One of the reasons for creating this blog was to provide a way of covering changes in the way that the press and the PR industry interact. There are a lot of PR-related blogs talking about the death of the emailed or posted press release now that RSS has arrived on the scene. But not many from the journalist's side of the fence, so this is my two pen'orth on the subject.
I have been experimenting with RSS for a couple of weeks now, so I'm well behind journalists such as Danny Bradbury in that regard, who has been using the syndication system for some time according to his web journal. Bradbury has noted one downside of using RSS: it's apparent one-size-fits-all nature. Most RSS feeds currently come from US-based operations and a common complaint among UK-based hacks is that US releases are well-padded drivel.
Some PRs in the UK like to do a bit of surgery on the releases before they send them out, whether by post, fax or email. Stuart Bruce, apparently, is one of them. Some simply don't bother to relay all of them on the basis that a good many press releases are drivel, no matter where they come from. They only process the important ones, although PR companies differ on what gets classed as important. Often, releases that are useful to me (but are bad news from the client's point of view) often don't get sent out whereas the releases about incremental improvements to obscure products are given the once over and then sent out with covering notes.
This pre-editing process means that it can take several days for a UK version of a release to appear after it has gone out on the wires in the US, although some manage to get them out at roughly the same time. Personally, the way make sure I don't miss things is to simply use the US RSS feeds and stop worrying about the padding.
But, doesn't this make the role of the UK PR for a global company a bit superfluous? I, and others, simply have to pull the relevant feeds into an aggregator and the local PRs are then out of luck.
Yes and no. The problem with RSS is that it was never designed for distributing press releases, although there is nothing in the protocol that stops anybody for using it for that purpose. The RSS model assumes that the audience for written material is larger than the number of sources, at least within a given area of interest. With press releases aimed at the media, it is the other way round. You have a large number of sources trying to aim at a small audience, the journalists working on the various news media. Those outlets will serve a larger set of readers, often providing RSS feeds from their own websites.
Potentially, journalists could end up dealing with hundreds or even thousands of individual RSS feeds to be able to cover all of the areas and companies that they need to. This is, of course, assuming that a lot more organisations pull their respective fingers out and actually do something about RSS. The reality is that the wire services such as Businesswire and PRNewswire will act as sources for much of the material that arrives by RSS feed, at least in the short term. That cuts down dramatically on the number of feeds that I need to subscribe to at the moment. The good thing about RSS is the aggregator. I use NetNewsWire and that does a pretty good job of letting me organise the feeds I need to deal with in a useful way. I have a folder that contains all the press release sources that I have identified so far. It basically acts as a super-newswire.
In there today is Businesswire's RSS feed, the one from Sourcewire, and a smattering of large technology companies such as Intel. I haven't added PRNewswire as yet. That is not because PRNewswire doesn't have an RSS feed. It is because the one it offers to hacks today is the entire output of the wire. Businesswire provides a personalised feed based on my preferences. PRNewswire has said it has a personalised system in beta, but until I can gain access to that or the company goes live with the service, the PRNewswire RSS feed is useless to me.
This is what will solve the problem for the local PRs, as long as they are able to embrace the necessary technology quickly enough. Most companies active in this field today are only providing one RSS feed for everything, from financial releases through to the most obscure product releases. Multiply that by a few hundred companies and you have something far worse than the email distribution we rely on today. For RSS to be a genuinely useful tool for journalists, PR companies and their clients will need to offer personalised RSS feeds in the same way Businesswire does now: customised through a web interface.
With personalised feeds, local PRs can continue to do what they are doing now and make use of RSS as an alternative distribution scheme to email. They will also get much better feedback on the material journalists actually want, because they will be able to see which options they select on the web form.