In a tough economy, with businesses and consumers cutting back on spending, even the best advertising may not be enough to sway shoppers. Right now, PR is an indispensable part of a campaign thanks to its influence over consumers' buying decisions. When asked to rank the factors that sway them to buy a product or service, many Americans cite reading about it or seeing a recommendation. And though PR tactics that earn news coverage are still standard practice, these new PR tactics can help you gain credibility and grab the attention of customers.

It all starts with a press release. But it's what you do with your release these days that counts. Here are four ways to use PR as a conduit to sales.

  1. Target influential media.
    Press releases help gain coverage in media that reach designated target audiences. Today, with the emergence of specialized websites and blogs--and to an extent social media--it's possible to distribute your release almost entirely online. You can target specific webmasters and online editors, use online distribution services that send your release to thousands of newsrooms or individually e-mail your release to editors of traditional media. Online product reviews can be particularly influential. And since the majority of Americans begin the purchasing process online, gaining online coverage will build your credibility and influence prospects' decisions at a point in the shopping process when they can go directly to your website.
  2. Use your release to sell.
    Does your company have product or service news that may not be big enough to make the press but will grab the attention of customers? If you're like most business owners, you can turn a simple press release into an effective online sales tool by sending it directly to the customers in your in-house database. Paste your entire release into the body of an e-mail rather than send it as an attachment, which might not get opened. Include links directly to the related pages on your company website for customers who want to click through. This type of customer communication is often a welcome break from the typical sales solicitation, and it compels readers to check out what's new and interesting about your latest development.
  3. Create online content.
    With online shoppers looking for increasingly deeper content before buying, it's important to add a news section to your website. Link to or display media coverage you've received and create a page to include all your company's press releases listed by date. Because consumers show a growing interest in purchasing from businesses that support causes they believe in, include press releases that detail your company's charitable giving as well as cause-related policies and programs. The more potential customers are made aware of the positive news that's linked to your company name or brand, the more likely they will be to buy from you vs. your competitors.
  4. Optimize for search engines.
    Think of your published press releases as trails of breadcrumbs that lead customers to related pages on your website. The more distribution you get for your releases from postings on your own site and on other sites throughout the web, the more likely search engine spiders will find your press release. Optimize each press release carefully to include your most important search terms. If your business serves a local area rather than a national audience, include search terms that incorporate the name of your city or town so you'll get the right traffic to your site.

Today's online press release remains a great tool for spurring media interviews and articles. But its influence goes so much further, and when used effectively, it can influence consumers to trust in your product.