Debunking a Few Myths about PR

It's ironic: One purpose of PR is to get good press and avoid bad press, but PR itself has had pretty bad press over the years. The public image of PR has been produced in part by corporate flacks who made their living covering up toxic spills and oil leaks; by hucksters hovering around Paris Hilton or P. Diddy; and by Hollywood operatives keeping drug-addicted movie stars' rehab schedules out of the papers.

Your first step toward becoming a successful PR practitioner is to separate myth from reality. Here are some of the common misconceptions about public relations.

Press releases don't work anymore

Reality: Press releases do work, and they are often the most cost-effective and least time-consuming form of PR. No PR tool is simpler to use or as effective as a basic, well-written, short press release based on a strong hook or angle. Press releases still work. They work well. They're easy to produce and inexpensive to distribute.

"Legitimate" media snub PR

Reality: Much of the "news" you read in the newspaper, hear on the radio, and see on TV has its origins in PR materials sent to the media by organizations and corporations looking to promote their causes, products, or services.

Virtually any media outlet you're seeking publicity from can be swayed to give you some coverage, provided that your materials are on target and you can offer or create a story of genuine interest to an audience.

Editors want to be wined and dined

Reality: Editors don't have time to be wined and dined. This is an extension of the myth that close personal contact with media people is necessary to getting media coverage. Most editors prefer to keep PR sources, even good ones, at arm's length. They prefer to receive story ideas and proposals in a letter or press release rather than have the details transmitted in a lengthy conversation. Most editors and producers are print oriented and so prefer written communication; if they have questions, they'll ask. If a conversation is necessary, they'd rather it be five minutes over the telephone than a two-hour lunch.

Snail mail is awful; overnight delivery services and fax work great

Reality: A simple one- or two-page press release, sent to editors via first-class mail, is just as effective as fax or overnight delivery services, such as Federal Express, UPS, or DHL — and much, much cheaper.

As for electronic submission, some magazines do welcome longer feature material sent on a CD or via the Internet, but the standard format is still a printed manuscript, and this is accepted by 99.99 percent of the magazines in the United States. If you can provide a computer file, go ahead. But it isn't necessary, and it usually won't increase your chances of acceptance.

Every fact reported in the media is checked and verified

Reality: Most PR materials are picked up and run with almost no verification of any kind. Newspapers and broadcast stations simply don't have enough people to check every fact. Editors and producers tend to run PR materials pretty much as is; if they edit, it's usually for style, grammar, and space limitations, not to add or verify factual content.

Getting publicity is a matter of luck and timing

Reality: Chance favors the prepared mind, and timing can be controlled. People who are unsuccessful at public relations (or anything else, for that matter) often view those who are successful with suspicion and cynicism. "Oh, they're lucky," claims the executive at one company who sees a favorable story about his competitor in an important industry journal. "They must have contacted this staff writer with the right story at the right time."

In public relations, marketing, promotion, new product introductions, and selling, timing is critical: You succeed largely because you reach your media contact, target market, or prospect at just the right time.

It doesn't take a lot of time

Public relations that get results requires an investment of time, no matter how much money is involved. You don't write a press release and see it in the paper the next morning. Lots of time is spent writing (even if you're a great writer), developing appropriate media lists, and most important, doing follow-up phone calls before anything actually hits the press. If you're sending out a thousand press releases, you should be making a thousand calls. Spending that time is how you get the best results. The more time you put in, the more you get out of it.

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