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Why your PR stinks

Good public relations isn't rocket science, but it is work. Taking a little bit of extra time to add context to a product release, for example, can go a long way.

After a few years of running a conference and blogging, it always surprises me how limp public relations is for most companies.

Good PR is the lifeblood of companies, particularly in an economy in which IT spending has lulled, yet most companies underinvest in PR. And most others do it poorly.

The cardinal rule of good PR is to bring real value to the conference or publication you're soliciting--not to primarily seek value for yourself. I get pitched infomercials all day, every day, from PR "professionals" that clearly haven't taken the time to read a thing I've written. Sending a canned press release focused on a proprietary (or open-source) product update to a blogger interested in open-source business strategies is an exercise in futility. I simply don't care.

I'm not alone. Most journalists are looking for stories. A press release is not a story. Taking a little bit of extra time to add context to a product release, for example, can go a long way.

Who cares if Hyperic came out with version X of its product? I know I don't, and I like the company. I start to care when it's positioned as "10 percent of the cost for equal or better functionality." I care even more when I hear how Company XYZ used Vendor XYZ to save money, drive productivity, etc.

That's the blogger side of me. The other side, the conference organizer, is the same. I want to have the Open Source Business Conference address cutting-edge issues in open-source business. I'm looking for macro issues, not micro issues, which means that I want to hear how industries are being shaken, not how one vendor does gee-whiz whatever for its customers.

It's easier to do this sort of PR when you have taken the time to build a relationship with the writer or conference organizer that is relevant to your business. That way, you don't have to throw press releases over the wall, praying that it's a slow news day and the journalist will regurgitate your press release.

When you take the time to build a relationship, you can look for ways to push bite-size information into stories they're already writing, and influence the direction of future articles (or conference sessions).

In other words, you have to earn your retainer. Good PR isn't magic, but it can be magical. It just requires a lot of work to ensure that it gets done well.

My own employer's PR firm, Lois Paul, does a good job of this, as does Page One PR. Both work hard on cultivating long-term relationship with journalists and bloggers. It's not easy, but it's also the best way to ensure PR doesn't become infomercials. Yes, journalists hate those, too.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.