A traditional public relations campaign, where you send out a press release and get a local reporter to cover your story, can be very effective. Studies show that independent media stories are far more influential than paid advertising.
But traditional PR also turns over control of the story to the media. Your press release may lay out the story as you would like it to be told, but there are no guarantees that your direction will be followed.
If control of your message is essential, you may consider some of the PR alternatives available today. They are paid vehicles that allow you to retain control of the story, and avoid the whiff of advertising. Two of the most cost effective are the mat release and the audio news release.
A mat release is a story written and distributed for a fee to print outlets around the country. Once largely limited to free newspapers available in grocery stores, the stories now appear in local newspapers that have reduced staff but still need to fill the news hole. Two of the most experienced mat release services are North American Precis Syndicate and NewsUSA. The stories look like traditional newspaper articles, with datelines and graphics or photos.
If you already have a press release written, you can send it to the mat service. Depending on the press release, it can either run intact as a story or can be used as the basis of a new story written by a staff writer. You maintain control over the copy. You can request changes to the copy, and the final story needs your OK before it is distributed to news outlets that may run the piece.
Just as much control is provided by an audio news release, but this time on radio. Two veteran companies include MediaLink and Strauss Radio Strategies. Drive-time audiences around the country may hear your story when an on-air host needs audio to fill time but is short-staffed. For an ANR, you will need an “expert” to provide a sound bite for the piece. A credible voice for your message might be a third-party spokesperson, such as an academic or the leader of a patient or consumer support group.
For example, if you own a business that manufactures medic alert jewelry and your message is about the lifesaving seconds gained by wearing medical IDs when an emergency occurs, you might seek a sound bite from the leader of a diabetes support group. The story will sound like a radio news story, with a quote from your spokesperson. To keep your business connected, the story should conclude with the message, “For more information, visit www.(yourwebsite).com.” Not only will your message be considered less commercial, but you may also make inroads to new customers through the spokesperson’s support group.
Once your controlled PR vehicles are distributed, you can use the results on your website. Some mat release and audio news release companies guarantee a minimum number of placements. Most offer a tracking report that includes outlets that carry the story. You can include those media outlets on your website in your News section. And on your site you can post the mat release itself or a link to the audio news release.
Solid news is still essential to a good story that earns airtime and newsprint. But when you need to control your message and you need to secure publicity, paid PR vehicles such as the mat release and audio news release are the best and simplest tools available.
In her 16 years as a PR professional, Barbara Goldberg has helped clients in health care, alternative energy, and the performing arts tell their stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS News, ABCNews.com, and many other media outlets.