August 1, 2016
Talking Points

3 assumptions that get in the way of good PR

Jason Simms

Since editorial coverage and advertisements appear next to each other in print, online and on the airwaves, public relations is often thought of as akin to advertising. But PR is more similar to branding. Your brand is the story you tell about yourself. PR is the story told about you.

Press coverage is a partnership between your organization and a media outlet to serve their audience. This mindset is the key to good PR, but it's easy to get off track. Avoiding these common assumptions can help your organization reach a wider audience and drive engagement via the press.

Assumption: The press release should summarize our story.

Reality: You need to offer a personal invitation to a story.

Companies often wonder why their press releases fail to generate coverage. Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day. A press release is likely to be ignored unless the headline tells a story.

Consider a hypothetical example: "Company X releases new safer chainsaw" vs. "Man injured by chainsaw builds safer one." Which would you be more likely to open? The content could be exactly the same, but the broader, blander headline hides what makes the story stand out.

An eye-opening stat or striking photo can also help a journalist grasp the story you're proposing quickly. If you have an asset like this, make sure it's mentioned early in your email.

Press releases have a role — they come up in search results and some journalists like to work from them — but the one-size-fits-all model is flawed. The New York Times has a very different readership and mission than a regional business journal. A personalized pitch introducing or linking to your press release is more likely to produce results.

Assumption: Start with the message you want to put out.

Reality: This isn't all about you. It's a partnership.

PR campaigns often begin with a meeting in which someone asks the question, "What is the message we want to put out?" A better question to be asking is, "What need does the press have that we can fill?"

Read, watch or listen to the outlet you want to be in and imagine what headline you could give them. Get down to the essence of the outlet. Why does it exist? What does it do for its audience? How can you help?

The answer may be completely different from the rest of your marketing and it may be very specific. Once you find the overlap between what you do and what the media outlet does, you can contact the outlet in their language and demonstrate familiarity. By illustrating how your company can contribute to the outlet, you open the door to a story that will include broader information about what your company does. But you can't start there. You have to start with the common ground.

Assumption: Press coverage will produce immediate business.

Reality: The greatest value of press coverage is realized over time.

Media coverage provides value to an organization both in short-term promotion — reaching the audience of the outlet upon publication — and by conferring lasting credibility. Except in extreme cases, such as appearing on Ellen or BuzzFeed, the short-term promotion value of press coverage can be fairly limited. This is primarily because the press doesn't exist to promote, it exists to inform.

It is precisely this objective nature that gives press coverage the powerful ability to inspire enduring trust. A media outlet, which exists purely to serve its readers, has validated that what you do is important. That means a lot to potential customers researching you, even years later. It's up to you, however, to take full advantage of it. When integrated with your website, social media, email marketing, printed materials, etc., press coverage permanently changes how your company is viewed by those who matter to you.

Jason Simms is a public relations strategist. His firm, Simms PR, is based in Deep River.

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