I get several emails a week from business owners who want help with their PR.
This is their game plan: write a press release (or pay someone to do it for them), send it out to a bunch of journalists and sit back and wait for their story to appear.
I can see the logic: hand your PR over to someone else, while you get on with doing the things you’re best at. Makes sense, right?
The problem, there is no such thing as a ‘set and forget’ approach to PR. In fact, handing your PR over to someone else could actually hurt your business.
A press release is no guarantee of media coverage
Many business owners I speak to are under the impression that sending out a press release is enough to get media coverage. Sadly, this is not the case - particularly when it comes to the nationals.
Most journalists get hundreds of press releases every day - many of which get deleted, unopened. So unless you’ve got a huge story on your hands (and, realistically, how often does this happen for most business owners?) sending out a press release is a bit like throwing a pack of playing cards in the air and hoping one of them lands in the right place. A couple might, but most won’t. Do you really want to leave your PR to chance?
Journalists love exclusives
While a well-written press release can often be turned into a story for a local or industry title - without you even speaking to a reporter - national publications generally want something that's specifically tailored to their audience.
So if you’re serious about getting press coverage, you need to invest time in researching the publications and programmes you’d like to be featured in and working out what kind of story would be of interest to each. This might mean creating several versions of your press release.
Personally, I wouldn’t send a generic press release to a local or industry title either; your story may get overlooked simply because journalists think everyone else is covering it.
Journalist contact databases aren’t always reliable
Business owners are always asking me whether it’s worth investing in contact databases of journalists - or paying for a distribution service to send out their press release.
Personally, I think these are things you can do without.
In my experience, journalists’ contact databases are not always up-to-date and don’t include the kind of information that can make all the difference to your pitching - that a particular journalist is on maternity leave or on secondment to another desk, for example.
Creating your own database using information from social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn - or just picking up the phone and asking - can be a much more effective strategy.
While you may need to invest a little more time upfront, having your own contact database - which you update regularly - can stop you wasting valuable hours pitching into a void.
Another reason I’m not a fan of contact databases and distribution services is because they encourage lazy PR. If you’re serious about getting media coverage for your business or brand, you need to build relationships with journalists, which is pretty difficult to do if your 'networking' consists of looking up their email addresses on a database. Doing this well means starting conversations - which you can only do if you’re willing to engage with journalists: on social media, at live events or on the phone.
There is more than one kind of press coverage
Press releases are, basically, news stories. So in the days when media outlets mainly published news, they were the perfect way to communicate with journalists.
Today media outlets publish a huge variety of content including interviews, features, ‘first person’ confessionals, listicles, pictures galleries and ‘how to’ articles (to name just a few) - and they’re hungry for free content.
This means there are far more opportunities for you to get media coverage for your business. But if your PR is confined to sending out press releases - you could be missing out on opportunities to get these different kinds media coverage.
Many business owners I speak to assume journalists scan press releases to see whether there is potential for an interview, feature or ‘how to’ article. In reality, they don’t have time, so if you don’t grab their interest immediately, they’ll simply move onto the next one.
To increase your chances of getting media coverage you need to invest time researching the publications or programmes you’d like to get coverage in and send tailored pitches that are aimed at specific ‘slots’ or sections.
Journalists prefer dealing with business owners
Many business owners I speak to are under the impression that journalists prefer dealing with PR specialists - that this will somehow make them seem more professional. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Most journalists would much rather talk to business owners direct; not only is it generally quicker (they don’t need to get anyone’s permission to set up an interview, for starters), no one knows or loves your business like you do - which means they’re bound to get better content.
Journalists remember time-wasters
I often hear people say things like 'oh there's no harm in sending over a press release, just to see.' Actually there can be. If your name keeps popping up on press releases that are way off the mark, when you do have a great idea, you may find journalists have already stopped listening.
'But I don’t have time'
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘but I still don’t have time’ I hear you. But before you hand over your hard-won cash for ‘set and forget’ PR, please consider this:
1.There are people out there who will happily take your money to write you a press release - even though they know it’s not newsworthy.
2.There are companies out there who will charge you to distribute your press release without knowing - or caring - if your story is newsworthy.
3.There are firms out there who will sell you lists of journalists' contacts - but they may not be completely up-to-date or accurate.
Which is why outsourcing your PR - without at least educating yourself in the basics - could cost you a lot more than you gain.
I'm not saying these kind of resources aren't helpful - used correctly, they can be - but if you rely on a 'set and forget' approach, you could be sorely disappointed with the results.
Did you find this post useful? If so, you might also like how to get journalists to write about your business and how to use newsjacking to get media coverage for your business.