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SPECIAL REPORT: The Ultimate PR & Publicity Secret

What's the secret to getting free publicity? It's not a fancy press kit. It's not having a superstar spokesperson. It's not hiring the world's biggest PR firm.

Actually, the ultimate insider secret is quite simple:
 

You need to think like a reporter.


That's it. Told you it was simple.

Of course, this is the first-place winner in the "easier said than done" Olympics. Most of us are too tied-up in our own world to really look at our businesses objectively and come up with a newsworthy story angle that can lead to free publicity.

That's why millions of trees are needlessly slaughtered each year to produce press releases that will never lead to a single news story. Reporters have a special place in their circular file for puffery, flackery and hyperbole. If you want to avoid this fate, then you must learn to think like a reporter.

      


This means:

  • Being able to separate real news about your company from promotional puffery
  • Being able to deliver a sharp story angle that will be of real interest to the news reading or viewing public
  • Being able to deliver this angle in a professional, courteous way.

OK, so now we've seen the holy grail. Let's get to work.

For The Sake of This Report, You're the Vitamin King

You own a website. Let's say, for the sake of this report, it's theplace4vitamins.com. (It could be any sort of business or website. As you'll soon see, Publicity Insider techniques can be applied to just about any business.)

Your goal -- getting your website featured in newspapers around the country.

Some Basic Truths

Here are some truths that you ignore only at your own risk:

  1. Reporters don't care about helping you.
  2. Reporters are hassled all day by PR people and they're pretty much sick of it.
  3. Reporters don't care about your website, your book, your products or your life story, unless......

.....you are providing something that helps make their job easier -- that is, a really good story.

In that case:

  1. Reporters love you.
  2. Reporters are happy to take your call.
  3. Reporters are fascinated by your website, your book, your products and maybe even your life story.


So what's the bottom line here?

When you design your public relations campaign, develop your angles, develop your media materials and begin contacting the press, always think:

"What can I do at this step that will make this more useful to a journalist?"

That means:

  • developing story angles from a reporter's perspective, not a business owner's
  • conducting yourself in a manner free of hype, clichés and puffery
  • Using proper etiquette when contacting a reporter or editor (we'll get to that in just a bit)

Developing an Angle

What does it mean to "develop a story angle from a reporter's perspective"?

Have you ever met someone who has gotten way too absorbed by his hobby? He can go on for hours about his model trains or his coin collection. He can't possibly imagine why you, or anyone else, wouldn't be riveted by his in-depth discussion of Peruvian 19th century coinage.

He's far too close to his hobby to be objective. As it turns out, most business owners are the same way about their company. If you spend all day absorbed in the world of vitamins -- or golf clubs, or health insurance, or any other field -- you can lose sight of the realization that most of the rest of the world doesn't really care.

When I ran my PR firm, I can't tell you how many calls I had with clients that went something like this:

"Bill, we've just released the new X251 and I think we should really push this hard to the media with a PR campaign. How about a press conference?"

"Well, how is the X251 different from the X250?"

"It's got a new right-angle flange and it's blue. I'm telling you, this will be big!"

Now, rather than simply counseling my client to lay down, take a rest and forget about seeing the X251 in the Wall Street Journal, I took another step.

I thought like a reporter.

I asked my client: "Does this new right-angle flange give the X251 a use that the X250 didn't have -- one that would really make a difference in people's lives?"

"Does the new blue color have any purpose, or is just for looks?"

Who knows, maybe it turns out that the right angle flange allowed the X251 to be used in third world hospitals at a fraction of the cost of what they were using now. Maybe the blue color was to prevent endangered birds from bumping into it when it's used in the rainforest. (As you can tell, the X251 is a figment of my imagination, not some new amazing outdoor tropical hospital gizmo.)

Of course it might also turn out that the right angle flange only has some obscure use and it's blue because that's the CEO's favorite color.

But at least I tried to extract a real story from what was only a promotional PR pitch. You MUST do the same when it comes time to develop your main publicity angle.

Step away from your business. View it as a reporter looking for an interesting story. Remember, he's looking for a story that will satisfy his editor and his readers. He's not interested in promoting you, only in crafting a story that will make readers stop and say "Hmmm, I never knew that. Now there's something I can use!."

With that in mind, let's look at the example of theplace4vitamins.com.

Taking Stock of Your Attributes

There are probably hundreds of sites in the Internet that sell vitamins (just as there are most likely hundreds of places that sell whatever your company does). So simply announcing that there's a new venue to buy herbs and vitamins will get you nothing.

