Every so often I get a note from a client asking “Hey, Sherri, have you seen this?”
“This” is often a too-good-to-be-true offer from a free or super-cheap publicity service. It uses phrases like “target the right people,” “dirt cheap,” “free press,” and suggests that anyone off the street can out-perform a public relations professional. The email subject lines are so misleading, I’m surprised they’re not in violation of the CAN-SPAM act.
Most average small business owners looking to grow their business don’t know that all releases – and all release writers – aren’t created equal. Yet, there are tons of these guys out there. Sigh. They lie. A regular person cannot do a better job than a PR pro just by using this type of service or filling in the blanks on a template. Within the public relations industry, you’ll find specialized types of releases, each with its own particularities. They look similar in format, but they’re not alike in intention. And a pro knows the difference.
PR does not stand for press release. Public relations is way bigger than getting out a press release. Choosing to look at a publicity choice without judgment does not mean to move forward without discernment.
When it comes to press releases, different distribution options perform different jobs. A social media release does something specific; so does a release targeting journalists. A single release to news organizations without a good follow-up pitch campaign probably won’t result in much coverage, and should probably, with rare exception, only be executed as one tactic on a larger overall strategy.
Then there’s the role of the writer. The writer also has to hook the reader or editor in a specific way, or the story won’t fly. It has to be written in inverted pyramid journalism style, optimized for social media and web conventions.
Promises of increased media coverage out of the gate should be considered suspect. No-one can guarantee a story will get picked up by a specific media outlet, such as a newspaper. Too many mitigating factors come into play. It’s more likely your release may make it onto an RSS feed syndicated to a news site. But if you don’t have a relevant story, quotes from solid sources, and a current twist, you won’t make it to the “in” basket to be considered for a great feature article or to comment on breaking news. In some cases, you’ll want to add the old school, built relationship with the publication’s editorial staff. That takes time, and handling. High quality images (at least 300 dpi for print use), or more recently, video, draw additional attention to your quality content.
In every press release now, we have the strategic placement of what I affectionately call the “bells and whistles:” back links, SEO, etc. Press releases have changed. I’ve had a lot of people wax to me about their “great public relations gal,” only to see the release wasn’t electronically submitted, it had no key words, wasn’t optimized for social media, and was uploaded as a pdf file to their site. That was fine 10 years ago if you had a good media list and knew how to use it. Not so much so today.
In some cases, the super-cheap press release services charge for a lot of information that’s available for free. They’re assuming the person looking for the least expensive option instead of the one that works best probably won’t know the difference. Second, the releases they distribute may scatter broad and wide, not targeted as specifically in terms of content, region, etc., as may be desired. Spending a little more on targeted releases (even if you use press releases less frequently) makes sense in terms of heightened ROI, or return on investment. There’s also no review process to confirm the release is optimized to its peak performance level. Most of us who are serious about performance look for the pre-publication review so we can fine-tune our product, followed by high quality, measurable result reporting to gauge success.
If you’re considering investing in a paid press release service, cheaper isn’t always better. I am not saying never. I am saying be sure you know what you’re getting for the money, and what that choice will or will not do in terms of performance. In fact, some paid releases offer little that couldn’t be achieved by triangulating three free releases optimized for social media distribution. It’s a trick I’ve used often to build reputation, explore key word and search returns, or to amp up the bell curve effect for a larger campaign’s effectiveness. I’ve also found that in specific cases small upgrades to free press releases work quite well to enhance a campaign which needs increased results for fewer dollars.
Essentially, content determines what gets noticed on the web. Bottom line? Invest in the compelling storytelling, even if you go with a free or inexpensive release. Because whatever you put out there on the world wide web with your name on it will exist somewhere basically forever. Literally hundreds of free and inexpensive press release services are found online. Some of them are reputable and useful. But if that compelling publicity offer sounds too good to be true, chances are, it is.