Here’s How to Generate Publicity that Grows Exponentially

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Last week I was once again reminded of the old PR maxim that publicity begets publicity. For one of my clients, a well-timed news release on a topic that coincided with a high-profile national issue transformed the initial release into a news generator that came in exponential waves. And the hits and interview requests just keep coming.

One of the things that can really jump-start publicity efforts is to have a national media outlet do an original story based on the release.  That happened in this case, which expanded the publicity much further than would otherwise have been the case. And now, as word continues to spread among the news media and via social media, new opportunities to keep the story going continue to surface.

Sounds easy enough, but making this “magic” happen is much more difficult than it may appear to someone who’s never tried pitching a story idea or circulating a news release to reporters who are swamped with competing requests and breaking news items.

So, how do you know if your story idea will generate publicity or end up in a black hole that never sees the light of day?

One of the most important ways you can improve the odds of generating publicity is to understand the criteria news media use to determine the value of news.

Here are the ones I believe are most important:

  • Consequence to readers/viewers
  • Prominence of the individual/organization
  • Proximity to the area served (if a local or regional news outlet)
  • Conflict
  • Controversy
  • Timeliness
  • Human interest
  • Consumer trends
  • Novelty or unusualness of the story

In my experience, you need to have at least one of these criteria to be modestly successful with your publicity efforts, and in most cases at least two if you are to have any chance of the publicity going “viral.”

The more of these elements you can add to the mix, the higher your probability of getting good hits. Influencers can also greatly help with your publicity efforts as they pass along the story – and their thoughts about it – to others via social media and/or personal contacts with reporters.

Generating publicity isn’t rocket science, but you need the right mix of rocket fuel for a successful launch.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

A “Back-Door” Strategy for Getting Ongoing Publicity

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There used to be a famous print ad featuring a skeptical-looking businessman saying something along the lines of, “I’ve never heard of you, your company or your product. Now what is it you want to sell me?”

If being known was considered an important part of the pre-sales process a couple decades ago – before the world was saturated with social media and a host of online venues to critique products and services – imagine how much more important awareness and a positive image are for a company today.

People make purchasing decisions every day based on a company’s reputation. While recommendations from friends and online reviews are important, news media coverage is near the top of the influencer scale because of its perceived credibility.

Even companies with well-established brands and a sophisticated social media presence use publicity to nurture their reputations and maintain awareness.

As I wrote in a previous post, assigning a financial value to publicity can be challenging, but there’s no question that consistent publicity pays off. Image-conscience companies understand its strategic worth, as well as how positive publicity can help them gain a competitive edge over competitors by positioning them as experts and creating top-of-mind awareness among important audiences.

The flip side is that publicity is often not easy to get – unless there’s a crisis, scandal or something new and innovation. However, there is a “back-door” way to get ongoing coverage, if you’re willing to be part of a broader, multi-source story rather than the single focus of one.

Becoming a reliable source for reporters covering your industry – a source that is knowledgeable, articulate, easy to work with and responsive to requests for comments and expert insight – will raise the profile of your ad agency or organization in a way that can’t be beat by any other medium.

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Ad Agencies: Here’s a Tool to Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Make Sure Your Publicity Headlines Connect Emotionally

Writing headlines has always been a bit of an art form. Putting together copy for an article, blog post or news release can actually be easier than identifying a handful of pithy words that resonate well enough with readers to draw them into the copy itself.

Newspaper editors have an even more challenging job, because not only must the headline reflect the gist of the story, but it has to fit within certain space parameters. And, because the person who writes the headline is not the same person who authored the story, the headline writer has the daunting task of moving quickly from one article to another, seeking to find appropriate words that not only grab attention, but also making them fit.

I never really appreciated the talent it takes to write good headlines until I took an editing class in graduate school.

Part of the course involved doing the design and layout of a mock newspaper. Just when I thought I had the perfect headline for a story, it would end up being a tad long and I’d have to start over again. Of course in addition to having the right length, I had to make sure that the revised headline accurately reflected the article’s content.

