Remembering the "R" in PR

With the ready availability of mass communications, it has become very easy to reach the media on a large scale through email blasts, media alerts, and wire services. But just reaching them isn’t enough – you also have to reach them effectively and catch their attention in order to get coverage. We sometimes focus so much on the “P” – Public(ity) – that we forget that the “R” in PR stands for Relations(hips).

Rather than writing press releases, it is far more powerful to build a relationship with a journalist before you want the coverage. Your goal should be to end up in their contact book as a source: someone they can rely on for responses, facts, contacts and ideas.

When a journalist writes a story in your area of interest, send him or her an email of congratulations and perhaps offer additional story ideas, leads, or resources. Journalists are almost always interested in story ideas relevant to their coverage area.

Remember to focus on the journalist’s needs, not yours. Not to paint them as insensitive, because they’re not, but they really don’t care that you have a book, or a website, or whatever your business is — their primary interest is creating an interesting, helpful and credible story for their audience. When a reporter calls you, of course you should be courteous and helpful. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say you don’t know, but will get back to them with an answer or the name of someone else who can assist. They very much value fast response to their requests. Even more so than most other people, a quick response to their emails carries a lot of weight, because they are always under deadline. The very best way to build a relationship with a journalist is to provide a lead for a hot story, particularly an exposé. These appeal to the crusading spirit of many journalists.

Writing a regular column for your trade publication has tremendous exposure benefits, and will build your relationships with the media community. The media also appreciates invitations to events; they like networking with your friends also! Invite journalists to join a board or committee, ask for advice, ask them to present awards, or to sponsor an event.

The media really appreciate knowing that they have changed your life. If their coverage helped you, let them know. Perhaps you got some new sales leads, or perhaps your mom was simply very proud of you. Either way, you’re building a relationship at a personal level, even if you never meet them face-to-face.

Publish or Perish

Many people think of publishing articles as “publicity”, but not as “networking”. Keep in mind, though, that the three key aspects to increasing the value of your network are the number of connections, credibility, and intimacy (see Make Your Business Click: How to Value and Grow Your Business Relationships Online). Publishing articles dramatically increases both your exposure and your credibility, making it a great networking tool.

If you’ve never written before, you may want to get your feet wet with some local publications or newsletters first, or perhaps by publishing on your own web page or weblog. As you develop your topic, you can start contributing guest articles to sites and e-zines such as About.com, SmallBusiness.com, or niche sites or e-zines for your industry or interest. The beauty of publishing on the web is that you can usually get published within thirty days or less. Once you’ve refined your writing skills, developed your topic, and established some reputation and credentials, you can start looking for freelance opportunities with major publications who will pay you for your submissions.

Those major publications both reach a larger audience and increase your credibility, but that really only helps you if you receive a byline that has your contact information and a one or two line bio, and are not just listed by name. Make sure that’s specified in your contract in advance.

To start finding places to publish, you can start online with Google Directory’s Markets for Writers, which lists a variety of sites with lists of places to publish. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, or if you want a nice, large list all in one place, then check out the 2003 Writer’s Market Online. This 1,100+ page book provides a comprehensive list of both online and print markets plus a one-year subscription to the Writer’s Market web site. Or you can just subscribe to the web site for about $3 a month.

Remember, one of the main advantages of online networking is the ability to be networking 24x7x365. Getting published is one of the most effective ways to create a passive presence that’s attracting connections even when you’re not there.