Publicity and public relations aren't advertising, but they all have one thing in common:
They cannot guarantee that the folks you are trying to reach will actually be reached - it's just that simple.
The reasons why are complicated and varied, but a lot of it has to do with the idea that it can be harder to get attention for some things than it is for others.
For example, if you are a celebrity or public figure whose life is documented day-by-day via social platforms or traditional media, a sneeze could net coverage by every major news outlet in the world. But if you are a small or new organization, an up-and-coming artist or someone who leads a more covert existence, convincing the press to cover your grand-opening, concert or exhibit can be a bit more difficult.
The truth is this: Media attention tends to garner more media attention. "Currency" - being seen a whole lot or everywhere - is one of the seven news values that help editors, producers and reporters determine if something is newsworthy. That being said, it stands to reason that the more media attention you already have, the more you'll get.
Yes, hiring someone to help you get your information out there - via a press release, eblast or the like - can help, but understand that it doesn't guarantee that the press will flock to cover what you have going on.
Today, with budgets being tightened and news outlets being forced to do more with less due to smaller staffs, things that use to be guaranteed for coverage - community events, feel-good award ceremonies and dinners, parades - often aren't anymore, usually because the news outlet simply might not have the people power to send someone over.
The last medium-sized daily newspaper I worked for had a staff of just five general news reporters, two sports reporters and one photographer covering all or part of five counties. Weekends had only one general reporter and one sports reporter on the clock - and only images left over from the week for local photos. The newsroom was literally like a ghost town after 5pm on Friday until 9am Monday.
So it may not be realistic to think that your publicist or PR specialist will be able rustle up a TV, a radio and a few print outlets to cover your event. It is his/her job to be the liaison between you and the press, and generate buzz - but even the best publicist can't guarantee coverage.
It's important to remember that with publicity, you pay for the amount of time, effort and consideration the publicist makes on your behalf, not necessarily for results. Sometimes, the fruits of your publicist's efforts won't even be realized until months after the initial campaign is complete. Think about that event video that was shot, edited and posted to your FB, Twitter and Vimeo pages. Not everyone will see it the day it was posted.
Although coverage guarantees aren't possible, you can help your publicity team a great deal by giving them as much lead-time for your event as possible. For example, monthly magazines work about two-to three months out (national magazines can have lead times of up to six months). If your event is in January and you want to get it into an area monthly magazine, you need to have the information ready to send shortly after Halloween, no joke. Weekly and daily publications have shorter lead times, but a two-week window is the absolute minimum you can comfortably give and expect a news team, reporter, photographer or blogger to be able to cover it.
So, if the website the press release bounces everyone to for details about the event needs updating, don't wait until the day before the event to get the information up. Also, make sure the person you list as a "for more information" go-to lists a number they can actually be reached at on a weekend or late in the evening. There is nothing worse for a reporter or editor on deadline to call and get a voicemail when all they want is to double check the spelling of the keynote speaker's name.
Publicity and PR specialists can be miracle workers, pulling stuff together at the last minute and making things happen that otherwise seem humanly impossible. Some of that is par for the course, but most of that is the necessitated by poor planning by the folks looking for publicity. It is also the one thing that can surely be avoided.
Be kind to your publicity team - and one of the best ways to do that is to get them the information they need in a timely manner so they can help you garner the coverage you're looking for.