When it comes to writing headlines for publicity, you don’t have to be concerned about them fitting in a particular space – that’s up to the newspaper or magazine editor.

The challenge for agencies is writing a headline that draws enough attention and interest to get the reader into the text itself.

I frequently use a headline as my subject line when e-mailing a news release, so it has to be compelling or the e-mail will get trashed without ever being opened.

Now, there’s a free tool that helps you gauge how well your proposed headline connects emotionally with readers. It’s called the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer, and when you plug in your headline you’ll get a score ranking from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the better your headline.

The headline analyzer will also tell you which emotion – intellectual, empathetic or spiritual – is most impacted in a reader’s mind. The site’s Q&A section explains how this works. (Hint: It’s based on scholarly research.)

Check it out and see how long it takes you to write a headline that attains “most gifted copywriters,” status with an Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score of 50%-75%.

(I landed a score of 38.46% with the headline for this post, putting it in the range of “most professional copywriters.” As I said, headline writing is not an easy art form to master.)

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Are Your News Releases Helping or Hurting Your Ad Agency PR Efforts?

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In the past few weeks I’ve read warnings from a number of credible sources about the danger of linking key words in anchor text in news releases. Google’s new linking rules consider such releases, when distributed on other sites, as creating “unnatural” links.

These unnatural links are a big no-no from Google’s perspective, and they can be costly to ad agency PR efforts.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about how Google can make life miserable for a company’s search engine optimization initiatives if it runs afoul of Google’s standards, whether intentionally or inadvertently. One of my clients, a technology company, is 100% Internet-marketing based and the majority of its traffic comes from Google searches, so there’s really little choice but to play ball with Google or risk facing unpleasant SEO consequences.

The problem comes in when Google changes rules suddenly, giving the term “Google Alert” new meaning to organizations that live or die based on SEO rankings.

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been the subject of much conversation and angsts because of the way some companies that previously ranked high for certain key words no longer do so, while others that lagged behind now find themselves on top. There are many factors that go into rankings, and under Google’s new linking rules it appears that even news releases can harm a company if they aren’t done in a way that Google likes.

Frank Strong, director of PR for Vocus, which owns PRWeb, advises on his personal blog not to link key words in anchor text. Product anchor text is probably okay, he says, if you are linking a specific product or brand name to pages deep on a site.

As anyone who uses PRWeb regularly knows, releases must use links sparingly – on average one link for every hundred words.

SEO expert Jill Whalen writes in her July 25 High Rankings Advisor newsletter, “[C]ounter-intuitive to what we as SEOs have been saying for years . . . you may want to completely forget about using keywords in anchor text. My hope is that Google finally understands that real natural links rarely have keywords in them, and that they’ve adjusted their algorithm accordingly.”

Of course, no one really knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works (except the people who work there), and it seems as though it’s constantly changing. So what’s a PR person to do?

The universal advice I’ve come across is to focus on good quality content. This is what Google keeps pushing, and right now it seems to be the best path for SEO success. Until someone convinces me otherwise, I’m going to continue striving to provide excellent content and, for now at least, avoid using keywords in news release anchor text.

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Ad Agency PR Best Practice: Put the Story on the Top

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One of my former agency colleagues, a veteran newspaper reporter, used to have a sign on his desk that said, “Put the Story on the Top.”

In other words, when writing a “hard new” story, state the facts up front and get to the main point right away.

Great advice, and something we all need to keep in mind as we write our news releases. Sure, it can be tempting to write two or three paragraphs of introduction before getting to the main topic, but it’s not the way to write a professional news story.

For one thing, it’s easier for people to remember the gist of the story if you first summarize it and then add details. If they only read the first paragraph, would they know the basic essentials? If not, you need to take a look at revising your release.

Another reason is that many people in fact don’t read much more than the first paragraph or two, so you want to make sure those folks read the most important thing you have to tell them in the first paragraph, followed by the next most important information in the second paragraph, the third most important in the third paragraph, and so forth.

