You Want Publicity? You’ve Got to Earn it: Public Relations 101

What’s the difference between advertising and PR?  

If I had to sum up the difference between advertising and public relations in one sentence, I’d use the classic saying “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.”  

Paid media, or advertising, is always guaranteed. It’s a space for sale to anyone who can pay the market rate. Earned media, on the other hand, needs to be inspired by products, people, and/or organizations others feel are worthy of chatting about for no charge. The latter is widely considered to have a greater impact on consumer perception of a brand because it is endorsed rather than promoted. In fact, notable publicist Michael Levine estimates that “depending on how you measure and monitor, [earned media] is between 10 times and 100 times more valuable than an advertisement.”  

While there is an element of serendipity involved in securing earned media, you can take control of the process by engaging in professional public relations efforts—no praying needed! By utilizing established protocols to solicit editorial interest in your clients, you can earn editorial coverage. Throw in a little creativity, and you can help make your clients more likely to attract positive media attention. 

Before you add public relations to your broader marketing communications plan, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some basic terms and procedures that both public relations professionals and those who work at news organizations utilize in their daily interactions with each other. Here’s a crash course I’ve put together on some of the most common questions new clients have asked me throughout my career. 

How and when to use a press release, media advisory, and pitch

Just like there are different styles of dress for different occasions, circumstances dictate how you should present your information to the media. Seasoned reporters may not respond to information presented in an unfamiliar or inappropriate format. Some may even be offended that you didn’t take the time to understand and utilize industry standards.  

There are only a few accepted formats for presenting information to the media, including a press release, a media advisory, and a pitch. You’ll want to choose between these three depending on the type of coverage you’re hoping for, your relationship with the reporter(s), and other various factors.  

  • Press Release. These are typically a full news story, complete with quotes and facts. Press releases are often used when broadcasting a development in the business, like a merger or new product launch. Reporters can either use the story as is or as background information for writing their own, more detailed story. 
  • Media Advisory. These are sent to notify the media of an event you’d like them to attend and cover. They should brief, to the point, and contain basic who, what, when, where, and why information. 
  • Pitch. These typically accompany both press releases and media advisories to highlight why the information is of special interest to that reporter. Short pitches can also be sent when there’s an important update or tip for a reporter with whom you’ve interacted recently. 

How to reach out to reporters 

  1. Research. One of the biggest mistakes people make when making their first forays into the world of public relations is wasting a reporter’s time with information they have no interest in. Before you even write your press release or media advisory, do thorough research and isolate reporters with documented interest in the subject matter you are promoting. Reporters are busy people, after all, and they receive more solicitations than they have time for—it’s in your best interest to make their job of promoting you as easy and compelling as possible. 
  2. Write. Once you’ve done your research and made your list of reporters to contact, it’s time to get writing. Both press releases and media advisories have standardized formats you should adhere to. Public relations professionals, just like their reporter counterparts, always follow the most up-to-date Associated Press Style guidelines for things like datelines, abbreviations, and attributions. 
  3. Follow up. You’ve sent your carefully research list of reporters a properly crafted press release or media advisory—now what? It’s time to follow up. The reporters who write articles reaching the largest number of consumers will be tough to get in touch with. Don’t be surprised if it takes three to four follow-up emails or phone calls before you hear feedback from them. Always be polite and allow them ample time to respond.  Do not come across as impatient or pushy. You are at the mercy of the media, not the reverse. 

It’s usually okay to call reporters after you’ve performed outreach via email and you haven’t heard anything for a day or two. However, phone calls are never a first point of contact unless you have a very close relationship with someone. If you do speak to a reporter on the phone, be sure to stay on topic, only highlighting approved points from the press release or media advisory.  

One of the biggest things to keep in mind throughout the entire process of seeking earned media is this: anything you discuss with reporters can make it into their article unless you make it clear that all or part of a conversation is off the record. I’ll tackle this and more in greater detail in a future article on media relations 101, though, so stay tuned!  

Until then, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about public relations.  

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