When people ask me whether using PR firms and press releases is effective, I generally tell them with free media you really get what you pay for. Which is to say: nothing.

Say you’re throwing a 1st birthday for your daughter, and you want as many people as possible to attend and bring gifts. Rather than printing expensive invitations, you get a friend, Kevin, to go around to tell everyone about it (he’ll do it for a six-pack).

Kevin goes out a tells a few people but given that it’s a fairly uninteresting one-year-old’s birthday and he tends to ramble, people brush him off. After many failed attempts, he gets a few people to listen and agree to tell others. Unfortunately, these particular people aren’t very popular.

Still, Kevin comes back and says he’s spread the word. Job well done.

But when the big day comes, the turnout is disappointing.

So why didn’t anyone come to the party?

Well, like a press release, you’ve put very little into it but expected to get a big return. A lot of companies think that by getting PR firms to send out poorly expressed, boring, low-content press releases, they’re promoting their products to the right audience.

Let’s face it, was your content really newsworthy? If you’re trying to get content noticed, it has to be interesting to the audience. New products are rarely newsworthy – unless perhaps there’s something wrong with them. If your baby had 11 toes, the story might have gotten some traction.

And of course, these PR firms don’t use real journalists. Kevin just doesn’t craft a story very well.

So the press release gets picked up by a few low-traffic websites, and the PR firm gets to come back and report about successful exposure. But the only reason these websites are running your press release is because they are low in content. And if they don’t have content, they probably don’t have an audience either.

These sites aren’t real publications. And it’s not real PR.

So how do you get people to show up to your parties?

You either pay to get your content distributed through channels with a real audience or create much better content – or better yet, do both!

Paying means finding a publication with an existing audience – and making sure it’s independently audited – your money is spent renting access to that audience and ensuring they get your message.

Creating really good content means you can even earn your own audience – but it’s not the easy and cheap alternative to renting one – to do it successfully you really need  great content: something that isn’t necessarily about your company or your products but is of value to the reader.

So do some research, find a good designer, and splash out on some invitations. Don’t rely on Kevin, get a real storyteller to find out what’s valuable to your guests and present it so well that you’ll need a bouncer to keep people on the other side of the velvet rope.

Nothing worthwhile is free – so invest or innovate!


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