RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In the business of public relations and marketing, companies as well as agencies too often handicap themselves in the pursuit of publicity.

Here’s an example: A company issues a major announcement and no one in a senior capacity is available to talk with the media about it.

Such a problem happened again Thursday when a company issued a substantial report that obviously cost a considerable amount of time to compile, write and publish. A media person made a phone call hoping to get further comment.

Sorry, came the response. The company’s top executive was in a board meeting. And a key author of the report was out of the office and therefore unavailable.

Dealing with this kind of mistake and several others involving media relations were the reasons for a panel discussion put on by the Raleigh Public Relations Society earlier this week. I had a chance to sit on the panel along with Sharon Delaney, news anchor at NBC 17, and Ron Christensen, top political reporter for The News & Observer.

The three of us made similar points about how PR folks could improve chances of receiving news coverage by following a few simple tips. These ranged from making people available for interviews to the simple basics of returning an e-mail or phone call.

People not in the news reporting business are simply not aware enough of how many press releases and company announcements are made each and every day – with the exception of Saturday or Sunday. PR professionals need to realize that they had best be clear and concise in delivering their message, be ready to respond to a media inquiry, and have corporate executives available to discuss what the news means to the firm if they expect news coverage.

PR professionals also should take advantage of opportunities to meet members of the media. These panel discussions can plow the same ground over and over in terms of challenges and problems. But if reporters can put a face with a name, a web site or a company, the chances of getting coverage do improve, Christensen said.

Delaney pointed out that she recently wanted to do a story about a Triangle firm that was represented by a marketing firm in California. The West Coast firm never responded, so Delaney went directly to the local company and got the inside story. That firm was fortunate in the sense that Delaney chose to go ahead and pursue a “good news” story.

One of my major beefs with PR firms and marketing people is that too many write press releases so filled with jargon, acronyms and inside baseball that the significance of the announcement would confound a universal translator. Releases written in easy-to-understand terms (i.e. English) have a much better chance of generating coverage because most media members won’t take a lot of time to try to translate the technobabble.

Of course, many companies – especially high tech and life science – seek to serve niche audiences that do understand the acronyms and jargon. However, those wanting general media coverage would be wise to either write another version of the release that explains the terminology or make sure the marketing and PR folks append additional information/examples to the release that makes the subject understandable to more people.

Given the rise of web sites, blogs, podcasts and so much more in the way of new media, PR professionals have more opportunities than ever to get news published about their companies or clients. If they aren’t being “covered”, then review the news releases and other information you are making available. Therein you may find the reason why you are being ignored.

Here are some tips on getting coverage, ranked in no certain order:

1. Return e-mail and phone calls from the media ASAP.

2. Send news directly to media representatives; don’t rely on news release wires to do all the legwork.

3. Make sure your release is written in English, i.e. free of jargon and acronyms – or at least translating them.

4. Good news or bad news, respond to media queries.

5. If a major announcement is being made, such as venture funding or a big sale, make sure executives are available to discuss the news.

6. If you plan to give a “scoop” to one media outlet, don’t expect other media to be interested.

7. If you choose the “scoop” option, at least let other media know about the announcement but embargo it.

8. If you have to write a release for niche media that expects technical terms (such as medical or software) then at least consider a simpler version for the rest of the media – or one that includes an explanation that tells a more general audience why the news is important.

9. Schedule a webcast or teleconference with top executives. Public companies are very good at making executives available for conference calls to discuss earnings or major news. Private firms should do the same.

10. Finally, make sure you have “news” to report – a new product release, a change in management, a partnership, new funding, a sale or acquisition, etc.