Using Analytics to Get Your Press Releases Read

By Gabrielle Perret

Do you know who is reading your press releases? How can you tell if your release has done well? What open rate do you consider successful? If you’re fuzzy on the answers to these questions, it might be time to do a quick audit of your distribution lists, develop/review your analytics, and make strategic decisions.

Here are ways you can develop meaningful analytics (using the data from your release/newsletter software) to measure the success of your releases.

First, review your available analytics.

What data is offered by the software you use to send news releases? It probably gives you the basics, like open and click rates and some detail on who opened your release. These are the basics you need to create analytics to develop a baseline and then measure the success of your releases.

Next, separate out your distribution lists.

When you separate news outlets, general public, and employees into their own distributions lists, you can better understand and measure the success of your open rates. Different groups can have different open rates. For example, it may be common for your staff to have a high open rate (like 50%) for press releases because your latest, greatest agency news always interests them! But not all news outlets will open your releases. National level, industry, and local news outlets may all have different open rates than employees (i.e. not as high as 50%!) so you would want to separate them out so it doesn’t skew your rates.

Consider also creating a separate “swing list” that you update with niche outlets that may be interested in the topic of a specific release but not your releases in general. For example, if you are sending a release on news related to an important technology acquisition you may want to have a swing list where you only include technology and acquisition reporters. However, if your next press release that has nothing to do with a technology acquisition, you would not want to include these same reporters, so you would remove them off your swing list and update with whoever is now relevant.

Further, there are two other distribution lists you will want to keep separate so they don’t affect the open rate for news outlets (your primary target):

1.    If you have an option on your public website for the general public to sign up for press releases, make sure this is a separate list

2.    If staff sign up for press releases to keep in the loop of agency news, keep them separate also.  

Now, develop baselines for each list.  

Keep track of the analytics for each of the distribution lists for your releases over the next several months so you can establish a baseline. This will be helpful to gauge what news releases were most successful in each category of recipients and which releases could have done better.  

Continue to track your reporters and outlets.

There are two great sources of data for outlets and reporters. Start a spreadsheet to keep track of:

1.    Who sends inquiries to your press box? If you track daily press inquiries, it may be a simple thing to add a column to tracker reporters’ email addresses.

2.    Who actively reports on your agency? You may already track this in analysis of your daily news clippings.

Keep email addresses for these reporters and periodically update your distribution lists. Reporters change outlets and outlets get new reporters, so it’s important to build your distribution list on current information!

Deep dive into your coverage on each release

Wait a couple of days after your release and then look at your open rates. Who opened your release? What outlets then put out an article on it? When you track these stats over time you can get a good feel for the baseline open rate for each of your distribution lists, and then be able to identify when a press release has performed well.

Next steps and more to think about

Add links and graphics

Once you get to know your open rate, you can also sneak in some other analytics by adding links. Then when you review your open rates, have a look to see if reporters engaged with the content. Who clicked on what links?

Try adding graphics to your releases and see if that impacts the engagement on your release. Do press releases with graphics get more clicks?

Keep in mind these won’t help you get your recipients to open the email, but it will help you measure the interest of those who did open it.

What is a good open rate?

According to a few industry standards, a good open rate for press releases is about 25%. How does this compare to what you see in each category?

What to do when a release has low interest

When a press release has a below average interest (from your baseline) from reporters, try sending a follow up personal email to relevant reporters who didn’t report on it on the initial release. They may have missed the news! Limit yourself to one follow up email. A personal email is likely to be opened and read, where a release email with RELEASE: in the subject line may be skipped when they have a full inbox.

If that doesn’t whip up some stories, give your release a critical read through. Was the subject wordy or too technical? Some releases may seem uninteresting just from the subject line and how can you blame your audience for skipping them over! Was the release written in plain language? If you can’t understand what the news is and how it relates to a reporter’s audience from the subject line, don’t expect a high open rate.

Keep your expectations realistic as well. Some niche, government-specific topics may not appeal to national outlets, or it may not be realistic to expect all industry to pick up the story. For example, if your subject is on acquisition, don’t expect the tech papers to pick it up unless its about tech!

Also, think about your timing before you hit send. Did you send before a holiday weekend or when there was other high profile news buzzing around? Sometimes this can’t be helped because management wants their news released on a certain day or even just asap. However, once you have established a baseline you can use this data to see how the timing of your release impacts open rates. You could even use this to support your argument for strategizing your release timing in the future (if timing has a significant impact!).

End Result

Having analytics, like baselines, behind your press releases gives you an understanding of how well your releases are doing and, along with tracking articles, can give you assurance that your open rate goals are realistic and that releases are being read by the intended audience!