Byravee Iyer
Jul 24, 2013

Ninan Chacko discusses PR Newswire's changing role in the multimedia content age

PR Newswire, the 60-year-old company best known for news announcements, is in the process of reinventing itself as a content-marketing platform.

Ninan Chacko
Ninan Chacko

Campaign Asia-Pacific caught up in Singapore with the company's CEO, Ninan Chacko, who named search, social and mobile as the future, as they transcend paid, owned and earned media, and discussed the blurring line between PR and marketing.

PR Newswire’s original business was about transmitting content to journalists. How has business changed?

We really were a wholesale supplier of content to news organisations. It was about targeting distribution. That has significantly changed because of digital and, to a lesser extent, social media. Today, content is a lot richer. While black-and-white text exists, it’s now about multimedia content, including hyperlinked photographs, infographics, and even iphone applications directly reaching people. Increasingly in this day and age, content can also be separated—someone can take a video and use its metadata and write their own content, taking on a life of its own.

While journalists are still an important focus, with the fragmentation of media, it is bloggers and influencers who are important. In short, targeting has moved to being an influencer database and our goal is to grow this database.

What is the future of your business?

It mirrors what’s happening in the media space. Historically, advertising relied on paid, owned and earned media (POE). Search, social and mobile are the future, as they transcend POE media. They have the characteristics of all three. My purpose in describing that is to outline that the media sandbox is much bigger than we thought. It is important that marketing and communications address this bigger sandbox because that is where the audience lives. They don’t reside in distinct silos, which is why integrated marketing is important.

Over half of our content is discovered through search. Part of our goal, is to drive improved organic search visibility. Google's Page Rank is the measure of the importance of a site relative to Google. For instance, ESPN is a nine and PR Newswire is an eight—that is relatively high on the scale because a vast majority of websites are lower than us. The simple act of publishing content through PR newswire elevates content and makes it more visible.

On the social front, we have concluded that Twitter is best suited for our business. Of course, we have a presence everywhere, but we’ve noticed that Twitter works best using curated industry handles for every vertical.

Does this mean the PR business has changed?

Traditionally, when we approached new markets, PR firms looked at us as competitors. At the low end, they have historically assembled people to monitor content manually. Their other function was to send out content to journalists. That is how they thought of their value. But today, PR firms are all about campaign strategy and most agencies see us as a way of extending their reach. As a result, it’s an important source of our revenue. Roughly a third of our business comes from there. The line is blurring between what PR agencies and marketing agencies do. The opportunity for PR today is terrific because the nature of marketing has changed to an interactive, conversational, human-style interaction.

How much of content by professional news channels is driven by PR?

My sense is that it is 50 per cent. It’s different in different markets. In more mature markets where the media is under pressure, they have to source content from outside. However, in regions where media is thriving, the pressure isn’t there and they can afford original content. In vertical media, I think the percentage of content sourced from PR firms is far higher, at about 70 per cent.

You are also focusing on digital syndication

Our most powerful capability is the 10,000-strong syndication network. So for instance, an auto website focused on cars might find it expensive to generate content and may request a subset of our feed. We give it to them for free and in turn get placement on their website. It is the client who pays for the distribution of content. For us, it’s earned media, which is highly credible. Of the 10,000 websites, 60 per cent are in North America. In Asia, we have about 500 websites syndicating PR Newswire’s content, of which 300 are in China, 100 in India, and the rest from across the region. Take the case of Huawei talking about data security, PR Newswire can use its network to amplify the information across all security-related sites, providing the company with instant visibility.

What is your revenue model?

Our revenues are based on being paid by the issuer of the content. For example, Huawei pays a fee for every bit of content we put out on them. The function of pricing on each piece of content we’re disseminating depends on how long it is, how rich it is, or how far it travels. If it goes global, it’s a lot more than if it’s just in China. At the moment, we’re growing at five to seven per cent globally. Last year we posted revenue of US$312 million. We don’t break it down for Asia—but growth is substantially higher because of its smaller base, driven by China.

How big is your client base in Asia?

Of the overall 60,000 clients we have, 3,000 are from Asia. The vast majority of our clients are in the US and Canada. Europe would be our other established market.

How promising are these new platforms in Asia?

It’s tempting to think of Asia as a homogenous market, but Singapore and Hong Kong are much further ahead of Thailand and Indonesia. China is progressing quickly, but the maturity of the market is different across cities. In China, mobile will dominate faster than anywhere in the world because of the huge penetration of smartphones. Contrast that with India, where the media industry is still healthy and alive. Here media will continue to be important, especially in the local vernacular. In Malaysia, social media is nice and people pay attention to it, but it's not even remotely dominant. Japan is also a very traditional market. Despite a huge digital boom, brands are still very conservative in the way they want to communicate. We have to adapt to the realities of each market.

What are your plans for the region?

We are opportunistic and are looking to expand our presence. We have a direct presence in a number of markets, including seven offices in China and offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and India. PR Newswire’s parent company UBM is pretty acquisitive; they have done over 100 acquisitions. PR Newswire has completed 10 acquisitions, mostly small and medium size business. We like buying companies. We’re interested in two things—access to unique markets we’re not in and unique technologies.



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