A recent story in The Wall Street Journal convinced me that the stuff I've been doing to pay my rent all these years really works.

"Stop the press [releases]! Internet firms live to churn them out," the headline screamed. "Investors gobble them up."

The impact of publicity on stock prices was clear 20 years ago, when we issued press releases announcing any old offline company's earnings with a phone on each ear, simultaneously giving the news to Dow Jones and Reuters. Also, puff pieces--executive or company profiles in Business Week, Fortune or Forbes--were considered a home run (still are!) and regularly reprinted for distribution to investors and the guys at the club. And stock prices would move up, down and sideways. Even for a company that manufactured slide rules.

The new, new thing is really serious. The impact of publicity on the Internet is fast and global--instantaneously everywhere. I first noticed it in action three years ago when a client called to complain that its competitor was getting tons of publicity and the client wasn't. I was stunned, because we had just done a competitive analysis showing our client had dramatically more publicity.


However, this exec was not referring to "journalism" but press releases posted on paid newswire Web sites. It took a while to sink in, but corporate execs and shareholders were placing almost as much emphasis on paid postings as those in news media and, yes, the paid postings affected stock price every bit as much as real news. Maybe more.

That was the beginning. When they've tasted steak it's tough to go back to hamburger. Quarterly press releases became monthly ones, then weekly ones, as hyperactive insiders anxiously tapped out their stock symbols every 15 minutes on their desktop terminal to calculate the value of their options.

Currently, as it has for many years, the Securities and Exchange Commission requires full disclosure to include at a minimum Dow Jones and Reuters--with the news expected to run on the ticker fairly quickly. However the tremendous number of companies going public in the past decade has outpaced the ability of Dow Jones and Reuters to post their information in a timely manner. Bulletin board stocks don't have a chance. At certain times even exchange-listed companies can wait hours to see their news cross the wire.

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