A flattering study commissioned by PR Newswire on the use of news releases became the latest salvo in the newswire wars last week and sparked some noteworthy debate online about the effectiveness of releases.

PRN released the results of the study – conducted at its behest by Diagnostics Plus – on Sept. 23 which found that its own releases were picked up more than competitors Business Wire, MarketWire and GlobeNewswire, formerly PrimeNewswire.

The minor backlash and plucky exchange that ensued in the comments section of Todd Defren’s blog show that the study’s promotion could be a good example of a company misplaying its traditional third-party endorsement angle. If this was an independent study (and PRN maintains that it is), PRN would have a much stronger case for its success, but critics were quick to pounce on its funding of the research. That was the rhetorical route taken by Business Wire’s SVP of marketing, Tom Becktold, who posted a lengthy rebuttal of the PRN survey beginning with the observation that “A truly objective survey would firstly not be funded by one of the subjects of the survey.”

[The whole episode also elicited another timely cartoon from guhmshoo.]

To his credit, PRN’s president, Dave Armon, engaged several critics online and defended the survey’s methodology while acknowledging some uncertainties brought up by critics

Adam Parker, who writes a great blog looking at PR through a statistical lens, also has an interesting take on the survey. Parker zeroes in not on the releases that were counted as “pick-ups” but on the ones that weren’t to note that 45% of releases apparently got little or no traction.
“I am amazed that no one seems to have focused on the fact that the largest (?) press release distribution company in the world has just made a “landmark” announcement implicitly stating that 45% of the press releases it sends are never picked up by anyone and that across all four of these services the figure is over 50%. The words elephant and room come to mind.”