There’s a lot of mystery surrounding public relations, and that results in a lot of confusion and many, many misconceptions. There are five million services out there that “guarantee results” if you use their wire to distribute your press release. They promise front-page placement on top news sites (The Boston Globe! San Jose Mercury News!), top rankings on search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and email distribution to hundreds of eager journalists. And all for just $75!
Let’s take a moment to cut through the BS, shall we? Generally speaking, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is just that – too good to be true. Truly, this is the case with PR. There’s no magic bullet, there are no real shortcuts, and guess what? You can’t pay $75 for a front page story in The Boston Globe.
Effective PR takes time and elbow grease. While there are some technologies that make the work a little bit easier, success only comes with determination and attention to detail. Here are a few of the shortcuts you might consider – and why they’re not really all that short:
A media database
Media databases are a fantastic way to identify the reporters, editors and publishers who capture the attention of your target audience. However, you can’t simply search for these members of the press, paste them all into a spreadsheet and be done with it. There is no way that list will be 100% accurate and up-to-date. Certainly you can start by downloading a list, but then you have to do your homework. Research each name on the list to (a) make sure that person is still with the outlet and (b) understand the beat that person covers. Read, watch or listen to some of their content. You’ll find some are appropriate for your list, and some aren’t. Some only cover very specific aspects of the industry, so you’ll only want to notify them when your story meets their criteria.
In the end, using a media database makes it faster and easier to build your list, but you’ll still have a lot of work to do. As the name implies, public relations really is about building relationships – not just with the public, but with your target media as well. If you do your homework and really understand the kinds of stories editors are looking for and deliver relevant news, you’ll eventually build relationships so strong, they’ll start coming to you for stories.
A wire service
Using a wire service is a great way to get your press release out to your audience. The benefits of wire distribution are tremendous. Not only will your news reach thousands of news outlets, but done right, wire distribution can be an extremely effective SEO tool. However, as with media databases above, your work cannot end the wire service. Outreach to individual members of the press is critical for earned media success. If you want your story to appear in Forbes, you can’t just expect your wire service to get it to them. You’ll need to find the right editor, search for the right angle for your story, and craft a near-perfect pitch to email to that editor. And then, you’ll probably need to follow up in a few days to get your pitch back to the top of that editor’s inbox. Of course, you’ll probably want your story to appear in a few publications, so you’ll need to duplicate this process (with unique pitches for each editor) a few times!
A Clippings Report
A clippings report from your wire service can be a handy tool, but it doesn’t convey the real value of public relations. Your report may deliver stats including the number of sites on which your release appeared, how many impressions or page views it received, and possibly how many times it’s been downloaded, if a PDF download was made available to readers. Here’s a newsflash for you, though: Most of your (client’s) audience won’t read the press release. They are far more likely to read the story in BusinessWeek or Ad Age that was written by the reporter to whom you sent your perfect pitch. So those clippings reports are all but meaningless. They are not delivering analytics that are meaningful to your client; they don’t report impact to the bottom line. Instead (again), do your homework, and deliver a report for your client that shows:
- Lift in online conversions: Use your analytics to show the impact the release had on website in terms of traffic, time on site, and any other metrics that reflect the impact on your client’s business goals
- Earned media: Set up a Google Alert so you can track which reporters and bloggers have actually written about your client based on your release (assuming they haven’t contacted you for additional information)
- Social Impact: Use your social media monitoring tools to measuring shifts in buzz (via likes, follows and re-tweets) and sentiment (if possible) based on your release
As with anything worthwhile in life, there are few real shortcuts in PR. But you’ll find, if you put in the hours and the effort, PR can be one of the most powerful tools to grow your business.
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