Publicity is a funny animal. Those with little or no experience tend to assume one of two things: either that getting something in the newspaper or on TV involves some sort of mystical expertise, or that they have a right to demand that the media use whatever message they want to share (“Tell them to put this on page one!”)

As with so many other things, the reality is quite different from the perception. While cynics may think of publicity as a manipulative tool for influencing the news, it actually serves the important role of making the media aware of things they might not otherwise know about. Most editors and producers actually count on publicity to help them with the newsgathering process — even more so today, as staffing has been slashed to the bone. There are more pages and hours of news to fill than staff members to fill them.

But that doesn’t mean that editors (and producers) are willing to sit back and be force-fed instructions about what should appear in their publications (and programming). In fact, they’ll respond to such treatment with unbridled hostility.

You see, editors provide a service to their readers. They filter through all of the potential news to identify what’s most important to their audience. Whether the editor runs a magazine for chicken farmers or a suburban weekly newspaper, he or she has a solid grasp of what really matters to his or her readers, and will select stories accordingly. In a way, one of an editor’s most important roles is that of a gatekeeper who protects readers from being overwhelmed by useless information.

Publicity is a key source of information both useful and useless, which is why editors respond to it with anything from grudging tolerance to encouragement. If you can provide content that will be generally interesting to or useful for an editor’s readers, you’ll be doing him or her a favor. By the same token, if you try to foist content that will have no value to readers, you’ll be a nuisance.

(Continued in next week’s post.)