I can honestly say that over the past 22 years, none of these providers has ever delivered a consistently good product.
Once upon a time, Bacon's offered phone book size directories that were updated weekly with sheets of paper you would cut up and tape into your directory. Eventually, this process became too expensive and the updates came less and less frequently. And so, while the directories provided a fairly accurate database of media outlets (magazines, newspapers, radio and TV) and contact information (addresses and telephone numbers), they were rarely if ever accurate in terms of who the contacts were.
Likewise, clipping services provided a somewhat questionable service that caught as much coverage as it could, but often missed placements while also sending numerous placements that were not yours. Then, of course was the billing for endless pages of articles that had nothing to do with your client, but you were nonetheless billed for, simply because your client was mentioned in an industry round up article.
Today, the industry is all "wired" and fully capable of sucking at a much higher level.
For example, our firm has been operating on Macs for 22 years and as of 2008, Cision finally claims to have a new service that is actually compatible with Macs. Of course they've said this before and were wrong. Burrelle's on the other hand is compatible with Macs. Unfortunately, they are so incredibly incompetent in terms of keeping up with changes in the media, that we might as well be chiseling into stone blocks.
Granted, publicity and media relations are only a small part of our business and generally represent only one element of our clients' marketing programs, so maybe I shouldn't get so disgruntled about this. But I am furious. When did it become acceptable to charge agencies and organizations for crap services? I am not okay with it. We record hundreds of hours each year dealing with the incompetence of these services. Services which, oh by the way, continue to increase in cost each year like they were fueled by crude oil.
One final note: I should mention that the customer service at both organizations is exceptional. Customer and account service personnel readily acknowledge the limitations and frustrations of their services and bend over backwards apologizing. Unfortunately, there is no excuse for bad service, even when it is accompanied by good customer service (kind of like a good waiter serving a bad meal).