How to Get Free Publicity for Your Small BusinessBy: David Frey
The other day I picked up the newspaper and read the headline, "Ex-High School Teacher Helps Struggling Students Improve Their Grades." The headline immediately caught my eye because I recently developed a system for high school and college students to improve their academic performance.
In the article it talked about a Houston woman who retired from high school teaching and now holds study skills workshops around town for high school students that need academic help. It included her contact information and website address.
It was a quarter page article in the Houston Chronicle with over one million circulation. When I saw the article I wondered to myself how much that same article would have cost her if she had paid for it.
The Power of the Humble News Article
There is only two ways to land the name of your business in the local newspaper, by paying for an advertisement or by having a newsworthy event that is covered by the local press. Both can be very effective but the all-mighty news release can provide the level of credibility and respect that can spark on-the-spot sales for your business.
Advertisements contain information that people know are biased. Surveys have shown that the vast majority of people believe that all advertisements contain false or misleading information.
News articles, on the other hand, are written by third-party news organizations that have nothing to gain by endorsing your business. Hence, their believability is high. That's exactly why your print ads should use an editorial style format. People read editorial style (news article format) seven times more than an advertisement!
Why Are Some News Releases Chosen and Other Not?
Knowing how the press chooses one news release over another will give you an advantage in getting the coverage you're looking for. Most large pressrooms get hundreds of news releases a day. When yours comes in, it competes with all the others that come in with it.
Typically, an "Assignment Editor" is the person who has the responsibility to determine what is "news" and what isn't. This person is in charge of reviewing the incoming releases and either assigning them to editors or trashing them. Typically, an Assignment Editor will sift through press releases like you go through your mail…over a wastebasket.
If a news release doesn't catch their eye they immediately trash it. The first item on the press release that is read is the headline. If you don't have a catchy headline that grabs the editor's attention then it won't stand much of a chance making it to the next step, which is the first paragraph.
Your first paragraph should tell what your news is, whom it's about, where it will be, why it's important, and when it will be held. The opening paragraph needs to get to the point fast with no fluff. If it's as compelling as the headline, you have a good chance of having the entire release read.
What News Stories Get Covered?
To give your business the best chance of being covered by the local news media give them what they are looking for. Generally speaking, each of the different media is looking for specific types of news events.
Newspapers want information that is interesting and informative. Newspapers like to educate their readers with timely news and articles that people will find interesting and educational.
Radio is a bit more loose and has an "anything goes" type of style. Radio stations like information that is controversial, funny, or weird. One of the most popular five minutes of a local radio station here in Houston is the "Birthday Scam," in which the DJ's call up an unsuspecting person (on their birthday) and proceed to create a combative and hostile conversation full of accusations and lies. The sparks start to fly and so do the ratings.
Television gets excited about anything that can provide great visuals. Sponsoring a local high school reading contest in which the principal gets dunked in a tub of kool aid will get the T.V. station's attention.
All media love human interest stories. They know that people like to know about other people. In fact, the number one topic of talk radio is relationships. If you have a good human interest story that others would find interesting you're on your way to getting lots of free publicity.
Lastly, the biggest mistake that most PR novices make is to pitch an advertisement for their business. The media publishes news...they are not your personal marketing department! You must be newsworthy!
How Muhammad Ali Landed In Life Magazine (I love this story!)
Getting free publicity is more about making yourself newsworthy than being newsworthy. As George MacKenzie, a publicity expert, once told me, "There is no boring stories, just boring approaches to interesting stories." With creativity and a little effort you can make almost any situation newsworthy. The following story is a perfect example of what I mean. It's a story about how Muhammad Ali received massive amounts of free press in Life magazine, the biggest magazine in the country in those days.
After Muhammad Ali turned pro, Sports Illustrated did an editorial piece on him. During the photo shoot with the Sports Illustrated photographer, Ali asked whom else the photographer did work for. He replied, Life magazine. But quickly told Muhammad that he didn't have a chance of being covered in the popular magazine.
Muhammad knew that if he made himself stand out somehow, that the magazine might write him up. After a few minutes of consideration Ali asked the photographer what other kinds of photos he took? The photographer responded, "All kinds, but my specialty is underwater photography."
So the quick-thinking Muhammad Ali said, "Did you know that I'm the only fighter in the world who trains underwater?" The photographer immediately got interested. Ali then told him that he'd do an exclusive if Life wanted to do a story about him.
Before you knew it, Ali was in a pool up to his neck in water dancing and throwing punches with the photographer reeling off pictures. It wasn't long after that Life did a huge spread on Muhammad Ali. He gave the photographer and Life magazine what they wanted, and in turn, received massive free publicity.
