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Over the last decade, consumers have learned the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. They scan and bag their own groceries, pump their own gas, and serve themselves at restaurants from coolers or a buffet line.

Consumers also have become their own music producers, creating custom MP3 mixes from iTunes; their own retail outlets through eBay; and one-person TV stations with YouTube. Social media and cheap Web access makes everyone a content provider.

So it was inevitable, perhaps, that consumers would also come to realize that they don't need traditional media to consume the product and services information that used to use media as its channel.

With the rise of search engines, Wi-Fi, and a DIY mindset, today's consumers are more empowered than ever before. They not only believe that they're entitled to information but also have unprecedented access to information on a global scale.

An increasing number of consumers turn first to the Internet when they want to make a purchase—even if the product will be bought offline.

That's why any PR strategy focused solely on media gatekeepers is missing a large piece of the market. While there's still value in sending your message via traditional media, more and more prospective customers are doing their own research online, bypassing newspaper, magazines, radio, and TV completely.

Here are five tips for creating successful direct-to-consumer PR:

1. Think like a consumer

Too much of traditional advertising pushed features instead of benefits. The consumer is looking for a product or service to meet his/her needs. Your press release must focus on needs met and problems solved. Generic categories and words related to the need or outcome are much more likely to snag users who haven't gotten to the point of selecting a specific product or provider yet.

2. Realize that consumers and reporters need different things

A reporter's job is to entertain or inform. So press releases must do one of those two things. A consumer is looking to meet a need or solve a problem. Consumers are searching with a specific goal in mind.

Your press release must be keyword-rich with the words your prospect is likely to use in a query—words that probably don't include the name of your product or service.

Case studies, videos, and human-interest features should make it easy for consumers to immediately identify with the need/solution.

Traditional press releases don't usually include "how to buy" information, but consumer-focused releases should have a way for readers who discover the solution they need to take immediate action.

3. Recognize that Boomers and Millennials are shifting rapidly away from traditional media

Newspaper and magazine readership has been declining for quite a while. Broadcast TV has been supplanted by 800 cable channels, Netflix, and TiVo, all of which make it easy to skip commercials. Satellite radio and MP3 players mean fewer listeners to regular radio.

Many consumers have abandoned traditional media altogether, preferring to have their own news choices delivered via RSS, downloading their own music, and following their favorite TV shows via YouTube, DVD, or pay-per-view.

The world has changed since the days when everyone watched the same three channels and saw the same ads. Your message must be where your consumers have chosen to go.

4. Maximize your PR "searchability"

Posting your release via online distribution services like PR Newswire and PR Web makes sense in a world where consumers turn to the Internet for information. But don't stop there.

There are dozens of free PR posting sites that help your releases rise in the search engine rankings and search results. All those postings also provide inbound links to your Web site, boosting its rankings.

Press releases should have relevant tags, making it easier for search engines to match them to queries.

Your online press room should be consumer-friendly and not just media-oriented.

Serve up your information in multiple formats: video, podcast, blog, Web audio as well as text.

Consumers researching online often consider the posting date of information to determine "freshness," so keep your news current by maintaining a constant stream of relevant new content.

5. Create a two-way conversation

Traditional PR may create a dialogue between the sender and the reporter, but it creates a monologue between the media outlet and the consumer. Today's DIY consumer expects real dialogue with access to people in positions of authority and the chance to have their input valued.

The companies that create the most successful PR invite consumers to become partners in actually creating the message as well as sharing it. This requires letting go of some of the iron-fisted control traditional PR sought to wield over the message, but the payoff is huge.

(Imagine if Mentos and Diet Coke had tried to sue the creators of the now-famous YouTube video. Instead, both companies got a free PR bonanza with millions of voluntary views.)

RSS gives consumers the chance to choose what news they want to receive and social media enables them to respond in near real-time—and tell their thousands of online friends.

* * *

Direct-to-consumer PR requires a fresh perspective on how public relations works and how the message is ultimately consumed. It demands that PR professionals worry less about total control of the message and more about meeting the needs of the consumer.

It creates an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with users to build better products, spread global word-of-mouth and establish real and profitable win-win marketing relationships.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gail Z. Martin owns DreamSpinner Communications (www.DreamSpinnerCommunications.com) 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.