From the April 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

There are few things that build credibility and leads faster than a feature article about your company's newest offering. The implied third-party endorsement you get from a publication or TV show your target market trusts carries a lot of weight for your business and is well worth the work it takes to generate.

But there's a rub. Too many entrepreneurs are convinced that PR--sometimes called free media--comes about magically because, gosh darn it, you've got a press release and you're not afraid to use it. In reality, great PR takes the same strategic approach that all good marketing does.

The first thing you must do if you want to start garnering media mentions for your company is to view journalists as a target market. Just as with any customer, your job is to get them to know, like and trust you. Would you send a customer a one-page flier, then follow up with a phone call asking them when they plan to buy from you? Of course not. So don't expect journalists to react any differently to this form of spam.

Here's how you get journalists to know, like and trust you:

Build a list of journalists you think might care about your industry or specific news story.

Read everything they write. Do a Google News search by name and subscribe to the e-mail alert or RSS feed--you'll receive updated e-mails with your targeted journalists' latest stories.

A lot of journalists now have blogs and podcasts. Find their blogs and subscribe to, comment on and write relevant trackbacks to them from your blog or website. This can be a great way to start getting on their radar screens. But don't spam them. Make sure you offer thoughtful comments that add to the conversation.

Develop a routine of sending relevant content to them based on the articles they write. You may get deep industry-backed surveys or data and be able to share information they don't have access to. Give them scoops and point out industry-related announcements that may interest them.

Don't push for any stories until you've done this for several weeks--unless you truly have some hot news.

After you've done this for a month or two, call a couple of your targeted sources and invite them to coffee. If you can prove that you are a reliable resource, then you'll be looked at as a friend. Until then, you're just a pest to an overworked, sometimes underappreciated reporter.

By following what a journalist writes, you'll often find clues to the kinds of things they really care about, how you might pitch them and what they might write about in the future. I read an article by a journalist I was following that described how he had just started using Facebook. I connected with him through the site, and the next thing I knew, I had an interview scheduled. And my guess is that he would have ignored an e-mail directly from me.

So, while it takes a little work to earn media mentions, it can be well worth the time. This six-step plan can give you the consistent momentum it takes to get the really big story.

John Jantsch is a veteran marketing coach, award- winning blogger and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide. Find out more at ducttapemarketing.com.