Quick, what does the term "public relations" mean? If a variety of answers popped into your head, you're on the right track.
“Public relations” is a fairly broad term that can have different meanings depending on the company, objective and situation. A large corporation might see it as a tactic that puts it in a good light with the public at large. A government agency or nonprofit association might see it as a direct voice to residents and members on a variety of different issues. A small business may view it as an opportunity to generate name recognition and free advertising for their products and services. Still others regard it as a response mechanism to unforeseen or unplanned news or crisis.
All of these viewpoints –as well as many others—are correct. Public relations plays an integral role in the operations of businesses and organizations of all sizes. And thanks to the Internet and Web-based services, it’s become an even more valuable and versatile tool in getting your business’ name in front of prospective customers and landing more of them on your Web site, Facebook page or other online property.
Before the Internet took hold in our daily lives, public relations activities were largely hit-or-miss. A business owner or staffer (or an agency, if the business had the means to afford its services) would come up with a catchy, news angle for a press release, story pitch or media advisory to send to the local media in hopes of getting some coverage. And by “send”, we mean faxed or mailed, as this was the preferred method of receiving information before e-mail became standard in newsrooms and magazine production offices. This usually was followed up with a phone call to the recipient.
The topic and its appeal to readers typically determined whether a business would receive coverage. Having established media contacts was important as well. However, despite the strategy and planning in pushing an announcement or information to a media outlet, uncertainty was a given. If successful, a business could expect a few lines in the publication or perhaps even a phone interview with a reporter interested in its proposed topic. But more often than not, that mailed press release or story pitch ended up in the wastebasket instead of on the mind of an editor or reporter.
Regardless, engaging in public relations activities geared toward print publications, radio and television outlets was still important, as these were the primary means by which prospective customers got their information. This all changed when a little technology called the Internet came along and changed the way people found information. Instead of picking up a newspaper, magazine or phone book, they instead went online. This changed the dynamics of not only the dissemination of information on local, national and worldwide levels, it also significantly altered press release distribution tactics.
A NEW AND IMPROVED WAY
As the Internet expanded into our personal and professional lives, so did the number of services offered through it. These include press release distribution services, article submission sites and directories, blogs, and other venues that allow users to distribute their information online. Unlike the uncertainty that comes with sending a press release to a member of the media and not knowing if and when it will run, this method almost guarantees that information will be available to interested parties. In some instances, the copy is live and on the Internet instantly; in others, the press release distribution service may have to approve the copy first, which may take a few days.
And it’s not just confined to one page of one edition of a publication. Unlike communication vehicles of the past, individuals are now actively searching out information through search engines, in which press releases, articles and blog posts can appear. Additionally, RSS feeds, other Web sites and blogs regularly pick up articles of interest and link to them or repurpose them, resulting in even greater exposure.
This new approach to public relations still relies on the fundamental strategies that have proved successful for decades, such as producing clear, concise and attention-grabbing headlines and copy. Press releases have essentially remained the same in terms of format and look. What’s different is the manner and speed with which they’re distributed.
In addition to building awareness and exposure, these online publications can also be a valuable component of a business’ search engine optimization (SEO). Inserting key terms back-linked to pages on your Web site can not only trigger an action from the reader—such as visiting the site to learn more or purchasing or scheduling a service—it also helps build the SEO power needed to ensure that your Web site and online pages have prominence in online search results.
Today’s public relations activities are no longer just a way to garner a short mention in the local daily or to promote an upcoming event. By taking advantage of online services and tactics, you’ll discover an affordable (and oftentimes free) and effective way to educate your prospective customer base about your business and, ultimately, increase sales.