How to Take Advantage of Free Publicity

“Publicity is the life of this culture – in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive – and at the same time publicity is its dream.”John Berger

There is nothing that will help you get yourself, your company, or your products recognized better or faster than getting the news media to see you/them as news. Every day, small businesses are propelled into the local or even national spotlight thanks to some journalist or radio or TV personality.

A book I once wrote on China became a quick best-seller (and got reprinted by Rand McNally) thanks to a positive review that somehow got picked up by the media. A student of American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) has a very nice side business based solely on press releases he puts out during holidays. And just think about what Oprah has done for dozens of otherwise unknown novelists.

Not everyone can take advantage of free publicity. You need to offer something new and different – or make it seem so. The secret to getting covered is to forget for a moment about yourself and your product and think about the editor/producer you are targeting. What are his readers/viewers looking for?

I used to be a media person, so I have an idea of what they want.

Imagine their lives. These people are generally young and know little or nothing about business. They are understandably pro-consumer, assuredly news hungry, and overworked.

Most of the media people you want to reach are prejudiced against press releases. Yet they keep a stack of them around… just in case. When a deadline is approaching and the stuff they’ve been working on has disintegrated, they turn to that despised stack of self-interested hype to see if they can find something they can use.

They don’t have time to fool around reading every release carefully. It’s “search and dispose” time -much like what direct-mail prospects do when they come home to a mailbox full of junk mail.

Give them a reason to see your effort as ordinary or irrelevant, and it’s gone faster than a six-pack of Guinness at an Irish funeral. If they suspect your press release is self-serving, it’s gone. Like this widely lampooned memo from Michael Milken’s public relations staff:

“Michael Milken is often identified incorrectly in news reports because rushed copy editors or writers fall back on old cliches that gained currency through the efforts of his competitors’ public relations departments many years ago. Mike (what everyone calls him) heads or works with several organizations, including the Milken Institute (an economic think tank), the National Prostate Cancer Coalition…”

Milken’s PR people got a lot of press with this effort – all of it negative.

And don’t believe for a second the old aphorism about all publicity’s being good publicity. Bad publicity hurts.

When I write a press release, I write something that I would have used when I was a journalist – and that means something that is:

1. newsworthy
2. useful to the publication’s readers
3. humble (Bragging is fatal.)
4. written well enough that it doesn’t need much editing

Humor is tricky, but it can work – especially if it deflects the journalist’s attention away from your promotional intent. “If this guy is making fun of himself,” the journalist might think, “he can’t be bad.”

Here are some “rules” suggested in DM News by Steve Dubin, president of PR Works in Kingston, MA:

  • Make it new. Unless you make your press release sound like news, your chances of seeing it published are next to zilch.
  • Benefit the right reader. Nobody cares about your product/service but you… unless you point out how useful it can be to the readers you’re aiming at.
  • Highlight the way your product/service is part of a hot trend. (Media people love trends.)
  • Be timely. A dating website is a hotter topic on Valentine’s Day than on Veterans Day.
  • Highlight the irony. What is the surprise? The contrast?
  • Use surveys. Seemingly objective surveys can be intriguing.
  • Show how good you are. Journalists like do-gooders but are skeptical of them. So if you take this route, do it well.
  • Drop names. When David hooks up with Goliath, that’s news.
  • Use case studies. How does your product/service help people?

One final bit of advice: Make sure you always follow up on your press releases, especially to your most important media contacts. But don’t call them right before the deadline and don’t harass them. Get them to think of you as someone who is helping them do their jobs, not as a pest.

[Ed. Note: Get Michael Masterson’s insights into becoming successful in your business and personal life, achieving financial independence, and accomplishing all your goals on his new website. You’ll find updates on all of Michael’s books, news on upcoming ETR events, Michael’s blog, and room to send in your comments and questions. Check it out today.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]