That approach is known in journalism as the inverted pyramid style, and it’s what good reporters and PR pros do when writing a news article. They give you the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of a story at the very top. No fluff, puffery or promotional flair – just the facts, please. Otherwise, you’ll immediately lose credibility with the reporters and editors you’re trying to reach.

Feature stories are different, because they tend to focus on matters that are interesting and entertaining, but not the most pressing issues of the day. Examples include trends, human interest and unusual, off-beat topics. They, too, will contain some basic facts, but those facts are woven into the story. Features are generally more creative and less formal. The lead in a feature is designed to lure readers in, with the writer crafting a compelling narrative that keeps their attention to the very end.

Hard news and feature stories both have a place in telling your agency’s story. Knowing the difference between the two, and how to use each appropriately, is one of the keys to successful ad agency PR.

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Know Which Words to Use and Avoid for Ad Agency PR Success

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Mark Twain once remarked that “the difference between the right word and the almost right world is the difference between lightening and the lighting bug.”

No where is that more true than in the world of journalism, which has its own particular style of language usage.

Recently I came across an article titled “20 words and phrases that will doom your pitch.” I sure didn’t want that to happen, so I read through the list to identify these “cursed words,” as the article described them.

You can read the list of words the article warns will sabotage your pitches and news release here. If you get as far as the comments section at the end, you’ll see additional words submitted by readers as candidates to add to the banned list.

“The reporters not only ignore these, they hold them up as points of mockery,” said.
Michael Smart, principal for MichaelSMARTPR. He and New York Times technology columnist David Pogue drew up the list of words and phrases that they say undermine a writer’s creditability.

The real problem with these 20 words is that they are more suitable for advertising copy than a news release or pitch letter.

Why is this a big deal?

Because there’s a big difference between the words and phrases used in advertising and journalism. Ad agencies that don’t understand this difference will have a hard time being successful with their publicity efforts or even being taken seriously.

Reporters are very sensitive to attempts to disguise advertising as news or use promotional language to hype a product, service, cause or company. They can sniff these out from a considerable distance, and it’s the quickly way to have your content tossed in the trash or deleted.

To be considered credible by the news media, you have to write your pitch as objectively as possible, emphasizing its news, trend or human interest aspect. Or, if you want to be considered as a source, focus on your expertise to comment on a particular topic and provide insights.

Being familiar with The Associated Press Stylebook will help you use appropriate journalism language and avoid faux pas. Think of it as a pocket language guide you’d want to take with when traveling to another country so that you can converse with locals.

The best way to maximize your chance of landing news media coverage is to write and think like a reporter – and, of course, have a good story to tell.

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The Hidden Cost of Paid Website Content to Ad Agency PR

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Last week as I was monitoring coverage of a news release I distributed for a financial services client, I went to a business website that has been on my media list longer than I can remember.

And right toward the top, there was a headline based on the release with a hyperlink to the article. When I clicked on the link, much to my surprise I got a message saying:

This content is exclusive to subscribers.”

My options were to subscribe for a minimum of a year or pay $7.50 to purchase the article. Content that used to be free now came at a price

I hate to sound cheap, but paying $7.50 to access a website article that probably was no more than a page or two when printed out seems a bit high to me. And I really wasn’t excited about subscribing to content that used to not cost me a thing.

But my real concern was that only subscribers could see a story which previously would have been available to anyone with Internet service.

How many business people subscribe to this site? I haven’t a clue. And of that number, how many would be interested in a financial services story and take the time to read it?

What I do know is that the potential audience for my client’s story had been significantly limited.

I understand that the website needs revenue to remain a going concern, but I really wonder if charging for access to articles is something that will come back to bite it.

If I were looking at a place to give a business exclusive for a client, I’d think twice about a news website that charges for access.

It’s true that most newspapers and magazines charge a subscription or individual copy fee, but somehow with online it seems different. A newspaper or magazine I can hold in my hands. (Yes, I’m familiar with Kindle, but in this case I was after an article, not a book.)

From what I’ve read, quite a few people are bulking at paying for website content.

