Hi, I'm Angela Mitchell, the founder of Paranoid PR. I hope
that my answers below provide you with a good foundation for understanding
public relations -- its myths, as well as its realities.
So here we go!
What can a press release really do?
A press release is a conduit between, first, your company or endeavor
and the press. Indirectly, and more importantly, it's also a potential
conduit between yourself and the public -- those potential customers
or consumers you want to be aware of you. This is, of course, provided
that the press finds you interesting enough to talk about.
A press agent or publicist can be an invaluable key in helping to
make that interest germinate into an actual story or feature on
This means that a press release (or several, over a period of several
months) can increase the public's recognition and perception of
you (or your company) and its success. (To put it bluntly, whether
or not that success has actually yet been achieved.) Enough press
successes and press coverage on your behalf, and PR can literally
transform your business.
So often in business, it's the perception, not the reality, that
counts. PR plays on this principle: as the perception of failure
often equals actual business failure, conversely the mere perception
of success, solidity, or affluence can help to take your company
to the next level, and make that appearance a reality.
There are other benefits as well. Thinking of changing careers or
moving on once you've built your company? PR
success can even (and quite often) generate a lucrative purchase
offer from another company. A company that heard about you (and
your success) through the power of PR. It's heady stuff.
What can a press release not do?
I often tell potential clients that a publicist is a great ship,
but a lousy life preserver. It will get you where you need to go,
but it won't save you if you're already in the water.
PR is just not a good quick fix. If you can't pay your employees,
your rent, or your light bill, it's probably not a good time for
a publicist. This doesn't mean your situation isn't salvageable,
or that a well-placed article won't transform things for you --
it just means that you should probably do the PR yourself. (Or call
in the chips with some longtime
The main reason for this is that PR takes time. It is, in most cases,
not something that provides an immediate return on investment. Most
large PR firms nowadays, for instance, require campaign commitments
(and deposits) of at least six months of support. Which is why so
many look unfavorably on the comment, "I need PR but I don't
have a lot of money." The response is too often, "then
you're not ready for PR."
While we try to balance this attitude somewhat with our own clients,
and actually treasure our work with many small companies or unique
endeavors, this attitude on the part of larger firms is actually
not due to greed so much as common sense. Public relations involves
repetition and familiarity. It's about the gradual building of a
foundation of rapport between yourself and the reporters who might
be interested in covering you. This means that your first press
release may generate zero interest. And your second. And your third.
If you're lucky, at that point, and following some conversations
with your publicist, the reporter does recognize your name, and
begins to notice your releases. But the news still seems to fall
on deaf ears. Then perhaps the fourth release goes out, and hits
a reporter in just the right way, and strikes a timely nerve. He
or she thinks, "This is someone I may want to write about."
And then comes the fifth press release -- and it's hot, timely,
and exciting. A must-cover. And there's your first major feature
for your news portfolio. And it only took... three, four, five months.
PR is fun, exciting, and (albeit rarely) even a bit glamorous. But
it's also time-consuming and tedious, involving several activities
which must be repeated over and over again to gain a desirable result.
This doesn't make it hopeless -- just challenging. There is a reason
PR firms charge the bucks they do.
How do I choose a PR firm?
First, evaluate your current financial situation to decide whether
a firm is even the realistic way to go. Can you afford at least
three (but preferably six) months of low-level PR support from a
firm or independent publicist? And can you do so without financial
harm to your company, self, or employees?
If the answer is no, then you still have plenty of options available
to you. (Please see our helpful links section farther on...)
If the answer is yes, then remember that what you're really looking
for in a firm is a kind of translator. Do you feel comfortable in
talking with the publicists or account reps about your goals and
accomplishments? Do they seem to understand your personality (or
your company's)? Do their materials demonstrate an ability to 'morph'
themselves, adapting tones and approaches to better reflect the
personality of the client?
