Public Relations 101: What You Need To Know
Updated: Feb 2
By: Nikki Gaskins Campbell
Publicists can play a vital role in establishing a client’s brand and promoting their services, milestones, events or products in the media. In addition to offering media guidance, they often serve as the “middle person” between the client and news outlet when discussing possible coverage or sponsorship/advertising.
Of course, a lot of people with something to promote would love nothing more than to land on the cover of Time magazine or be interviewed by Oprah. But the truth is, for most people without an established name or brand, this is just not realistic. They will need to think smaller.
Going with the right publicist is crucial to increasing your chances of organic media coverage. Be wary of a “PR pro” who makes unrealistic promises. As someone who has worked as a TV news reporter/anchor, owns a media outlet and serves as a public information officer for various organizations and agencies, I understand the ends and outs of all three worlds.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This is definitely true when it comes to public relations. For anyone looking to build a brand, they require a long-term PR strategy. While a single press release may be all some clients need, I believe in transparency, honesty and managing expectations at all times.
As a result, I’ve provided answers below to common questions clients have often asked. I hope you’ll find the answers helpful. If you have any additional questions, please feel to reach out to me at this link.
1. I want my press release published in Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, CNBC, New York Times, etc. Can you help me do that?
Unless you are an A-list celebrity, a major brand (Ex: Apple, Tesla, Meta, etc.), have an incredible news angle, and something truly unique, don’t count on free press coverage from such big players in the news game. Millions of people have books, products and services to sell. What makes you stand out from the crowd? A publicist can help you figure that out. But your best bet for coverage will be with your local media outlets where you are based. A good publicist can help with that, too.
Please be careful of any “PR expert” that tells you they can place you in such big-market outlets for a fee (usually a hefty one). Big media brands operate with traditional journalism standards, which prohibits editorial coverage in exchange for money or other favors. While such a service may seem tempting, don't take the bait. It is a risky investment likely to prove very costly to you in the end.
Here are some links worth checking out that address this same topic:
Did Someone Offer to Write About You in Exchange for Money? Here's What to Know. (Entrepreneur)
Forbes investigates after 'contributor' asks PR for £300 to write online profile (The Guardian)
One Of The Web’s Most Prolific Online Marketing Writers Has Been Promoting His Clients In Articles For Forbes, Entrepreneur, And Inc. Magazine (Buzzfeed News)
If you have a truly unique story to tell, a highly-skilled publicist can get your press release in front of these major news outlets. However, it is still ultimately up to that media outlet to cover your story. No publicist - no matter how good they are - can force any reporter or media outlet to do so.
2. As a journalist, you must have contacts in the media. Surely, you can use your connections to get me news coverage, right?
The truth is it depends. Unless the news release that I’m pitching would truly benefit their readers, listeners, or viewers, having “connections/contacts” makes no difference. Professional journalists, even if they are my friend, are not going to necessarily do me a “favor” simply because I know them, and I’m trying to get my client coverage.
In addition to being a journalist, I am also the owner of The Berkeley Observer, a local media outlet based in South Carolina. I receive dozens of news releases daily, including some from people I know. What influences my decision to publish a news release is whether it will appeal to my readers – not because it was sent by someone who has a connection to me.
3. You said you can distribute my press release. Where will it be published?
Distribution is not to be confused with publication. Distribution is merely taking your press release that a publicist has created for you and then pitching it via email to appropriate media contacts. Distribution merely gets your news release in front of a news outlet for news coverage consideration – and with the right news angle, it can be an effective way to get free press.
4. You mention that you can guarantee the publication of my press release on 100+ news sites from around the country. How is this possible – especially after you said you can’t pay for coverage?
Many publicists often use PR platforms/wire services such as eReleases, PR Newswire, Businesswire, etc. to help promote their clients’ news. These platforms have partnerships with many news outlets, big and small, across the country. Through that partnership, news outlets allow press releases to be posted directly to their website.
However, it’s important to note that your press release when published on these news outlets will be clearly labeled “press release.” It will not appear as legit news coverage or as if it were written by an actual reporter. Your press release won’t also be featured on the front page of the news outlet for that matter.
So why take advantage of this method of guaranteed publication? The links generated can help get you found in the search engines – which is an important part of promoting your brand, service or product. Some clients like it because they feel it gives them the ability to list on their website “Featured on…” or “As seen on…” I honestly am not a fan of doing that. I believe it comes off as a little deceptive. Yes, technically you were featured on “X, Y, Z sites” but only because you paid for a wire service through a PR platform.
Another reason clients (and publicists) gravitate to these PR platforms is because it increases the chances of being featured in Google News. These platforms also distribute the press release to journalists who subscribe to their news release services. Most journalists, however, don’t get their news from news wires. You have to reach out to them directly – that’s why old-fashioned distribution as mentioned earlier is important.
5. So what happens if no media outlet picks up my press release simply by distribution?
This does happen. This does not mean your press release was not well-written – especially if you choose a publicist that knows how to write it in a way that has a greater chance of getting noticed by a newsroom full of reporters.
There can be a lot of reasons the press release still falls on deaf ears. Perhaps a newsroom is short-staffed. Perhaps there is a lot of big news to get to, and your press release is placed on the back burner. Perhaps there is breaking news or team coverage of a huge event, and your press release is, again, pushed to the side.
6. I really want to be featured on my local news, but they seem to have no interest in my news release. What other options do I have?
Some media outlets do offer paid interviews; HOWEVER, this is still not the same as getting editorial coverage. But it does look like a real interview, and most people at home can't tell the difference. I have had clients who’ve participated in these. It’s still an effective way to promote your brand. However, if you opt to take part in, for example, a paid TV interview, it will generally be labeled as “sponsored,” “promoted” or “advertisement.” Some media outlets provide such labels in the credits at the end of a show, but more and more are doing it within the segment itself.
Note: Sponsored coverage can be expensive – especially depending on the market you’re in. For example, a TV station in NYC offered my client a live paid interview via social media for the sum of $25,000. Even though this news outlet had a large social media following, my client turned down the paid interview. I can’t say I blamed them. That’s a lot of money! You also have to remember, too, that these interviews don’t necessarily guarantee you’ll see a ROI. But it will certainly get your brand exposed and even help establish yourself as an authority in your field. You have to weigh the pros and cons.
7. Is a press release enough to get me noticed?
It depends. For some clients, the answer is “yes.” But if you’re working to build a brand, the answer is probably “no.” You’ll want to continue to promote and market yourself through regular news releases, sponsored content, social media marketing and perhaps even traditional advertising.