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 the interest of 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 single, very positive review that somehow got picked up and replicated all over the country. A student of the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI) has a very nice side business based solely on press releases he puts out during holidays. And just think about what Oprah Winfrey 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 you and your product and think about the media person you are targeting. What does he want? What are his readers looking for?

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

Imagine their lives. They are generally young and know little or nothing about business. Educated at the best American universities, they are usually pro-government and anti-business. (At least in the beginning.) They are understandably pro-consumer, assuredly news hungry, and overworked.

That being the case, most of the people you want to reach are prejudiced against press releases. Yet they keep a stack of them around just in case they get in a squeeze. When a deadline is approaching and they need a few extra inches of copy – 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 much time to fool around reading every release carefully. With a deadline fast approaching, it’s “search and dispose” time – very 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 currrency 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 firm 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. In today’s world, where due process is nonexistent for businesspeople, bad publicity hurts.

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

1. newsworthy

2. useful to my 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 all bad. Not like most businessmen.”

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

* Make it new. (That’s where the word “news” comes from.) Unless you make your press release sound like something new, 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 of the publication you’re aiming at.

* Highlight the way your product/service is part of a new, 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?

* If your product or approach to the market is wacky, flaunt it.

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.

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