If your budget is in hand, and the answer to these questions is
yes, then you're well on your way to finding the right firm for
How do I decide on whether to choose a large firm (versus a smaller,
boutique operation) for support?
We bow down to the biggest and best PR firms -- they got that way
for a reason. Large firms are more expensive, but at the same time,
they do offer formidable resources and manpower at a level not always
possible for us little guys. If your budget allows it, and if you
find a large firm with whom you feel comfortable, I can't recommend
them strongly enough. A large and established PR firm is the nearest
thing this field offers to "a sure thing" for coverage.
Which isn't to say that the little guys are an automatic rule-out.
Again, what it must come down to is budget and comfort. Don't be
afraid to go through an interview process, to ask for written proposals
and further conversations. What's most important is that you be
able to afford the level of support you find -- and that you feel
comfortable with (and believe in) the team you choose. Good luck!
Isn't a local firm the best option for me?
Not necessarily -- especially in today's era of the successful cybercommute.
Any firm that has a firm grasp on today's technology can promote
you from afar, utilizing telephone, Internet, and other teleconferencing
tools to make you feel they are only seconds away.
And not to toot our own horn here at Paranoid, but as a successful
remote publicist myself, I actually prefer to work remotely, as
this enables me to spend most of my time on the actual promotion
of my clients (instead of stuck in traffic).
The Internet is a powerful tool for us, and among its many gifts
is its ability to allow us to receive our clients' revisions, feedback,
and ideas in their own words. It also allows us to exchange ideas
and multiple document revisions utilizing a single file.
Phone meetings are also a valuable and overlooked tool, as they
allow remote publicists to transcribe your thoughts immediately,
to concentrate only on your words and goals, and to cut right to
the chase. They also tend to be shorter and more succinct than most
in-person meetings (and are a more cost-effective use of time and
money). I've worked with clients for four or five years whom I have
yet to meet face to face.
So just remember -- you don't have to work locally to find a PR
firm or publicist that's right for you.
The most important thing is that they fit within your needs from
a budgetary and personality standpoint, and that they demonstrate
success and longevity at what they do. Once you have those things,
you're home free.
I hired a firm a few months ago. How do I know whether a firm's
efforts are actually working for me?
My recommendation is that you choose a firm or independent publicist
that's big on responsiveness. You should always feel informed --
even it's too early for the press to be happening yet.
If you're ever worried that your account is floating around in the
ether, untended, don't be afraid to ask for more information or
The best advice I can give on this is to be proactive about responsiveness
from Day 1 (and before). Get a proposal in writing before you choose,
and take careful note of what the firm promises to do, and when
they promise to do it. Ask for them to stay in touch.
While, as I mentioned, PR does take time, this doesn't mean that
three months should go by while you wonder what happened to your
publicist. Ask for regular meetings (in person or via telephone),
or for regular fax or e-mail updates.
A good publicist should be able to make you feel confident about
the work that's being done, even when you can't see it, and should
be able to provide a consistent and ongoing account of the efforts
being expended on your behalf.
As I already mentioned, however, PR does take time.
So if three months go by without an actual feature in print, don't
panic. As long as you have ample visual evidence of what's being
done (and as long as you're happy with the quality of the work you
see), the press and visibility will almost always surely follow.
However, if you reach the six-month mark without a single nibble
(and without a single prospective commitment to upcoming coverage),
you should (1) reevaluate your PR goals, (2) rethink the demographic
you're currently trying to reach, and (3) rethink your choice of
When should I consider the use of a wire service?
Wire services are great things when used wisely (we use them constantly
on retainer and per project). At three to five hundred dollars per
release sendout (you do the work yourself), a wire service can be
a cost-effective alternative for companies or individuals wishing
to send out those releases and simply wish for results. There is
no materials creation, and there are no follow-ups by publicists,
no personalized pitches, etc. It's pretty basic, bare-bones stuff.
But wire services can be surprisingly effective animals. I especially
recommend them for those of you who already have an in-house publicist
or PR exec, but who doesn't seem to have the contacts you need.
