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Back in July 2018, I wrote several press releases for an HVAC firm and distributed them using the online news distribution service eReleases. As I advised the company, their “news” was not groundbreaking or timely per se. However, I did know that the releases would help them get traffic to their brand-new website and start to position them as credible subject matter experts.

In short order, a regional business publication saw one of their releases and decided to do a short feature on the company. That was nice, though I knew the company was hoping for more. The releases also garnered a lot of “online hits,” but nothing spectacular. I cautioned them to give it time, but they stopped all PR efforts after just a few months.

Fast forward to early February 2019. One morning, I woke to find an email that had been forwarded to me from eReleases. An editor at a respected, national building publication was doing a story on HVAC systems and wanted to interview my client. So after more than six months since sending the press releases, they were finally getting the type of attention they craved…which could certainly lead to even more media coverage.

Why Publicity Is Still Valuable…Yet Misunderstood

Public relations is often confused with publicity—or getting your company’s information “covered” by a third-party outlet such as a newspaper, magazine, TV station or blog.

Publicity is just one of many components of public relations—albeit a very important component. In fact, many companies still appreciate the value of positive media coverage for their products and services. (I won’t digress to talk about the implications of “negative” coverage here.)

I’ve worked with hundreds of companies as a PR advisor during my career. And there are few common misperceptions I hear about publicity that still surprise me.

Misperception No. 1: You Can Control When and Where Coverage Appears

By its very nature, publicity results in editorial coverage. That means a particular news outlet determines when they will (or will not) cover something, and how they will present the information. You’re can’t dictate terms of the coverage, unlike if you were paying for a print advertisement.

I once had an uninformed executive demand, “Make sure the local paper prints this next Tuesday on the front page of the business section!” I had to gently advise him that traditional newspapers don’t operate like that. Another client wanted me to ensure him they would only get “positive” news coverage.

First, you need to understand journalists are trained to ask a lot of questions, verify and corroborate facts to the best of their ability, and attempt to present balanced viewpoints. Journalists are there to do a job, not necessarily make you look good—especially if your company has done something questionable in the first place.

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Second, you also must respect the typical boundaries between paid advertising and editorial coverage, whether it’s print, online or broadcast. Making demands for the time, length of coverage, tone, etc. are likely to backfire. As the old saying went about newspapers in their heyday, “You don’t argue with someone who prints ink by the barrel.” Multiply that sentiment by 10,000 with online outlets that can make negative or buzzworthy news go viral in minutes.

Misperception No. 2: Coverage Is Instantaneous

Thanks to reliable online distribution services such as eReleases (who works in partnership with PRNewswire), BusinessWire and others, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to send a press release out to thousands of media outlets.

However, many companies I’ve worked with have a misunderstanding of what “coverage” may result from such releases. In my experience, many of the placements or “hits” that result from online releases appear in seldom-scene and obscure online databases. For most companies, it’s rare for an online release to trigger an avalanche of “instant” coverage by mainstream media outlets.

There is some evidence that over time, even those online-only “hits” can boost search engine traffic to the company’s website. That’s one of the biggest reasons I think these online news services still exist.

But I have seen first-hand that even “old” online press releases can result in legitimate coverage, months after they are distributed.

One key thing to know is that journalists—like the editor who contacted me for the HVAC story—can sign up for private access to databases like PRNewswire’s. When reporters are looking for experts, they are more likely to find readily-available people to reach out to, relevant to the topic they are covering, than searching on Google.

Remember—Patience Can Pay Off

So the next time you are doubting the value of online press releases, remember to be patient. You never know when you might pop up in a reporter’s search, just in time to help meet their next deadline.

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