Good point,The thing with this client is they wanted to mitigate the risk of removing a large number of links so high quality link building was moved in early before keyword research. So it is on a case by case basis, but defiantly a good point for most new clients I work with who do not have pre-existing issues you want to do Keyword Research very early in the process. 
In short, press request alerts are requests for sources of information from journalists. Let's say you're a journalist putting together an article on wearable technology for The Guardian. Perhaps you need a quote from an industry expert or some products that you can feature within your article? Well, all you need to do is send out a request to a press service and you can wait for someone to get back to you.
Remember when you used to rely solely on search engines for traffic? Remember when you worked on SEO and lived and died by your placement in Google? Were you #1? Assured success. Well, okay, maybe not assured. Success only came if the keywords were relevant to your site users, but it was the only real roadmap to generating site traffic and revenue.
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