How to get free publicity for your business.

You don’t.

This is probably one of my most frequently asked questions (post pending), as I then explain the falacy that PR = publicity. And since I’ve got you here with my linkbaiting headline that asks a question and seeks to give a transparent answer (h/t Marcus), let’s pile on the SEO love.

How do you get free publicity? You. Don’t.

There is no such thing as free. No free passes, we pay for our ‘free gifts with purchase.’ There are no free lunches – unless you get lucky, meet a nice blogging friend on the Internet.

Publicity is not free. Wire services cost money. Stunts and ‘viral’ memes can cost big money to produce and market. It’s not free publicity; it’s earned media.

It takes a considerable investment of time, expertise, research and talent to properly target the appropriate media with your company’s tale of promotional ‘news.’ Even if you go it alone, don’t fall for the DIY lie. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but time IS money and you could end up spending as much time running your marketing as you do running your business.

It takes writing skill, understanding the market and media, what appeals to whom. It takes know-how to pitch a story, find the right reporter and package it the right way to earn that positive exposure. Don’t believe me? Here’s how NOT to pitch, either the media or a blogger.

A simple litmus test on deciding what news is worthy of free publicity – ahem, earned media.

Store Opening: Are you Apple? Yes, it’s news. No, try again.

New Hire/Promotion/Exec who wants their name in the paper: Did you hire or fire Donald Trump? Congratulations, that’s news I’d read. No, maybe try the trades or yes, there are the vanity wall ‘People in the News’ sections of trades and business journals. Good luck with that.

New Product: New widget? If there’s not an “i” in front of it, think about what makes YOUR widget interesting to the readers and viewers of the media or blogger you’re pitching. Is it a new creole-Swiss fusion cuisine billiards-and-yodel bar? Different isn’t enough, everyone is ‘different.’ It has to be better than other options and worth a trip.. but don’t pitch it 4 counties over or the sports local section.

New factory, business: If your business consists of an operation run out of the back of your SUV, stimulating the economy of your back pocket my professional opinion is to suggest you dig a little deeper. If you’re generating millions in revenue that attracts investors or adds 50 jobs to the local community, now you’ve got something.

You want the cover of WSJ: that one’s easier, screw up royally.. more epic the facepalm, the better. (Inside PR joke.)

Yes, you have a story. So what.

We all have stories to tell, we all have businesses to market and services we think are all that and a box of chocolate. But it doesn’t always mean it’s news worthy of ‘free’ publicity. It’s the answer to the “so what?” – real, interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, relevant to the audience – that is what gets you closer to a story watchable on the nightly news.

Whether you go it alone or hire a professional, keep that in mind along with this: as a pro, the job isn’t just about media relations but its value to your business, its worth and return on the investment of your time and money. My next question is this: Your PR ploy worked, got you some publicity. Great. What are you gonna do now to make that publicity work for your business?

Thoughts? Rants? Off target pitches to not share?

Photo credit: they sell all sorts of snarky things at Cafepress.

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15 thoughts on “How to get free publicity for your business.

    1. I could have ended there Shonali, but needed to explain the whole myth thing. It’s not publicity that’s a myth, that’s real.. it’s the b.s. about it being ‘free’ whether it’s a pro or DIY. BTW that link was a total last second drop in, this was ready to go the night before but when I read Shakirah’s post, had to add it. 🙂

  1. Just to clarify, I felt the length of the core of the news release I edited for Neal was fine; it was the About section that I’d pare down even further, if there had been enough time to discuss (this was done quite quickly, as Neal was leaving for vacation). I did build in a number of sub-heds, but unfortunately PRWeb strips out formatting such as bolding, so they are a little less obvious.

    And my point is that Neal’s background is sales and marketing. His original draft was full of lots of information, but he looked to and accepted the PR pro’s recommendations to make changes.

    I don’t know what the overall pickup was (as I’m not doing the media relations side of this), but I know he was quite pleased that Digital Journal ran the complete release within hours of it going live.
    Judy Gombita recently posted..Constructing the Organizational Narrative: PR definition in the making

    1. I’ve sent long releases too, sometime they are necessary if there’s a lot of info to cover. (Pitches, those should be short and sweet.) About the formatting, not a knock on you .. just a shame they did that since we both know it can help. And your point is well-made. I had one client and working with these two gents who were in marketing.. sigh, what they did NOT get about branding, about design and esp. about writing and language, it was such a frustrating project at times. Good that Neal recognized the need for change and respected that a pro could make it better.

  2. As I was told by the Ontario business editor for the Canadian Press, “When we read a news release we’re always asking, ‘Why should I care?’ ‘How will this information benefit our readers/watchers/listeners.'” That’s why I like to say NEWS or MEDIA release rather than press. Not only is it more indicative of the varieties of media out there (beyond newspapers), but it emphasizes that it should contain actual NEWS.

    The absolute worst news release I was *forced* to write (by my VP boss) was about the fact that the organization was SPONSORING an arts event. The truth of the matter is that the sponsorship really wasn’t a good fit for this organization (it never happened again, fyi), but what bothered me the most was the arts group suggested WE do a news release after taking X thousands of dollars. And the VP blithely declared, “Sure.” Excuse me–isn’t the news really from their end, that such-and-such (new) sponsors came on board?

