Getting (inexpensive) Publicity for your Business

By admin1 • June 5th, 2010

Alex Rodriguez, Diversity Consulting Group
(805) 277-7750

As a marketer I am often asked by clients if press releases really work. My response to them is “yes, and no.” The reason for the vagueness of my answer is that in today’s fast-paced business world many times we try to take shortcuts in order to get something done, and this means trying to save a dollar as well. I remind my clients that when they hire someone they do not typically hire them after only seeing their resume, and that said resume is there only to open the door. The same is true with a press release.

A press release, if written properly, may open a door with your local media. Many people, me included, have sent news releases to the press thinking that what we are announcing is the greatest thing since sliced bread, only to not receive a call and much less a story. This does not have to be the case, and I will tell you how to be an effective source of news to the media, on your business as well as your industry. Today’s media outlets are in the business of reporting news. They need press releases and constant interaction to identify what is newsworthy to their audience. Businesses like yours and mine should be supplying the news they need. Coverage in the media is free publicity for your business and you are providing a needed service to the media. Coverage in the press is far different from paid advertising because your audience knows that you paid for the commercial on television, and they also know that when the same television station has a news story about you they are providing independent third party verification that you service or product is good.

There are various methods of press release distribution. It can be done via email, postal mail or fax. Unless you are sending additional press materials like product photographs or head shots of key executives avoid using the mail. Depending on the media outlet you are communicating with you can send high resolution digital photos via email, but many media companies have policies restricting attachments because of serious security and virus threats. Email is a great method to distribute a press release because you can reach a larger number of press contacts by drafting and sending only one release. One tip: do not put all of your media contacts’ email addresses in the “To” line of the message when addressing it; instead address the message to yourself and blind copy your contacts.

Always spell check, proof, spell check again, and proof one more time, then have another set of eyes look at your release. You are sending it to journalists that write for a living. You do not want typos! I have seen some poorly written and edited releases distributed to the press, and it usually winds up in the recycle bin.

The press release is a way of getting your news to assignment desk editors, news directors and editors at the press. A press release is typically one to two pages, double spaced, and carrying your message. It is critical that your release be concise and on point in the smallest space possible.

Are You Newsworthy?
Whatever you send out has to be newsworthy and something that a reporter will see as important to his or her readers. Your press release cannot be an ad for your business. It will not be covered. The only response that you will receive, if you are lucky, is a phone call from the ad sales department. Your message has to be newsworthy.

Once you review your message and if you feel that it sounds too much like a commercial send it off to trade publications. These are the magazines you receive at the office, many time free of charge, from various business groups or associations that you may belong to. They, like traditional media, are always in need of stories and news to cover.

If you want to gain media attention you have to think like the media. It is that simple. If you have a great new technology that you are going to bring into the market to assist people with disabilities you probably do not want to send a press release to a fashion magazine. Be one with the media, and you are one with their audience. Do not be disappointed if your release gets no attention. It may take a couple, or more, for the media to recognize that you are indeed a viable business and may want to cover you then. The last thing that a reporter wants to do is cover the launch of a new business that happens to be more of an idea in someone’s kitchen only to have the business close a few weeks later because it was a hobby, and nothing else.

What if you are not a good writer? Or do not have the time to draft and send out press releases? You can hire someone, either internally or externally, to handle this for your business. Keep in mind that you will have to make certain decisions that will impact your business. First, consider this an investment, not an expense. I tell my clients that if they are looking at their attorney or CPA as an expense they need to take a step back and look at this differently. These people provide a very valuable service, and yes, it can be expensive, but it is an investment into the future financial and legal health of the business. Publicity should be looked at the same way.

If you hire someone internally, unless you are a larger
business, you may not want to spend a lot of money. However, this is an important function within a growing business if money is an issue. Consider hiring a consultant or small agency. Certainly on an hourly basis you will pay more, probably much more, but there are no employment tax implications as the firm or consultant is a vendor. Also, there is no overhead because you do not need to purchaser a computer, provide telephone line or office space; nor do you have to deal with sick days or vacation days. A professional, whether hired in-house or externally, also brings with him or her a list of media contacts. This can be worth its weight in gold!

So you’ve drafted a press release and sent it to the media. What next? Follow up. If you wait for the press to write about your business you may be waiting a long time. It is important to follow up with the media as you would with a client. Once you send a prospect a proposal do you wait to hear back from them? I would certainly hope not. The same is true with the media. Many times calling beforehand to see what they are looking to cover is important.

Establishing a relationship is also important. Why? Because if you have a relationship with a reporter and he is covering something and needs an “expert” to quote for his story he may chose to reach out to you. For example, if you own a construction company that specializes in the installation of solar panels and there is a new tax credit being discussed in congress a reporter may need to speak with someone on the frontline. That someone can be you. Because of this relationship it is easy for said reporter to reach out to you instead of a competitor he finds in the yellow pages. Reporters are busy, and many times because they are on deadlines are not able to spend a lot of time researching certain things, so they rely on their contacts.

One last piece of advice: be accessible. Reporters should have your office number, mobile number and home number. Become an expert, and be accessible. Tell reporters to feel free to call you at all of your numbers. This serves two purposes. The first is that you are easily accessible and easy to reach when they are one deadline. Be sure to let your receptionist or assistant know to put calls through from the press. The second purpose it serves is that you will receive the benefit of the doubt should something less than positive happen regarding you, your company or your industry. Prior to something that can be perceived as negative appearing in the paper you are likely to receive a call and an opportunity to explain yourself if you have a solid relationship with the press. We do not want to control the press, but we do want to have the opportunity to share our point of view.

In closing, there is nothing wrong with seeking publicity for yourself or your company. If people do not know who you are they cannot find you. I tell friends that I am not afraid to take on controversial projects on behalf of a client, at times going against the beliefs of friends. The reason is that I feel that the service that I provide is similar to that of an attorney in that I have a client to represent. An attorney represents her clients in court; I represent my clients in the court of public opinion. I do this because I understand the media, and can strategically work to increase, or decrease, a client’s profile. Publicity, used properly, can help raise the perception of a product. In a recent survey three out of four Fortune 500 CEOs agreed that a brand is established through public relations, then maintained through advertising. Brand yourself; brand your company.

Alex Rodriguez


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  • It used to be said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. Add that picture your friend took of you last week and posted it on MySpace! It’ll be there forever. –Laura Betterly

  • There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. Brendan Behan

  • 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

  • Ninety eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans. It’s the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them. Lily Tomlin

  • Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support every nation must decay. Benjamin Disraeli

  • Of course I’m a publicity hound. Aren’t all crusaders? How can you accomplish anything unless people know what you are trying to do? Vivien Kellems