How to Get the Press on Your Side

How to make yourself newsworthy and get free press coverage (Excerpt from Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring, and also appears in Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World).

It’s easy: make yourself newsworthy.

News is anything that other people are interested in. And being
newsworthy consists of letting editors and reporters know you’re doing
something of interest to other people-having an event; telling a story;
creating or participating in any occurrence; supporting, opposing, or
even merely observing a trend or activity.
Editors and producers have the tremendous challenge of coming up
with new stories to fill their pages and air slots-day after day, week after
week, month after month, year after year. It isn’t always easy to fill all
that space. Therefore, you become their ally. Your achievements–along
with your ability to publicize them properly and work cooperatively with
media people–will cause local editors to welcome you with open arms.
Not only will you have a very good shot at getting your press release
printed (perhaps several times in different sections of the paper), but a
reporter might even arrange a more in-depth story. And that is pure
gold for you!

Stanley D. Friedman, who produces public affairs programming for
WWOR-TV (serving New York City and northern New Jersey), notes that–
even in one of the top markets in the country–he has to seek out
people to fill up his allotted airtime. Editors and producers, therefore, will
be delighted to hear from you-but only if you are articulate and can
present yourself as serving the community, rather than merely trying to
seek publicity and make a profit.

Here are some events or situations that often lead almost
effortlessly to lots of free publicity:

  • Organizing an event open to the public
  • Achieving significant recognition in your field
  • Release of a book or record, opening of an exhibit, etc.
  • Performing an important service to the community
  • Running for office
  • Writing legislation, testifying at hearings, etc.
  • Inventing, manufacturing, or offering a new product or service
  • Being present at–or, better still, involved in–major news events
  • Joining or taking leadership in a professional or community service
    organization–especially one with membership standards
  • Offering apprenticeships, training programs, classes, or
    opportunities to volunteer
  • Teaching, lecturing, or presenting at a professional conference
  • Winning a contest, sweepstakes, or lottery
  • Offering franchises of your business

But you can also get some coverage of far more mundane events.
You may not get followed around by a reporter, but you might well get
your releases in the paper–and reap all the benefits we discussed
earlier. Here are a few examples:

  • Moving or opening a new branch
  • Educational achievements (including attending work-related
    seminars) or other accomplishments by members of your staff
  • Hosting an open house
  • Hiring or promotion of employees
  • Annual meetings
  • Issuance of any publication available to the public

Use your imagination. You only risk a stamp, and may gain exposure
to thousands of people. The media that promote you have something
to gain as well; they need an endless supply of fresh material.

But don’t expect the media to drop everything and report on you,
just so you can get some free publicity. Remember their goals of
reporting news and serving the community; you must blend with that
agenda. Many editors shy away from blatantly promotional pieces.

Make Life Easier for Your Editorial Allies

Another aspect of thinking like an editor is presenting yourself as the
kind of person editors want to deal with. In any oral or written
communication with a media outlet, you should be friendly and
approachable, articulate and concise. Be willing to answer reporters’
questions, even if you have to research the answers and get back to
them. (Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know but can find out, and never
give an answer you’re not sure is accurate.) If you’re running an event or
a tourist attraction, let the press in for free to cover it. Finally, know the
deadlines and publication schedules of the media you deal with, and
understand their importance.

A deadline is the day and time a reporter has to get a story in if it’s
going to be printed or broadcast in the next edition. Except for very hot
last-minute news, those deadlines may as well be written in stone. Get
your stuff in on time and don’t try to wheedle a journalist into bending a
deadline for you–the bad reputation you will get among the press is a
far worse disease than being left out once. And don’t forget that a
reporter needs some time to work with your material, and is balancing
your story against many others.

Typically, morning daily newspapers close the edition around 10
p.m., afternoon papers at around 11 a.m., weeklies two to four days
before publication. Some sections may close earlier than others. A large
metropolitan Sunday newspaper may close the magazine, comics, arts,
living, and classified sections as early as Monday, and have them
already printed and collated as early as the previous Thursday. This frees
up the presses for news and sports sections that get printed Saturday
night. TV stations tend to like to do the camera work at least two to four
hours before the newscast. Give daily and broadcast journalists a
minimum of a couple of hours before their deadline to write their story–
several days if you’re dealing with weeklies, and even longer for
monthlies–and don’t call any reporter or editor right at deadline, when
s/he’s frantically trying to get all the stories out.

Feature departments, including community calendars or letters to
the editor, may have a deadline that applies to you, rather than the
reporter. In my area, the newsweekly and the most popular commercial
radio station both want calendar notices two to three weeks ahead!
Again, respect the deadline and be on time.

The Event: A Cornucopia of Publicity Opportunities

The easiest way to turn the press into your publicity bureau is by
having an event. An event gives the press a handle; they understand
how to treat events as news, and as promotable calendar items. Having
any kind of event makes you automatically newsworthy. So a good trick
for you as the publicist is to phrase your activity as an event. Yes, the
same techniques apply to other promotable activities, but so many
more doors are opened by linking your publicity agenda to some kind of
event that I’d encourage you to do them whenever possible.

