in organic SEO searches, and journalists appreciate being able to see the history of news releases, published articles, photos, etc. Plus it is available to the general public — prospects, clients, others. We are the only PR agency I’ve ever seen that takes this approach, which frankly surprises me. 

    1. Karthik Srinivasan
      Karthik Srinivasan at | | Reply

      Mary: That’s
      fantastic – just the model I had in mind.Considering it may be
      cumbersome for media folks to subscribe to and track multiple client
      newsrooms, it may be easier if the PR agency that handles multiple
      clients own the online resource that shares these news pieces. The
      assumption is that media is not going to paraphrase the releases
      (obviously), but report news based on the releases. So, a PR agency
      owning the release platform for multiple clients may not be seen as
      rivals to media themselves.

      As you note, agencies not doing this is rather strange!!

  5. Mschanuel
    Mschanuel at | | Reply

    We do provide RSS feeds but frankly, I don’t think RSS ever really caught on among journalists. We still depend on email to get the release in the hands of reporters. But the Media Center makes the process much smoother and creates an online media kit for clients. Building it from scratch has been an investment over time but it’s been well worth it.

  6. kerolic
    kerolic at | | Reply

    Hey Karthik, very nice article with very good insights. The benefit of the platform you describe perfectly makes sense. But don’t you fear that it’s duplicate the point of client’s newsroom? Shouldn’t we focus all our PR effort in promoting our client and its property (newsroom, website), and not the agency?
    A scenario where I think it would definitely make sense is if the client doesn’t have yet a press room or a newsroom difficult to update for any reason, where content can’t easily be hosted. Then, as a one shot solution, you can offer to host the content …

    Transforming PR firms into media and replace the wire at some point seems me a bit tricky, because of the question of interest conflict and credibility … don’t you think ?

    1. Karthik Srinivasan
      Karthik Srinivasan at | | Reply

      Yes, I did consider that. The only counter argument to that could be the fact that crawling multiple client newsrooms online is going to be cumbersome for media. Media folks (like everybody else) are already under a mountain of links and news sources and making them go to each individual news rooms online may not be the best thing to do. It’d be like sending a LOT of emails every day.

      As against that, if you let them subscribe (in any form – email or RSS or even Tweets!) to an agency’s multi-client newsroom, that may work as a passive news dissemination system, where the agency doesn’t need to push each release individually and media doesn’t have to complain that PR agencies push every single release out to them.

  7. Steven Spenser
    Steven Spenser at | | Reply

    Given that most clients want their
    press release to generate visits to their Web site, to forego posting their
    news release on their own site in favor of having it appear on their PR
    agency’s site makes little sense.

    Journalists are used to sourcing news and other
    research at clients’ own Web sites, where a press release can be presumed to be
    the official word straight from the organization’s mouth, as it were. Releases
    posted at a PR agency’s site would not have that same presumption of official
    credibility, as you have noted in your blog post.

    Any PR practitioner’s publicity goals normally will
    include attempting to maximize the impact, and perceived credibility, of a
    client’s news by disseminating it via, and to, as many third-party sources as
    possible. A practitioner or agency who is content to let the client disseminate
    their press release only via the client’s Web site is not demonstrating very
    much effort–or tactical smarts–on the client’s behalf.

    Sending a release (or an e-mail tease with a link) to
    a variety of online targets, and/or tweeting it and distributing it to other
    sites where it will be noticed, is standard procedure nowadays. Those targets,
    whether online or not, are used to being the recipients of announcements and
    information because they don’t have the staff or resources to source such news
    themselves.

    For a PR agency to attempt, instead, to train such
    online (and traditional media) targets to regularly visit the agency’s own
    client-news portal will be problematic. Because they are paid by clients to
    manipulate the press, PR agencies cannot be presumed to have sufficient
    third-party credibility to be trusted as sources of (client) news at their own
    agency site.

    The cost of setting up and maintaining such agency
    portals might not be prohibitive, but trying to create a brand around such a
    portal will be an expensive and time-consuming proposition for many agencies
    and individuals. The press will be suspicious, since PR practitioners are
    traditionally viewed as disseminators of information to the news media, and not
    as competitors. But, more importantly, why would any reporter, blogger or
    private individual want to visit a PR firm’s site for original client news,
    when they could go to the client’s site instead?

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