INSIGHT: When pressed, online travel marketers release new tools

By Dennis Schaal

Online marketing tools such as RSS feeds, Google's AdWords and search engine optimization are very effective and deserve the attention they get. But flying under the proverbial radar sometimes, like the Jet Man who winged it at low altitudes across the English Channel last month, is another staple of the online-marketing toolset: the evolving, emailed press release.

If your press release offers a sharp angle or fits into a market trend, it might be viewed online by hundreds of thousands of consumers, shepherding traffic to your website. Otherwise, like the fate of most chest-thumping press releases, it will end up in some editor's email trash bin.

Business Wire distributed a short, interesting press release from Sept. 30 on airfare changes from select city pairs for the week of Sept. 29. Priceline's Flights Index showed, for example, that Chicago-to-Washington fares dropped 14% on average, to $255, while New York-to-Raleigh/Durham, N.C., fares climbed 35%, to $230.

This press release must have hit home with online publishers who assuredly found value in the content as consumers look for deals during the current economic rollercoaster. By Oct. 1, some of the online outlets that published the release included Yahoo Finance, Google Finance, CBS MarketWatch, MSN, Reuters and Lots of eyeballs, for sure.

This press release dramatized the technological evolution of the press release genre. Embedded in the Priceline release, along with accompanying text, were varying image formats. For example, on the Yahoo Finance site users could select View Multimedia Gallery and see Priceline's Flights Index fare-change graphic, replete with spokesman William Shatner in the background palming a "Fare Alert" sign, in thumbnail, preview, low-resolution or high-resolution JPEG formats.

But the press release evolution, of course, is still, well, evolving. Unlike with banner ads and other online advertising, Priceline has no measurement tools available to track precisely how many people downloaded or used the Flights Index images in the press release.

Still, the Web-centric press release, as published by Priceline and countless other savvy marketers, has come a long way from the days it was delivered as an ink-stained fax.

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