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In the past I did the same thing and the site fell down 5 pages. Google looks at so many thing and is always making changes. One day something is bad the next it is good and vice versa.
I have tested all kinds of linking strategies and I have yet to see something put a permanent penalty. I have never tried the thousands of links for very off topic though or from bad sites.
Press releases can help you if done correctly. Make sure that whoever does your press release has experience in getting high quality ratings from the pr distribution companies. Do it on a Monday and pay to be in the top 3. Make sure it is a real press release that somebody will pick up. If you don't you will just get tons of links that have very little value. Your goal is to get a person to read it and then give you a link. Don't just write a press release about a new product or service or some minor award you got. Make it interesting. Have unique information with some graphs. Provide interesting data. News people love stats.
[edited by: jatar_k at 7:15 pm (utc) on Feb 11, 2010]
[edit reason] no specifics thanks [/edit]