06/13/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT

PR is More Than "Nice To Have"

Very often, businesses that serve other businesses put public relations on their "nice to have" list. Some believe that the payoff on PR is too long-term, it doesn't have an impact on sales or have a direct return on investment. However, I think the challenge for these types of businesses is making sure their PR has the appropriate resources and a great strategy.

The fact is, PR is one of the best ways to target your customer with a relevant message that will make them act. Here are a few things you can do to maximize your PR efforts and deliver big time to your top and bottom lines.

Tell your story in a way that matters.

Journalism has become democratized -- people are gathering information from any number of sources, from traditional news media to Twitter. You can spend a lot of money creating a website, but a site's potential is only maximized through regular updates with company or product news, blog posts from the key executives, video testimonials from customers and links to any social media platforms you are participating in.

Don't do these things just for the search engine optimization (although that's great too), but rather, if you use multiple channels to spread relevant news and information, as well as the media, you will reach your existing and prospective customers where they are looking for it.

Do more than a standard press release.

Social media press releases use links, videos and images to tell the story, and there are a number of reasons you should consider using them.

Firstly, they attract much more attention. Think about it -- the Internet is full of news aggregators, which crawl newswire sites looking for relevant releases (specific to their industry) to post.

Secondly, if someone finds your release, you want them to have content that they can easily share with others in their professional community.

Lastly, people at work have a short attention span -- because they're at work -- so they want something easy to consume.

There are also other benefits. Providing that it's written well, a newspaper may pick up part of the release verbatim. If video content is interesting, a blogger may grab it for her site. But most importantly, a procurement specialist doing a Google search may send the link to decision makers.

Please, please, please include a relevant call to action in the release. At the very least, include a link to your website and track the Google analytics so you can see the traction you get.

Be kind to journalists -- don't pitch stories that suck.

Newsrooms today are leaner than ever, which means journalists are busier than ever. A good journalist will take a look at your story and know if it's right for his/her audience almost immediately. But if you deliver that story in a way that also describes why it's relevant, you'll get a much better response. You can't expect a journalist or a blogger to take the time to investigate your story just in case it's interesting -- so tell them why they should care.

Target the right people. Know what they write about. Then tell them why your story is important to their audience (instead of why it's important to you). Treat journalists and bloggers like your customers: don't bore them or waste their time.

Note: It's perfectly acceptable to distribute a release on a newswire strictly to be 'on the record' -- possibly for the sake of disclosure -- but don't waste time and money selling it.

If your story is dynamic, then demonstrate it.

The media want dynamic content too. They need great photos and videos for their websites to accompany their blog posts and stories. Make it easy for them to find the information they need, such as biographies, downloadable photos or essential company information.

Get more reach from your media coverage.

Once you get some great coverage, your job isn't finished. This is a great time to have the organization cascade the content in social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are great ways to post and link to coverage), talk about it on your company blog and email it to your customers and prospects with a call to action.

Align your efforts and messaging.

Believe it or not, when marketing and PR use different keywords, it hurts your search engine rankings, drops your organic traffic and sometimes increases pay-per-click costs. Conversely, using the same keywords exponentially improves your ROI.

In the end, it's still about the story.

While many elements of communications continue to change at a furious pace, one thing hasn't -- a well defined story. Here are a few key points to consider when putting your story together:

• Be clear and concise -- good writing is always relevant

• Be consistent -- once you've crafted your story, stick to it

• Develop your story with your audience in mind -- what makes you different, the best or necessary?

There's a ton of information available to help you define (and refine) your story and your audience. At the very least, social media platforms can help you clarify who your audiences are, where they congregate, and what they're talking about -- all of which can inform your PR and your marketing efforts.

PR is so much more than parties and press kits. In fact, PR practitioners were the first content marketers. So spend some resources tapping into this strategic discipline, and you'll quickly find it's an invaluable and cost-effective way to generate leads and ramp up your sales.