Successful public relations (PR) isn't really free. Although businesses don't pay for PR the same way they pay for advertising space, to get results PR requires time, expertise, and effort.

PR success isn't mysterious. It comes down to a mix of old-fashioned research, savvy trend-watching and good people skills. It is the age-old talent of telling a good story. That's really the essential difference between PR and advertising.

Advertising is about selling. PR is about storytelling. People don't like to be sold to; they're suspicious of salesmen. But human beings have been passing along their most precious stories since before recorded history. We hand down our most essential information—about our families, our beliefs and our history—through stories.

Here's the "secret recipe" for telling your business story through public relations.

Start with good research

Do your homework. Before you're ready to pitch, you need to know which media reaches your decision-makers and gatekeepers and whether they prefer online or traditional formats.

To find this out, think about your ultimate consumers' age, education, economic background, ethnicity, professional and social interests, self-image, and worldview. Then find the media outlets that match and deliver an audience similar to your ultimate consumer.

It's also important to know whether your target consumer gets information online or via TV, radio, or newspapers/magazines.

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Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications ( and has over 20 years of corporate and nonprofit experience at senior-exec levels. Reach her via "gail at dreamspinnercommunications dot com."

Premium Plus members:  Don't miss our upcoming 90-minute online seminar with Gail, Direct-to-Consumer PR happening September 11th at 12pm Eastern.