You need to break down your current attributes, and determine if you have anything that's newsworthy.

Here's a way of looking at it that may be useful: for every attribute, try to honestly rate its news value. Use these categories:

NO DICE
Not newsworthy. Too common, too promotional, too boring.

INSIDE STUFF
May be newsworthy within my own field (trade publications) or to hardcore customers (serious vitamin junkies) but not attractive enough to the general population to build a story.

GETTING THERE
Potentially of interest, but not quite meaty enough.

STOP THE PRESSES!
Meaty, hearty news that journalists eat up.

OK, let's look at some of what you think makes theplace4vitamins.com special (this is a very important step. When making a list of what makes you special, take the time to get it right. What you say here can be mined for gold, as you'll soon see):
 

  • Low prices NO DICE. Too common and will probably be viewed as promotional puffery.
     
  • Great service. NO DICE. Ditto.
     
  • Wide Selection. NO DICE. Ditto, Ditto.
     
  • You specialize in weight-loss formulas and books. INSIDE STUFF. Decent topic, but is there enough there to build a story?
     
  • You specialize in books and products that promote a healthy lifestyle for teenagers. GETTING THERE. Now you're standing out a bit.
     
  • You started the company with money you stole from a pension fund. STOP THE PRESSES!

OK, the last one was a joke, but it demonstrates the gulf between what you think is newsworthy and what a reporter thinks is newsworthy.

So, what have we got to work with? Three NO DICES, an INSIDE STUFF and a GETTING THERE. Not bad -- we might just have enough to build a public relations campaign around..

Does NO DICE Mean No Story?

Just as I wasn't ready to give up on the X251, neither should you simply throw in the towel on your NO DICE attributes. Heck, maybe we can salvage something.

Let's look:

  • Low prices. Yeah, just putting out a press release saying you have low prices won't get you anywhere. But what if there was something special about those low prices? Maybe you give huge discounts to child care centers who buy kids' vitamins in quantity. Maybe you sell vitamins at cost to health clinics in poor neighborhoods. Maybe you provide a big discount on multivitamins to disabled people? These are all publicizable angles, and they take a worn out angle and make it fresh. Take advantage of programs you already have in place, or create new programs to provide publicity opportunities for a public relations campaign.
     
  • Great Service. If great service means you're nice on the phone, it ain't gonna work. But perhaps you go above and beyond the call to serve your customers. Remember that Saturn commercial in which serviceman flew to a remote Alaska cabin to fix a customer's car? That was a graphic example of this sort of angle. Now, you probably don't have anything so extreme to tell, but perhaps you do something no competitor would be willing to do. Or perhaps you should.
     
  • Wide Selection. Sheer quantity won't turn this into a news angle. But if you carry some products that no one else does -- and those products are in some demand -- you might be on to something. Which leads us to....
     
    • You specialize in weight-loss formulas and books. If there's something special about the way you choose your products, you might have a story. Let's say you only carry weight-loss products from manufacturers that can provide double-blind studies that prove effectiveness and safety. This addresses one of the prime concerns of consumers (and reporters) about these products, and sets you up as a conscientious shopkeeper. Think about how the Body Shop's refusal to sell animal-tested cosmetics and soap has made that chain stand out.
       
    • You specialize in books and products that promote a healthy lifestyle for teenagers. This is interesting, because it starts getting into issues, which can get you into a newspaper's Lifestyle section. Now, just specializing in stuff for teens won't be enough. You need to find a way to make this commitment come to life, in a non-promotional way.

God Bless the Internet

Ten years ago, the solution to the above problem would have been hard to come by, and probably expensive. Maybe a media tour, maybe sponsoring a teen pop act, maybe paying big bucks for a survey of teens about their eating habits.

Now, thankfully, all of that is out the window.

Thanks to the Internet, you can use your website to position your angles to have mass newsworthy appeal.

The answer is to design parts of your website specifically to provide a newsworthy element to your story. Message boards, chat rooms, surveys, feedback pages and so on can all lead to publicity. Is a leading health guru willing to be a guest at a chat sessions for teenagers? Did an online survey you conducted about kids' favorite foods offer some interesting revelations? These, and other offshoots of adding newsworthy elements to your site, can all provide the basis for outstanding publicity opportunities.

So, you mull it over and decide on the perfect solution:

You'll create a message forum for teenagers to discuss health issues, vitamins and herbs, exercise and more.

Now, simply creating the forums and offering a place for teens to go may be enough to get you some press. But it's still a little vague, and there are probably other places like it around. Let's sharpen this idea and make it work.

