When companies crave publicity, what often pops to mind first is a press release, despite its several hundred dollars or more price tag. It's not a magic bullet. It's often misunderstood.

A press release is probably not the first public relations tactic you and your company should deploy. It's expensive and often not the best way to get the attention of the media.

I know that by issuing a press release you're doing something that might feel like a big deal to your company. But to journalists on the receiving end, it most often comes across as just another misdirected, non-news item clogging their pile of email. You and many other companies have trained them to immediately delete press releases.

Sound harsh? As a former journalist, I assure you it's the truth.

Here are four questions to ask yourself before hitting send.

1. Is this news?

Did you hire a new executive? File an IPO? Launch a new product? Expand service to another country? Create a viral social media campaign? Release the results of a research study? Win major award? Appear on the "Today" show? Land a celebrity endorsement?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you're onto something and a press release could be worth considering. Give it a shot and see what bears out in the writing stages.

Or, is this a marketing announcement? Like "It's tax season, and Tim's Tax Shop is here for all of your tax-filing needs." This is not news. You wouldn't do a press release on your business hours, right? But maybe this is fodder for an email or social media campaign. 

2. Are you really a newsmaker?

Are you a company that regularly gets media attention? That's a news maker. You might not be one--yet. Press releases by bigger, established, household-name companies will get more attention than smaller companies and startups.

If you are a smaller firm, you might consider other avenues to communicate to your audience. Think blog posts, social media and newsletters, to name a few. More on this sort of content creation in a bit.

If you feel strongly that your news is worthy of a press release, consider a press release service that sends information to state or regional wires, which is more cost effective than a national release. 

3. Who is your audience?

If the answer isn't journalists who write for media outlets that your clients, prospects, employees and stakeholders read, then reconsider. 

For example, if your goal is to fill seats at a conference, don't issue that press release. The most important element of a press release is that it's helpful to reporters, namely by offering them news of interest to their audience. And chances are journalists don't care to help fill seats at your conference.

4. Are there more effective ways to convey this message?

No matter your company's size, there could be a better, more targeted -- and perhaps even more cost-effective-- way to broadcast your news. Maybe it's a blog post or LinkedIn article by you or someone on your team. You could engage customers online with a Facebook Live video, create a banner ad for your website, launch an Instagram campaign, or even put up a sponsored ad on Facebook or LinkedIn.

I also recommend you invest in public relations that focuses on forming good relationships with fewer reporters, rather than blanketing the media landscape with a mass press release. Pitching the reporters you know cover your industry is more meaningful than a press release.

To get started, it would be most helpful to engage a public relations pro. If that's not in your budget, you will have to introduce yourself to reporters. Start by setting up Google alerts to identify the kinds of stories in which you'd like to appear, so you can identify the reporters who write them. Follow the reporters on social media. Reach out with an email when you think you have information that would be helpful--or just to say that you really enjoy their articles.

No matter what, it's not a quick hit. It takes time to form these relationships. But they don't call it public relations for nothing.