The drive for publicity--and by extension, PR--has probably been around since the ancient scribes spread the news. Information that is published as news will always appear more credible to the public than paid ads, and that means publicity will always be coveted.

When it comes to earning publicity, here's what works--and what doesn't.

Good Ways to Earn Publicity

  • Media Relations. Don't be afraid to build direct relationships with journalists, reporters, columnists and powerful bloggers. Companies often outsource their media relations, but I've seen business owners do it really well themselves. The best way to start is to identify the people who write about what you do or where you do it (their "beat"), get acquainted with their work by reading their articles, form a solid reason why they should be interested in having a relationship with you, and then reach out and introduce yourself. Then, when your journalist contact starts writing a story and needs a source, if he knows that you or your company fit the bill, he is more likely to reach out to you.

If you don't know where to begin to find the right media contacts, check out tools like Cision or BlogDash. Twitter is also a great starting point.

  • Story Matchmaking. Sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out--monitor the Twitter hashtag #URGHARO for additional publicity opportunities), Muck Rack, Vocus and Seek or Shout help short-cut media relations. Reporters post stories they're looking for sources on, and those seeking publicity can respond.

  • Creating News. What a company may deem newsworthy often holds no value to a journalist (like your latest executive hire or product launch). You can generate interest by creating content that does have value. Market research or scientific findings, expert opinion weighing in on a recent news story or a list of resources relevant to a columnist's latest article can all be useful.

  • Press Releases. An "old-school" publicity tactic, the press release announces news a company would like the press to know. Not terribly effective for journalists these days, a well-written press release (or parts of it) may get published. A poorly written press release, however, will assure that your company does not get published so bone-up on your efforts.
  • Wire Services. Once you've written a solid press release, you can get more exposure for it by using a wire service to distribute it. A press release that's been optimized for search engines can provide even greater value for you in the long run, and many of today's wire services like Marketwire, PRWeb, BusinessWire and iReach offer some kind of built-in optimization feature.

Bad Approaches to Publicity

I have to climb up on my soapbox now. Probably only about one out of the 50 pitches I receive a week are of any value to me. And while publicity can be great for a business, it can backfire when done poorly. Just do a search for "bad PR pitches" and you'll find dozens of articles on the topic. Why?

  • Inappropriate Pitches. First, refer back to the "Creating News" section above. Then, couple that with inexperienced or inattentive people wearing the PR hat and you get stupid PR pitches! For example, I still receive pitches for a column I stopped writing six months ago; I receive pitches for topics or products about which I don't write and never have; I receive pitches using my last name as if it were my first name or no name at all (the dreaded PR blast email). It's exasperating and totally turns a writer off to you, and both your current and future pitches.
  • Misspellings and Poor Grammar. The title "PR professional" used to carry with it a certain expectation of language mastery. Now, unfortunately, in the bad PR category we have press releases and email pitches with misspellings and inaccurate grammar, which I immediately trash. I recommend that as the business owner, you ask to receive a copy of whatever your PR person is sending out.
  • What Social Media Can Wreak. The adage, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" has mostly held true through the ages--perhaps until the advent of social media. Social media can rapidly and sometimes devastatingly take a minor faux pas that would have been easily contained in times past and turn it into a CEO's nightmare. Businesses that want to avoid these kinds of disasters need to pay more attention to what they, their employees and their customers are doing in social media. You can't just avoid the threat, either: Being absent from social media can be just as bad for a company's public reputation.