Publicity - Known As 'Free Ink' and 'Free Air' and Here is How to Get Some

Marketing pros often explain the difference between advertising and publicity as “Advertising is what you pay for, and publicity is what you pray for.”

Publicity is the attention radio and television stations, newspapers, newsletters and magazines give your company because of something you have said or done. It could be a new product or service you are offering, an event you have sponsored, a milestone in your company’s history, or your expert opinion on a hot topic. “Public relations” is a catchall term for the range of activities you undertake to attract this media attention.

In any good marketing plan, advertising and PR work hand-in-hand; however, PR gives you more coverage per dollar invested by getting your message to a wider audience. People understand that advertising is controlled and paid for by its sponsor, but PR comes under the banner of editorial content, which readers and listeners trust instinctively. Businesses “pray” for publicity because it has the effect of a third-party endorsement.

Generating News

According to Jay Conrad Levinson, author of Guerilla Marketing, to succeed at gaining free publicity, you must have the imagination to generate real news that is worthy of publication or broadcast, the contacts to whom you can offer your news, and the persistence to follow through.

One of the goals of your PR program should be to position yourself as the community water expert, and your efforts should begin with a plan that includes a public relations platform. This is simply a paragraph that focuses your broad knowledge of your subject into three or four key messages that tie in with or expand the key messages in your ads and sales literature. The platform helps you to “know your story,” says media trainer Jeff Bloch, so that when you talk to the press, you can get those points across in a way that makes the reporter want to recount them.

Reaching the Media

Next, identify all the media outlets in your market area—local publications, radio and TV news and talk shows—and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories they favor. Most publications have editorial calendars they can send upon request. This helps you know what topics they plan to cover.

Decide what you can offer that is worth their time and attention. Will you be staging an event to celebrate an anniversary? Offering a free brochure with vital safety information? Holding a seminar? Running a contest? Funding a scholarship? Highlighting an employee’s accomplishment? Whatever it is, it must have news value to capture the interest of an editor or producer. That interest is what will earn you coverage and, perhaps, a personal interview.

You reach the media by writing a news release that contains all the pertinent information, presented clearly and concisely. Send your release to a specific editor. Your person-to-person relationships with members of the media are what will get you the kind of coverage you want. Your media list should include magazines, newspapers, as well as newsletters from groups such as health clubs, sports organizations, spas, medical offices, park districts and seniors center. The editors of these publications may be quite willing to run your release, often in its entirety.

How difficult is it to get your name in print and on air—for free? Consider that on any given day several of the stories you read in the press, hear on the radio or see on television are generated by sources outside the media. The good news is that because the demand for information on health, food and fitness keeps growing, water quality will always be a newsworthy topic. Let the media know that you and others in your company can provide information and commentary on your industry as a whole as well as on specific products. Over time, they will come to view you as a reliable source.

Working with the Media

Media people are constantly on deadline, so if a reporter or editor phones and you cannot take the call immediately, call back as soon as you possibly can. If a reporter catches you off guard, ask for a few minutes to collect your thoughts; then call back. When you are being interviewed, respond to questions directly but also try to include some bit of information about your company or industry. Reporters love facts and figures, says Bloch, who was formerly a reporter for the Miami Herald. Always keep a few on hand to offer them.

Every PR program should include a crisis plan that will guide you in dealing with the press under adversarial conditions. You may never need to use it, but you will sleep better knowing it is there.

Finally, to generate publicity on a regular basis, your PR efforts must go beyond sending out news releases. A booth at a community festival, a vehicle in a parade, presentations at meetings and conventions, public information seminars—these are examples of other venues through which you will gain exposure and which may, depending on the nature of the event, result in even more of that prayed-for free ink.

Mary Lou Denny is the co-founder and executive vice president of Walt Denny, Inc., an advertising/public relations agency in Hinsdale, Ill. She can be reached by phone at 630-323-0555 or by e-mail at MaryLou@waltdenny.com.

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