That way, your person can create what you need and manage materials
send-out, using the wire service to take your news down the home
But be warned -- it's easy to get addicted to those wire sends,
and to lose track as the dollar signs add up. If you're planning
to send more than one release per month, your ultimate best bet
is probably to invest just a few more dollars into an actual publicist
-- or into building a good press list yourself.
How do I choose the right wire service for me?
We love wire services and occasionally sandwich wire
sends with those we accomplish ourselves, with our own extensive
databases. While my own professional affiliation is with PR Newswire
(www.prnewswire.com), I also recommend Business Wire, Internet Wire,
and Investor's Newswire. PR Newswire offers more diverse news --
lifestyle or arts news as well as business items, while Business
Wire tends to target big-picture demographics such as Wall Street,
Washington, financial monthlies, and beyond. Don't be afraid to
ask your representatives at these wire services for samples of potential
contacts, as well as for explanations whenever something seems unclear.
Some Wire Service Contacts to Get You Started:
PR Newswire headquarters:
810 7th Ave., 35th floor
New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212-596-1500 or 800-832-5522
(NOTE: for info on services use http://about.businesswire.com/)
Headquarters: San Francisco
44 Montgomery Street, 39th Floor
San Francisco, California 94104
Phone: 415/986-4422, 800/227-0845
BW Headquarters: New York
40 East 52nd Street, 19th Floor
New York, New York 10022
Phone: 212/752-9600, 800/221-2462
Main Phone: 800-77-iWire (310-846-3600)
5757 West Century Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
489 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10017
530 Oak Grove Avenue
Menlo Park, CA 94025
Daily (Investor's Newswire)
Newswire Services & Queries Phone: 310-448-6711
Newswire Services & Queries E-Mail:
New York, NY
Phone: 212-318-2300 or 800-448-5678
Firms and wires are too expensive. Can I do my own press releases?
Sure you can. In composition, follow the time-honored "inverted
pyramid" formula, with the most important info first, getting
more and more general from there on down -- and then be sure you
use good grammar, spell check, and answer the basic "who, what,
where, when, and why?" questions.
Your press release should do two things successfully:
It should read easily and well, and it should also provide concise
and organized information on the news you are trying to release.
The hard part of the job ahead of you is the task
of building your own press database. To get you started, we've got
a few favorites listed here. The easiest way to figure out who you
need to talk to is to first ask yourself who you want to be reading
about you. If your potential demographic includes music-loving,
hip-to-the-max twentysomethings, then contacts like Rolling Stone,
Maxim, Salon.com, Spin, and your local or national "alt mags"
will probably be the way to go.
If, on the other hand, you're promoting a new software
tool for investors, you'll want to build more conservative press
contacts which include such giants as Forbes, The Wall Street Journal,
Time, The New York Times, as well as technical mainstays like Fast
Company, Wired, ZDNet, plus your local papers and Business Journal
affiliates. The list is the hard part, so when you've built one
-- worship it. ;-)
Make copies and store them off-site. You can never
have too many backups. Contacts can take years to build and cultivate,
so guard those puppies like gold.
What do reporters want from my press materials? What do they
Reporters are underpaid and overworked, and often
obtain too much of their daily nutrition from the vending machine
down the hall. This can make them irritable. Therefore, please don't
plague them with typos and misspelled words, or with wrinkled, coffee-stained
They'd love to see your press release formatted in
basic press release format (double-spaced, with the words "FOR
IMMEDIATE RELEASE" at top left, preferably no more than two
or three pages, and with three centered hash marks to denote the
end of the release). If you send reporters sloppy or messy releases,
you are telling them something beyond the text of your release:
That you're not professional enough for them to even think about
writing about you.
Reporters also avoid people who call six times a day
(no matter how professional they are). Unless you're the press secretary
to a celebrity (or a major political power), you simply don't deserve
to take up that much of their day. So desist, no matter how itchy
your fingers are. They heard you the first time.
