Entrepreneurs everywhere are bumping heads in a mad rush to jump on one of the most effective marketing tactics in this recession-era economy--public relations. Media outlets, and often individual editors and journalists, receive hundreds, even thousands, of press releases every day. Yet the vast majority of press releases, by some estimates as much as 97 percent, never produce a result.

Does the problem lie in the tactic or the tool? It's probably a bit of both.

The good news is once you know how to get the media's attention, PR is a brilliant choice today. And with a few insights into the makings of a great campaign, you can achieve superior results.

Break Through by Going One-On-One
The best public relations strategy is to build relationships with key members of the press. You can easily identify a core group of media outlets that can deliver coverage vital to your business. It just takes a bit of homework to create your own short list of the media that influence your customers when they're considering buying what you market. Your list may include a combination of newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs or television or radio stations. You can choose from among specialized and general interest media outlets, or you can target geographically by using local media to reach customers close to home.

Appeal to editors, journalists, publishers and producers the same way you would your best customers--by learning exactly what they need from you and how you can help them. Nothing is more frustrating to a journalist than an off-target pitch. So examine the past work of every editor, journalist or producer on your list and tailor your story carefully before you make contact. You'll build strong relationships with the media professionals you target by consistently sending them what they need to intrigue their readers, viewers or listeners.

Choose the Right Tool
Should you send a full-blown press release, pitch a story idea, send a tips sheet, or put out a media alert? The answer depends on several factors, particularly the type of story you're pitching and the individual preferences of the media outlets. PR professionals appear to be divided on the validity of the standard release, though it remains an excellent tool for making first-time contact with media professionals on newsworthy topics.

The problem is that so many press releases contain non-news, or worse, are modified sales pitches. So before sending a release, make sure its headline contains a stat, fact or compelling piece of information that's new or revelatory, and that your first sentence has the power to sell your story. Never send a stream of ho-hum pitches in the hope that over time you'll capture attention. On the contrary, this will simply cause recipients to tune you out.

Before sending your pitches, contact the media outlets to find out whether your targeted recipients prefer to receive them by e-mail. If so, paste your release, pitch or alert in the body of an e-mail rather than sending it as an attachment, which may not get opened.

Follow Up to Seal the Deal
The real work begins after you've built your in-house press list and sent your materials. Follow-up is essential for taking your new PR relationships to the next level. You can make contact by phone, e-mail or both. The key is to determine that your pitch was received and whether there's any interest in that particular item. Most of all, you want to uncover what type of information you can provide that each media contact will find most compelling.

Don't be discouraged if your first story (or first few) gets little or no attention. Once you discover exactly what the journalists are looking for, you can fine-tune subsequent pitches until you become a go-to source for information. That's when you'll see your new PR relationships generate coverage that will motivate customers to choose you instead of your competition.