The genie is now out of the bottle on a mass scale around something that most content marketers have known for several years running: to be noticed in today’s online news world, you must stand on the back of giants: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Twitter.

UPDATE: Note that Techcrunch, The Next Web, Silicon Alley Insider, GigaOm, AllthingsD and The Associated Press ALL posted based off the fraudulent press release, not just Techcrunch

In case you’ve missed the news, the search, public relations and online journalism industries are all in an uproar over a fake press release that was written and distributed over PRWeb in order to generate a stock boost for the offending company.

At the center of the scandal, ICOA Wireless, a U.S. provider of wired and wireless broadband internet networks, who yesterday distributed a release claiming that the company had been acquired by Google for $400m.

The news was fake, but this didn’t stop Techcrunch and several other online tech news sites (The Next Web, Silicon Alley Insider, GigaOm, AllthingsD and The Associated Press), where the bread and butter is made by acting quickly on exclusives and scooping the news first, from posting on the news. 

Techcrunch has since updated their post with this statement:

We were wrong on this post, for not following up with Google and the other company involved but posting rather than getting waiting on a solid confirmation beforehand from either source. We apologize to our readers, to the companies involved, and we’ll be sure to act in a more responsible manner for future stories, rather than trusting the word of a website that doesn’t necessarily hold itself up to any journalistic standards.

PRWeb has released a very brief statement:

PRWeb transmitted a press release for ICOA that we have since learned was fraudulent. The release was not issued or authorized by ICOA. Vocus reviews all press releases and follows an internal process designed to maintain the integrity of the releases we send out every day. Even with reasonable safeguards identity theft occurs, on occasion, across all of the major wire services. We have removed the fraudulent release and turned the matter over to the proper authorities for further investigation.

Regrettably ICOA’s stock did jump, as Arik Hesseldahl at AllthingsD has pointed out in his post on the matter, and whether or not that has long term ramifications, I’d argue that the genie is now out of the bottle on a mass scale around something that most content marketers have known for several years running: to be noticed in today’s online news world, you must stand on the back of giants.

I’m talking of course about the practice of 'newsjacking', which has been popularized by David Meerman Scott, author of 'The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers'.

If you’re a content marketer and you’re already familiar with the concept you will immediately recognize that this extreme example does not fall into any of the suggested practices that Scott preaches.

Scott is a proponent of ethically using breaking real-time news, to “inject your [brand’s] ideas into a breaking news story and generate tons of media coverage”.

For example, here at Econsultancy we recently released a report on How the Internet can save the High Street and in order to drive interest and traffic to the report, I have been pitching takeaways and creating targeted content (like video) specifically for journalists who will be covering the issue of High Street regeneration and retail this winter in the EU.

Obsession with The Big Four

Is our content marketing practice around the High Street report ethical? By all means. Successful? Not as much as we’d hoped.

The reason…well, it is practically impossible to predict timing and journalist’s needs exactly right  in order to pull off this practice every single time, but another elephant in the room that is driving online news around in circles on the web is today’s journalistic obsession with Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Twitter.

As long as journalists are tied to pageviews as their metric of success, anything having to do with the above mentioned companies will always trump other marketing, technology and social media stories…and this is extremely annoying.

Over at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan has posted a thoughtful piece on PRWeb’s syndication practices and why they need to be changed to protect the integrity of Google News.

While I agree with everything Sullivan is saying in this piece, I don’t agree that the issue is so much the quality of Google News results. Stop and think for a moment if this same tactic had been applied to any other company in the world besides the big four as the acquiring compay. Would something have been posted in a rush on a major technology news site before fact checking could properly be applied? I doubt it.

Searching Google News isn’t even the way that journalists, or you and I come across breaking stories in the first place, it’s social, and PRWeb only remains relevant as a link building tactic which will soon be obsolete anyways.

If you are a content marketer who agrees that breaking the hype cycle around Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Twitter within today’s technology and marketing press would be beneficial to readers, brands, and journalists I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ryan Sommer

Published 27 November, 2012 by Ryan Sommer

Ryan Sommer is web veteran and recovering expat who contributes to Econsultancy on startups, content marketing and new media. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, or add him to your circles on Google+

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Comments (4)


Andrea Cotter

You have written a thoughtful piece about the relatively new "frontier" of journalism. As in the Wild West, rules can be elusive and early adopters such as the big four can dominate mindshare. This is as much about branding as anything.

Your High Street example is a good one. I think it will take a bit more niche specialization on content along with development of recognized experts. A demonstration of brand content expertise in a very big and important story or two could break the current reliance on the big four. Or it will take one or two more big mistakes!

over 5 years ago

Ryan Sommer

Ryan Sommer, Freelance Consultant

Hi Andrea,

Thanks, I couldn't agree more on the dominance of mind share and this all being new to everyone.

Lets continue to publish/tweak/optimise -- but remember (and I'm not saying you wouldn't) to be ethical!!

over 5 years ago


Gina Kellogg

I work as both a writer and a marketer. As a journalist, I honestly have never relied on sites like PR Web for information. I've just seen so much junk that these P.R. sites distribute. Trying to sift through it all for anything truly newsworthy is a total time-suck. So it amazes me that news sites such as the AP could make this kind of mistake! How can they trust anything without verification based on the amount of drivel that gets pumped through?

Then again, as a marketer, I end up relying on these sites because clients insist on having their releases distributed using them. I've tried to explain the importance of developing relationships with the writers and editors who would have interest in the releases and delivering the releases directly to these individuals (among other methods). But clients just don't think their releases have "made it" until they use these sites.

I think it will take some real education of businesses to understand what the most effective methods are in sharing their news. Until then? Ugh. PR Web and others are here to stay, I'm afraid.

over 5 years ago

Ryan Sommer

Ryan Sommer, Freelance Consultant

Thanks for your input Gina. I don't think that all newswires are equally bad, and I know there are many slightly younger entrants into the space (Realwire in the UK for example) who would like to chime in.

We'll most likely be getting some guest posts on the blog to discuss.

over 5 years ago

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