Get Valuable Free Publicity

“News, news, news — that is what we want. You cannot beat news in a newspaper.” Arthur Christiansen

Years ago, when I was just starting out as a ballroom-dance instructor, there was an article about me in a major local newspaper. It was on the front cover of the “lifestyle” section — a huge article with giant color photographs and a very favorable write-up that included my phone number. Over the next few weeks, I received in excess of 200 inquiries, and suddenly went from barely keeping a roof over my head to having a waiting list!

That free publicity was worth thousands and thousands of dollars to me — and I didn’t get it because I was “lucky.” I went after it by sending out self-promotional press releases, a technique that Michael Masterson talked about in Message #237.

As Michael said, the trick to having the media to pick up your story is to get them to see you as news. Basic guidelines for doing this include:

  • highlighting the way your product/service is part of a hot trend
  • being timely — for example, sending out news about your innovative dating website in time for a Valentine’s Day story
  • using recent studies to prove how your product/service helps people — especially the people who are the readers of the publication you’re aiming at

But there are additional tactics you can use that will give you an even better shot at receiving free publicity. The one I used to promote my ballroom-dance business is something I call “The Challenge.” It works not only by arousing the editor’s natural curiosity but also by adding suspense and human drama to your story.

In my press release, I made the claim that I could teach anyone in the world to dance — said that I would allow a reporter to witness a live, unprepared lesson with a real client of mine.

It was an irresistible offer. The reporter sent to cover my story was so enamored by how happy the client was that she wrote a gushing article about me — one so favorable that many of my competitors were sure I’d “paid someone off.”

One caveat on using “The Challenge”: Make sure you can actually deliver on your promise or it could backfire on you. Let’s face it. Editors aren’t stupid. They know that as a businessperson you can potentially make a lot of money as a result of a mention in their papers or on their TV news shows. So, just because good old Brad thinks the fact that he’s opened a hot-dog stand on Main Street is exciting doesn’t mean that an editor will think the same way.

In fact, based on that information alone, Brad’s likelihood of getting  an article written about his new hot-dog stand is slim to none. But let’s say Brad comes up with an interesting angle. Maybe he’s opening his stand on National Hot Dog Day, or maybe the date coincides with the anniversary of the courthouse that his stand will sit in front of. Certainly, that would help to make an article about his new business a possibility. And if Brad really wants to have a good shot at getting media coverage, my recommendation is for him to find a way to connect the opening of his hot-dog stand with a non-profit cause that’s popular with the general public. He should definitely keep away from political “hot potatoes” like abortion and gun control. Instead, he should choose something innocuous (see “Word to the Wise,” below), such as an organization that fights hunger in children or helps the disabled.

The same holds true for your business. If you want to have the best chance of scoring some free publicity, approach a charitable group — one that does work you honestly admire. You might ask, for example, if it would be OK if you were to donate 50% of your grand-opening revenues to them. It won’t take many calls to find a willing cause. If you’re lucky, the organization may even help you with your promotion.

Now that your story is a newsworthy item — and is also benefiting a good cause — you’ll almost certainly get media coverage.

(Ed Note: Paul Lawrence is an entrepreneur and the creator of ETRs “Microbusiness Systems”.)