Have you been spending a fortune on paid advertising in newspapers or radio to publicize your organization or business? A client recently told me the tale of buying media ad space in a local marketplace to recruit volunteers. Guess how many volunteers stepped forward as a result of the ads? Zero.

This is not intended to be a debate about whether paid advertising works. But simply placing an ad and hoping you reach somebody is like trying to pin the tail on a donkey while blindfolded. And guess what, there’s nobody screaming, go left, go right to help you!

Free publicity is a realistic option to paid advertising in today’s media landscape. Why? Media are short-staffed and desperate to fill space nowadays. A well-written media release is like a gift. Throw in a photo, too, and you’ve easily helped an editor fill a gaping hole as deadline rapidly approaches.

There was once a time when advertising and editorial lines were distinct in media. Neither side forced the other’s hand. Today, the lines are blurred. There is no choice. To keep clients and advertising departments happy, especially in markets where ad revenue is stagnant or declining, editorial must be open to publishing news releases that it considers even borderline toward ‘advertising’. (Of course, a reporter will be told to rewrite it and de-emphasize the ‘advertising’ component, but you’ll still stand a good chance of getting free publicity.)

Here are three keys to why media releases, guided by a skilled communications professional, may be a better choice:

1. A media release campaign is less expensive than a regular ad campaign. Generally, people read news, but only glance at or ignore advertising in media. Weak ad design, which tends to be prevalent in smaller markets where the design work is farmed or outsourced to factory-like shops, doesn’t help attract eyes to ads.

2. Published media releases contribute to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The shelf life of a paid ad is limited at best. For news releases, which also get published on media websites, the shelf life is infinite because keywords help you get noticed in Internet searches. When submitted to sites which publish media releases verbatim, skilled use of keywords will ensure your news is staying relevant in search engine results in your market, too. When you do this, your brand visibility will be high indefinitely. And that contributes to increased business or donor awareness. Paid advertising struggles to compete in the realm of SEO.

3. Reporters and editors get many of their story ideas from releases, rather than ads. Knowing what makes a great hook for a media release can entice reporters and editors to turn it into a story. That means your organization could end up on page 1 or the lead story on radio. That’s exposure no ad can compete with.