Publicity: How To Capture the Attention of the Media


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If your company is the publicly-traded market leader in your industry you can stop reading this because even the most mundane press release about some boring event at your company will make the major media news outlets. For the rest of you, you will have to be more creative if you want to get the media to cover your news.

Publicity is just one aspect of an overall integrated marketing campaign and something that we at take very seriously, and not so seriously, because it’s part art and part science. When we put together a publicity campaign for our clients, we strive to report on populace aspects of their news stories that will have a better chance of gaining media attention.

What do I mean by populace aspects? They are twists to your plain vanilla news story that will help to get media coverage – the story around the story that impacts the general public. Unless you incorporate one of the 5 twists that make a story compelling to a reporter, you’re sunk. Most companies aren’t big enough to command news coverage. What do I mean by big enough? Their news doesn’t affect the majority of the population. That’s why your press release about hiring a new Vice President of Sales will make the local paper at best, and that’s if it’s a slow news day and they have room to print it.

The fact of the matter is that the media just doesn’t care about your news. You have to have a story that will affect most if not all of the readers of the publication. Just think about how hard it is to get an appointment with your prospects. If they don’t care about your products or services, what makes you think the media is going to fall in love with your story?

We’ve uncovered 5 twists to look for in your news angle if you want to get media coverage. The reporter is interested in pleasing the editor and the editor is interested in printing stories that will sell their magazine or newspaper. That’s it. They don’t care about your company. And if you continue to create vanilla press releases and uneventful publicity campaigns you are guaranteed not to get any media coverage for your company.

You have to give the media something to write about. Today, the media’s idea of what is newsworthy is a little different than what you think is newsworthy about your company.

Year after year, here are the five most frequently written news stories:

  • What’s already hot in the media.

  • The controversy story.

  • The unusual or outrageous story.

  • The celebrity story.

  • The under-dog or David-and-Goliath story.

    If you can create a story with any of these story angles you’re going to capture the attention of the media. Create a story that packs two, three, or four of these angles all at the same time and you’ve hit a media grand slam.

    Creating a Story That’s Already Hot in the Media.

    For the last year and a half gas prices have been a major news topic. The media reports gas prices at the pump along with the commodity futures prices almost every day. You can’t pick up a paper or turn on the TV without being bombarded with news about gas. leveraged this hot topic for a client that generated national news. We capitalized on National Bicycle Week and the high price of gas by making the company executives buy a new fleet of cost-saving vehicles (yes bicycles). The headline: “In This Time of Gas Guzzlers, Executives Splurge on New Fleet of Vehicles. " We invited both TV and print media to cover the delivery of the new fleet and we won major coverage for this Midwestern company. The company makes gears for industrial equipment. We crafted a story about health benefits for the employees, cost savings for the company, plus a beneficial impact for the environment is a twist that is much better than a press release about how they are now making gears with 451 teeth instead of the old ones with 450 or that they have been in business for 17 years!

    Creating the Controversy Story

    People in the entertainment business use this all the time. Stories like mega female singer wants to help two up-and-coming female pop singers get more media so she kisses them on stage – bingo press coverage. Girl-next-door actress needs to change image so she dates hot bad boy – bingo press coverage. You see the real reason something is done is always there, it’s just not the part that makes the news. What’s so newsworthy about 3 women singing on stage?

    One of our clients wanted to generate attention for its business. put together a publicity strategy that focused on controversy. We decided on a bold move. They work in an industry that already has a tarnished image. We carefully crafted a campaign in which they exposed the dirty little secrets within their industry. Risky? Yes. Effective? Unbelievably. They are now know as the honest guys in their industry.

    Here’s one that was just reported the other day. ‘Man Gets Arrested for Stealing Internet at Café. ’ Okay what are the elements? Café offers free internet. So what, many others do these days. Not much has changed in coffee products so not much to report there. But what happens when a customer comes in to the café, uses the internet but doesn’t buy any coffee? Arrest him! Without the arrest there isn’t a story, but now you can have debates about freedom and what’s moral, etc. Was it a publicity stunt? You better believe it! Why would the story include a picture of the guy smiling while sitting in the very café that arrested him?

    Creating the Unusual or Outrageous Story

    Creating unusual or outrageous stories isn’t as hard as you think. Yes there are times when something so unusual happens in real life that it becomes news. Like the time I wrote a press release about a kid that found several thousand dollars outside of a well-known department store. Within 5 minutes of faxing out a one page press release, calls started coming in from all the different media outlets – TV, Radio and print. There was so much coverage that the story worked its way all the way up to the Jay Leno Show and the Ellen Degeneres Show where the boy went on national TV to tell his story. It also generated major coverage for the department store.

    The minute any of your employees have something unusual happen to them and you can tie it into your company you should alert the press.

    Here are some other publicity stunts that I’m sure you have heard about:

    “Found in NY Taxi: Jewelry Salesman Forgets $275,000 Dollars in Jewelry"

    “$40 Dollar Hamburger" – secret Kobe beef (from Japanese cows that get massages)

    “Hotel’s $1,000 Martini" – comes with real flakes of gold and a diamond in it

    “$500,000 Honeymoon Suite at Chicago Hotel" included trip to Harrods and twin Mercedes cars

    You guessed it – all publicity stunts that got media attention for the client.

    Creating the Celebrity Story

    Creating events that draw in big crowds and media can help your business in many ways. Here’s the quick breakdown of an event that generated great buzz for an auto dealer group that sells Acura, Mercedes, Infinity, Toyota, VW, etc, here in Chicago.

    This auto group dealer wants to sell fleets of cars to Chicagoland corporations. We decide on holding a fundraiser for a leukemia charity. A well-known beauty salon has models highlighting the latest hair styles along with dresses from local designers. Who gets invited? Executives and their spouses, past and present salon customers, as well as local celebrities and the media show up. It became such a hip event that even Chicago Social Magazine covered the story.

    Creating the Under-Dog Story

    This angle is very effective if your business is up against a major competitor. I could go on and on about ideas in this category but instead I’ll just list a few to give you some ideas.

  • Web-based sales force application company against giant sales force software company: company pickets in front of a national sales exposition with signs saying “Down with Software"

  • We had a software company client picket in front of their own building with signs saying, “We’ll pay more rent, but we need more. " Story talked about how the client was growing and they couldn’t get building management to make changes to accommodate the growth, resulting in news about how quickly our client was growing.

  • created a contest for one of our technology clients. Their goal was to get noticed for new clients and possibly sell their company. They knew that they had some of the best and brightest software programmers. We went on the attack with a challenge of programmers from the biggest web development companies. The contest pitted our client against others in a challenge to build the best web application for an actual client. Yes we invited a bigger competitor to work on an actual client. Our smaller client won the challenge and was subsequently bought by the bigger competitor.

    The truth of the matter is that news just isn’t news unless it has one of these twists. Look at how the morning national news looks more like a variety show than an actual news cast. At first TV anchors just read the news to you, then TV news had two kinds of anchors; the warm fuzzy talking heads that would then send you over to their more serious news desk people and now both groups of anchors are getting all cozy on the morning news couch.

    You don’t want your company to create a stunt just for the sake of it. But you do want to create a catalyst that has substance and relevance to what your company does and will catch the attention of the media. Creating a buzz about your company is what we do best.

    David Wells is a business development expert, speaker, consultant and founder of His company is a provider of business-to-business lead creation, data confirmation and integrated marketing solutions.

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