    Anyhow, with not much to work with, I wrote a clever hed (a play on words), and I only posted it on one newswire service (a reasonably priced one), plus did some direct email sending. It got a small amount of pickup (trade publications), plus I had it on the website, to satisfy the VP. But it still bugs me that I was forced to do it (even after strenuously arguing that it was neither news nor our responsibility to pick up the costs of this form of promotion of our sponsorship).

    BTW, I recently volunteered to edit my pal Neal Schaffer’s news release. He had written it himself and it was too long and lacking any kind of imagery (and the logical flow also needed some help). So I hacked out a few hundred words and added in my own bits (whilst still keeping Neal’s vision and voice in it).

    When I sent Neal the revised copy, I gave him a bit of a rationale for all of the changes, including:

    “I’ve also added in a thematic quality (“wind” “velocity” etc.), because it helps to bridge the two main concepts of this news release:

    – adding contributors to your blog
    – promoting your new book–which is where you got the idea to broaden the editorial focus of the blog.”

    Anyhow, I’m very pleased to say that Neal accepted 100 per cent of my changes. Both he and Amy Stephan (a journalist) loved it.

    You can check it out yourself:

    The point is, even a fluffy marketing PR news release (as per my first example, not the second) can get picked up, but yes, you have to really, really work at it.

    1. WORD on the ‘news’ or ‘media’ release Judy. Those are the phrases I prefer as well, though in this case I capitulated to shameless SEO desires for organic search.

      Both your example for Neal and the sponsorship release speak to what’s so hard about writing and pitching the media: brevity and focus. Clients want or think they ‘need’ all this information in there and as a PR pro, I fight my good fight and tell them lots of type, words = delete. Less really is more in this case but it’s got to be the right less and start with the real NEWS that’s most relevant. (And what’s most relevant to a trade may be snoresville to the local business weekly.) Then you add subheads, section breaks, bullets, art before the boilerplate. Theme, style and flow also make a difference as does an objective, outside eye.

      I’ve had light and fluffy picked up and you are dead on: you really, really have to work at it. Ergo it is not free. FWIW.

  3. Ha Davina, thanks for the hat tip. I appreciate it!

    I find the press release thing interesting in the new environment, because they now have a secondary purpose: SEO. You’re right, store openings, anniversaries, new hires — often are not news items that generate earned media, but many use them for online releases, without the expectation of publicity.

    As far as DIY, I think you make a great point. PR is definitely not just publicity, and PR is definitely better handled by professionals.
    Adam Toporek recently posted..Customer Service Stories: Getting to the Root of Customer Service

    1. Business, marketing, communications 101: not everything hits every goal, every time. Sometimes SEO is the SOLE purpose for a release, particularly those via a service Adam, you are right about that.

      I am an advocate for hiring a professional, I am. Now I do color my own hair, as it’s a small investment in product, time and risk w/ limited returns; or perhaps I place little value on those returns other than caring that my grey hair is covered. 😉 But when it comes to running a business, one of the biggest investments we can make esp. in the public eye, that’s another thing.

      I don’t want to claim that good PR is the sole purview of good communications pros; it’s not. If someone truly takes the time, does the research, writes well, reads/watches their target media, focuses on the audience and not themselves, has valuable news to share .. they have a shot at legitimate publicity. But there are a lot of IFs in there and a lot of time and a ton of work, none of it ‘free.’ I’d rather someone just do a half-day consult with a pro before going completely solo. FWIW.

  4. PR is definitely not my area of expertise, but I do have a fair amount of experience writing content for press releases and the like. I tend to see PR efforts as lead generation, targeting a relevant audience. My goal is to deliver just enough information, in just the right way to cause the recipient to take action. I don’t want to tell the whole story until that connection has been made.

    It’s a lot of work, and it’s never free. But the investment in time and effort can have a payoff, if it’s done the right way.

    1. PR is much more than that but in terms of publicity, it varies Marianne. You always hear about the folks who wanted to be on Oprah or the Today Show.. even though it wasn’t their target at all. Getting the right pitch, written the right way to the right person.. it’s a ton of work and therefore, not free.

      I’m not saying it CAN’T be a DIY proposition, just that it’s not a ‘free and easy’ one. Even if a small business owner paid for a one-day workshop or consultation, they could drastically 1) improve their results and 2) save themselves considerable money and time. FWIW.

  5. Oh, my. Love the mug, love the tips, love the link love. And I have to say, I don’t think I’ll ever make the news with my business. I also wanted to add that in terms of PR, I thought I’d found one kind of free publicity, and that’s word of mouth. But that only comes after we’re really worth it, which tends to come from putting our money where our mouths are… so not totally free.

    Also, what’s an h/t?
    Shakirah Dawud recently posted..Genuinely Curious Monday: Do You Use “Commercial Breaks” On Social Media?

    1. Hat tip. 🙂 Can’t imagine much PR for myself, though I have been quoted a few places. And I agree.. brands that cultivate WoM like Apple and Disney, they do so by working their tails off, investing in better products, service and never resting on their laurels.

      We wouldn’t attempt our own legal representation, healthcare/medicine, construction.. and yet we think we can ‘save’ by attempting our own PR (and marketing, social media). There’s a reason we pay mechanics, plumbers, dentists, CPAs to do their thing; it’s b/c they’re the experts.. something for another post. FWIW.

    1. It kinda was your idea.. at least the headline part Marcus. This has been in my head a while; as a business owner I’m sure you know the b.s. that is ‘free’ when .. well, anything. FWIW.

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