For instance, don’t just have a sale; a sale is not a news event, but a
commercial device to increase business. But a sale can be rolled into
something more newsworthy, such as: charity dance-a-thon with
reduced prices on dancing shoes and leotards; appearance by a local
person who is known for using your product, with concurrent sale on the
product; craft demonstration by an artisan who uses materials that you
sell, with price cuts in those supplies; foot race from a central point to
your food shop, with free refreshments for participants; old shoes trade-
in: deduct 10% off the price of a new pair of shoes by bringing in an old
but still usable pair for donation to charity; food sampling fair, with
discounts on all the participating foods; plain, old party with store-wide
clearance sale; concert in a music store, with sales on the instruments
the band plays; downtown cleanup with free brooms to participants, as
well as a sale on trash bags, rubber gloves, etc.

Of course, it’s not necessary to have a sale as part of your event.
Many wonderful events can happen without a sale. But if you want a
sale, you can get a lot more publicity if you focus on the event. Toward
the bottom of your release, mention the sale: “To honor Emma Lazarus’
reading and book signing, Great Books is having a sale on every book
that contains any of her poems,” or “In conjunction with the charity
skate-a-thon, Alfredo’s is offering reduced prices on all skates and
skating wear.”

The Community Service Tie-In

You will notice many promotable events involve charity or
community service. This is not coincidence. It is always easier for a
business to get free publicity if it’s also promoting a cause. Food
donations, community improvement projects, and raising/donating
money all attract publicity–and help something you genuinely believe in.
That last part is key: if you try to do charity insincerely, it will show, and
boomerang back at you. But your firm can get commercial mileage out
of its good deeds! The donation can be small or large, but it must be
genuine and heartfelt.

Here’s a large scale example pioneered in my area by Stop & Shop
supermarkets: They worked out a deal with a computer manufacturer
to donate computers to elementary schools, then invited schools to
participate. For every hundred thousand dollars or so in register
receipts, the school got a new computer. It was a brilliant move; the
promotion was much talked about in the community. Many people
switched to Stop & Shop for the duration of the campaign. It cost the
store nothing, and also benefited the computer company. Not only did
the manufacturer get good will, but also trained a new generation of
students in using its products–a classic win-win scheme.

Get the Media to Invest in You

For community service or entertainment events, enlist newspapers
and broadcast stations as cosponsors. Typically, media cosponsorship
means you do the work and spend whatever money is necessary; the
station or publication gives you oodles of free publicity, reports on it,
and/or broadcasts portions of the event.

Electronic media are required to provide public service
programming as a condition of their license, and publications have a
vested interest in maintaining their credibility as the eyes and ears of the
community. Because cosponsorship demonstrates the media outlet’s
community interest and also lets the public hobnob with media
personalities, a suggestion for cosponsorship will often be greeted
enthusiastically.

What’s the difference between the ordinary free publicity you can
garner and bringing the station in as a cosponsor? Jordi Herold,
proprietor of the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts,
uses cosponsorship several times a month. Asking for radio
cosponsorship “is not asking for something for nothing, but raises the
estimation of the station in [the eyes of] it’s audience–makes it possible
to hear the same music live. It does a lot to contribute to the positive
image of the station.” Ideally, “it becomes a priority at the station. That’s
not measurable in times of mention, but it becomes part of the dj’s
patter on the air–you can’t log that, you can’t buy that, you can’t specify
that.”

Newer, smaller media are good bets, says Herold. “We have a
station that’s new in the area and is competing for market share. If I do a
copromotion, I’m likely to get up to 50 free mentions in addition to my
paid advertising. With a station…that doesn’t have a relationship with the
club, I may only get a one-to-one relationship between the spots I buy
and promotional mentions. With a college radio station, you can be all
over the map without any expenditure of money.”

For live music, radio cosponsorship is an especially valuable
endorsement, because the station’s promotional spots will give listeners
the chance to hear a little of an artist they may not know–and because
the station’s role as an arbiter of music carries over to readers who see
the cosponsorship listed in the newspapers and on posters.
It’s even okay to have several media cosponsoring an event–if they
don’t compete. For instance, I organized a candidate forum and got
sponsorship–and publicity–from one newspaper, one radio station, and
one cable TV station. If I’d wanted to get two radio stations, I would
have needed to check with both stations that it was all right to have
direct competitors cosponsor the event.

Consider cosponsorships for political candidate forums, live
entertainment, fairs and festivals, auctions, and special events.

For more marketing advice see: the marketing page.

By Shel Horowitz, marketing/frugality consultant and author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook, and other books. Visit Shel’s 500+ page other Website, http://www.frugalfun.com, for free advice and monthly tipsheets on frugal marketing and frugal fun, as well as Global Arts Review, Global Travel review, and Down to Business magazines.