20 Ways to Make Your Small Business Newsworthy
As I previously mentioned, the key to getting publicity for your business is to make yourself newsworthy. The Muhammad Ali story is a good example of how one man made his own publicity opportunity by being creative and interesting.
To get your creative juices flowing let me suggest 20 ways you can make your business newsworthy.
Tips from the Pros
The following are several "tip lists" from professional PR people. Pay attention, because these people have been doing PR for years and have learned the insider secrets to getting free publicity from "in the trenches" experience.
7 Tips from Mark Nolan, Author of $3M best seller, "Instant Cash Flow."
10 Tips from Joan Stewart, (a.k.a. The Publicity Hound), a 20 veteran newspaper editor.
9 Deadly Press Release Sins by the Joan Stewart
10 Tips from Susan Harrow, President of Harrow Communications, a media coaching and marketing firm in Northern California.
8 PR Pitch "Etiquette" Secrets from Bill Stoller of PublicityInsider.com
Answers to Common Questions that Improve Your Chances of Coverage
Perhaps the main roadblock for many is not coming up with the news idea, but the technical details of submitting the release. The following are common questions that many business owners have about submitting press releases and receiving coverage from the press. These are not hard and fast rules but only suggestions to use as guidelines.
Question # 1: Should I call the editor on the phone?
Usually not. It's better to use the normal established channels. The assignment editor is very busy and is often annoyed by phone calls. If you do call an editor, always ask, "Is this a good time to speak with you?" If not, then ask when you can call back. Have your elevator speech prepared. Be able to give the what, who, where, when, how and why it would interest their audience in 60 seconds or less.
Question # 2: How do I establish credibility with editors?
Have something newsworthy to contribute. Never use the word "publicity." Editors hate that word because it compromises their independence. Send a thank you note when you get published. Know what the publication and the publication's audience are looking for in respect to interesting information. Get to know the editor that's most important for you by offering your expertise as a resource.
Question # 3: How often should you send news releases?
Whenever you have a newsworthy event. Once a week is a bit much but once a month may be just right. Usually most business owners have trouble not sending releases rather than sending too many.
Question # 4: How do I format the release?
At the top of the release include your name and address, and then include your current contact information. Your contact data needs to be complete. There's nothing worse than an editor trying to get a hold of you and getting a recording.
After the "For Immediate Release" start with your headline and include a sub-headline to further clarify the objective of your release. Include the name of your city and conclude with a "# # #" which signifies the end of the article.
Marketing Best Practices
Question # 5: What other things should I send with my release?
Some PR experts say that you should include a cover letter with your release or a press kit. These may be a company brochure, a bio, fact sheets or previous press clippings.
If your press release is strong enough to stand on its own it won't need all the extraneous other items. Remember, all editors are very busy people. The easier you make it for them, the higher chance you have of being published.
Question # 6: How do I send the release?
Basically, there are four ways to send a press release, (1) fax, (2) letter, (3) email and (4) telephone. There are advantages and disadvantages to each medium. Most press releases arrive by fax. The advantages of a fax is that it's already in print form, it's very simple to blast it to many editors, and it's very inexpensive to do.
If you know the editor and decide to add other supporting documents with your release, a simple letter in an envelope works well. If you address the letter to a specific editor make sure you have their name correct and spelled right. Just call the local paper and ask for the name of the editor that covers the story you're writing the release about.
Email is becoming very popular as a way of sending press releases. If you send your release through email, do not send it in an attachment. Editors are scared of viruses and will delete it immediately. Just send it in text form.
To pitch your story by phone prepare a twenty-second elevator speech about your
newsworthy story. Then get the name of the reporter, columnist or producer, call them up and ask if it's a good moment to share your news and that it will only take 20 seconds. If they say yes, deliver your pitch.
Of the four mediums I would put my money on the simple fax. It will get a look and there are a lot of resources that can blast it out to hundreds (thousands) of locations.
Question # 7: What do I do after I send the release?
Don't call the editor just to ask them if they got your news release and to answer their questions. They did get it and if they have any questions they will call you, rest assured.
Question # 8: What are some websites where I can go to learn more about getting free publicity?
The following are just a few of the resources you'll find on the net to distribute your press releases.
Question # 10: Where do I find editors to send my press releases to?
The information in this article was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to getting free publicity. There are so many ways and methods of making you and your business newsworthy and getting the media's attention. I recommend setting a goal for submitting one press release a month.
The experience of writing and submitting a release itself is invaluable for your own personal marketing education. Getting free publicity should be a part of every business' marketing plan. Plan events throughout the year that will get aired on the radio and local TV stations and be covered by the newspaper.
Unfortunately, we didn't even touch on how to get published in trade journals. This is an important marketing strategy for many small businesses and one worthy of another installment.
Money can't buy what the press can give you.
© Copyright 2002, David Frey
The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.