Go back to your attribute list. What can we combine to create a tighter, more specific angle?

See it yet? You specialize in weight-loss products. You also specialize in serving teenagers.

Your forum should be about teenagers and weight issues. Your health guru chat sessions should be about teens and their weight. Your survey should be on the subject, too.

Now you've got something! With this approach, you can have a number of solid newsworthy topics to take to the press:

  • What do kids think about a "thin is in" society?
  • What are they saying about eating disorders?
  • Are overweight kids ridiculed? And if so, how are they handling it?
  • Are teens using supplements to lose weight? If so, which ones -- and are they safe?
  • What are young athletes doing to build muscle mass -- and is it always the safest way to go?

See what we've done? We've taken your boring little vitamin website and turned it into a news angle machine! And we've turned you into a spokesperson, who's looking out for teenagers by giving them a place to seek information, choose from safe products or just vent.

Your PR Campaign: Taking it to the Press

A story about helping overweight kids cope with ridicule, based on discussions that have taken place in your forums, is a natural for a "lifestyle" section of a newspaper.

So, you want to get an article about it in a major paper (let's say The Denver Post).

First, you've got to find out who the appropriate editor or writer is at the Post. If you live in Denver, just read the paper on a regular basis and clip out the columns that deal with parenting, health or kids' issues. But if you live in Rhode Island, it's more difficult.

Go to your local library and take a look at Bacon's Newspaper Directory in the reference section. Under The Denver Post listing, Bacon's should provide a name for the Features or Lifestyle editor. It might be outdated, so call the Post's main number and ask the receptionist "Is Joan Smith still the Features Editor?" The receptionist will then confirm that Joan is still in her position, tell you the name of the new person in this role, or transfer you to the newsroom to ask someone else. With the editor's name in hand, you're now ready to make your call. (It's also worthy trying the newspaper's web site. Increasingly, full editorial staff listings can be found online.)

Here are some "etiquette" secrets that can help you effectively work with journalists in generating bushels of free press.....

  1. Don't call to "see if they got your release." Journalists hate this. Folks send out mass mailings and then call to see if the release made it there. If you really want to get a story in the Post, call first to pitch your story and then follow up with your release, photos, etc.
     
  2. Plan your call around their deadlines. Most papers are morning editions. Thus, journalists' deadlines range from 2 p.m. local time and on. Don't call during this time! The best time to reach a newspaper journalist: 10 a.m. to noon local time.
     
  3. Don't start pitching right away! If you get Joan Smith on the phone, don't just dive into your pitch. This is rude, as Joan may be on the other line, working on a story, entertaining guests or who knows what else. Start by saying something like, "Hi Ms. Smith, my name's Bill Jones and I have a story suggestion you might find interesting. Is this a good time for you?" Joan will reply "yes"--which is a green light to start your pitch, or "no"-- to which you reply, "When would be a good time to call you back?" Your courtesy will be greatly appreciated by the journalist...which can only help your chances.
     
  4. Pitch to the voice mail. It's fine to pitch your story to the reporter's voice mail. Keep it very short and end the message with your phone number. If you don't hear back, try again until you get the actual reporter or editor on the phone.
     
  5. Don't read from a script! The bane of many journalists' existences are 22-year-olds sitting in cubicles in big PR firms reading pitches off a sheet of paper. If you've ever been called by a telemarketer doing the same thing, you know how annoying it can be. Practice your pitch so that it seems natural and spontaneous.
     
  6. Give them a story, not an advertisement. Newspapers do not exist to give you publicity. They exist to provide readers with interesting stories. Your job is to give the journalist what he or she wants, while getting the free exposure. Make your pitch newsy, exciting and relevant. How about: "Ms. Smith, as you probably know, obesity among children is growing at an alarming rate. Because of the ridicule they face from other children, millions of overweight young people are being marked with lifetime scars that can seriously damage their self-esteem. I host a unique website, were overweight kids can anonymously express their feelings and discuss this issue. I think I've learned some important things about a very serious subject." That's a whole lot more interesting to an editor than: "Ms. Smith, I have a website where overweight kids post messages. Would you like to do a story about me?"
     
  7. Follow up immediately. If she's interested, Joan Smith will ask for more information. Be sure you have a press kit (including news release and photo) ready to send . Send it out via priority mail, and write "Requested Information" below the address.
     
  8. Call again. Now it's appropriate to call to see if Joan's received your stuff...after all, unlike a mass-mailed release, she asked for it! Ask if she's had a chance to look through it, and what she thinks. If she likes what she sees, you're about to get some very valuable free publicity!

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