And please, if you actually get 'em on the phone,
don't yell at a reporter because he or she hasn't covered you yet.
It's the one surefire way to ensure that you will never, ever achieve
Added Extra Super-duper Press Tip: Sending out a media kit?
Or did you actually have a great conversation with a media contact?
Send a thank-you note -- and coffee, a box of cookies, or a tin
of candies. Even a goofy toy. At my magazine, we adored the PR firms
that sent us cookies or coffee, and often subsisted for days on
nothing but peanut brittle or chocolate chip cookies. It was a frightening
but rewarding experience. I'm not saying the press can be bribed
to write about you with cookies or toys. Look at it instead from
the point of view that you're forging a potentially lucrative and
helpful business relationship that may last years -- treat them
accordingly. And everybody likes cookies. ;-)
How do I get started in building my own press list?
It's something of a well-kept secret, but frankly,
the World Wide Web was a godsend to us publicists. Gone were the
shelves and shelves of press kits and editorial schedules. Gone
were the constant phone calls to ensure that contact information
remained constant. Instead -- wonderfully -- everything is now available
online, at the click of a mouse! Your favorite search engine, therefore,
is a great place to start in assembling your list. Use a descriptive
term for your demographic, whether it's technology, aviation, or
music -- then combine these terms with standard PR search keywords
like "newspaper," "network," "magazine,"
"TV/Radio Station," etc., and your list will be growing
before you know it.
As you start to assemble those contacts, store them
in your favorite database or contact manager. As long as it enables
you to store names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses/URLs,
there's really no wrong program. Use the one you're most comfortable
with. For me it's always been either Starfish's Sidekick, or, secondarily,
Act! from Symantec. Microsoft Outlook has also become increasingly
popular over the past few years. Whatever works, use it. Just don't
lose the information you gather.
And back it up, back it up, back it up.
I've sent out several press releases. Why isn't anyone writing
Remember, PR is not advertising. Want a guarantee
that you'll have a full page of coverage in The New York Times tomorrow?
Buy an ad. It's the only way you'll ever be sure -- unless you happen
to have an aunt or uncle who's an editor there. And even then, you
never know what the newsday will be like.
PR simply works differently. It's a nebulous world,
the world of press coverage -- it's not paid for (at least not in
the obvious sense), it's a courtesy, it's "free," something
media contacts do simply out of the goodness of their hearts, and
because they need to put something on the page. And, most of all,
because they think your news will be of value to their readers.
Therefore, if you're down on your luck in getting
coverage, don't explode. Instead, reevaluate what you're sending
-- or even (better yet) ask a friendly reporter or two what they
are looking for. Be honest, tell them you don't seem to be getting
coverage despite what you feel is a good story, and ask them what
would make your news a better fit for them. Begin to tailor your
press toward that -- and eventually you'll succeed.
And hey, don't forget to thank the reporter for his
or her input with a real note -- and maybe with a few cookies or
coffee to say thanks.
Where to go from here...
Still stymied, or want more input?
Buy the Book Visit BN.com
for several great books on doing your own PR, or, if you like what
you've read of my input, please feel free to query me for an advance
copy of my book Public Relations for Absolutely Everyone.
Written in plain English, and without a lot of PR
hocus-pocus, the book includes in-depth answers to approaching a
campaign for almost any business or creative endeavor! The book
even includes a huge "starter database" appendix encompassing
hundreds of contacts nationwide to get you started as quickly as
possible on your own PR!
To order Public Relations for Absolutely Everyone,
please call (904) 982-8043, or e-mail Sales@paranoidpr.com.
Purchase price is $59.95 for delivery of an advance bound copy,
or $69.95 for the addition of the PR database on an accompanying
CD-ROM (plus $3.50 for Priority mail shipping and handling). We
personal check, or money order, and will ship promptly upon receipt
of your payment.
The book is available in print bound version or as an instantly
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