- Being able to separate real news about your company from
- 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,
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
Some Basic Truths
Here are some truths that you ignore only at your own risk:
- Reporters don't care about helping you.
- Reporters are hassled all day by PR people and they're
pretty much sick of it.
- 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:
- Reporters love you.
- Reporters are happy to take your call.
- 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,
"What can I do at this step that will make this more useful
to a journalist?"
- developing story angles from a reporter's perspective,
not a business owner's
- conducting yourself in a manner free of hype,
- 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Not newsworthy. Too common, too promotional,
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
Potentially of interest, but not quite
STOP THE PRESSES!
Meaty, hearty news that journalists
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
- 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
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
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.
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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?"
- 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.
- 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!