As newspapers and magazines continue to struggle to survive, it will be interesting to see if paying for access to news websites—especially to sites that primarily cover local or regional business news like this one—will be a successful model.

One international survey found that nearly half the respondents would consider paying for online access to a magazine, and a little over 40% for online newspaper content—if they thought the content was worth the price.

That may sound like a good percentage, but as a PR person I’m thinking of the other 50-60% who won’t pay—and therefore will never see a client’s story.

That’s a hidden cost I’m not yet ready to pay.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses

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Increase Publicity Opportunities by Segmenting Your Pitch

Maximizing publicity opportunities involves more than just widely distributing a news release or pitching the same story idea to multiple media outlets.

To get the most PR mileage, look for ways to expand your story’s reach to a variety of audiences by identify angles that will appeal to narrower segments.

When I started my own agency, one of my first clients was a lady who was launching a residential steel framing business. Although steel framing for homes had been around for many years in some parts of the country, it was a new concept for our area. In fact, hers was the first company of its kind in Tennessee.

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While the basic facts of the story were the same, I was able to generate some excellent media coverage by segmenting my pitches and emphasizing different aspects to different media outlets:

  • To our local business journal, I emphasized the entrepreneurial side
  • To our local daily paper, I got a front-page feature story about alternative materials for new houses
  • To HGTV, I focused on the growing trend of having steel framing for homes, and the benefits of steel over wood framing
  • To women’s publications, I focused on a female entering the construction business, which traditionally has been dominated by men
  • To my client’s hometown paper, which also ran a front-page story, I pitched a “local lady makes good” angle and tied it to an award she recently won

As I noted in my previous post, the more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely you are to get coverage.  Giving reporters an appropriately segmented pitch is one way to make their jobs easier and broaden exposure of your client or business.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

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Ten Tips to Help Ad Agencies and Companies Generate Publicity

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Having worked on the agency, journalism and corporate communications side, I’ve viewed public relations from a variety of perspectives. I’ve also experienced first-hand how the strategic use of PR can help small and mid-sized agencies and companies—even one-person operations—level the playing field with larger competitors.

The key to getting publicity is pitching the right story to the right person at the right time.

Before you attempt to get a reporter’s attention, you need to understand how the news media operate and what they want. Here are 10 suggestions to help you do just that and make your publicity efforts successful:

#1: Define your media focus.

  • Limit your pitches to only those outlets that directly serve your target audience.

#2: Get to the right person at each media outlet.

  • Whether you’re dealing with your local paper or The Wall Street Journal, it’s important to take the time to find out which person covers the particular area you are interested in targeting.

#3: Research a reporter’s previous stories before making contact.

  • Learn all you can about what the reporter covers, his or her interests and reporting style.

#4: Don’t waste their time or mislead them.

  • Reporters are busy people who work under constant pressure and deadlines. When pitching a story, get right to the point. The most important things you can tell a reporter about your story are who will care about it and why.

#5: Respect their deadlines.

  • When contacting a reporter, I always first ask if he or she is on deadline. If so, I then ask when would be a convenient time to share a story idea. If you’re contacted by a reporter on deadline, do everything you can to respond within that deadline; otherwise, you may miss out on a golden opportunity. Even worse, if you don’t respond promptly, the reporter may contact and quote a competitor.

#6: Think and pitch like a reporter.

  • When I was on the editorial side of a heath care magazine, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the obviously inappropriate pitches PR people sent my way. It was pretty easy to tell who had taken time to read our magazine and understand our audience and the types of stories we covered, and who had taken a shotgun approach. When the time comes to make your pitch, be sure you not only think like a reporter, but that you write and speak like one as well. Don’t advertise or editorialize your story idea (reporters are very sensitive to disguised advertising). Whether you write your pitch or give it verbally, be as objective as possible by emphasizing the news or human interest aspect, or your expertise to comment and provide insights.

#7: Make their jobs easier.

  • The more you can provide reporters with relevant, factual information that is meaningful and targeted to their audience, the more likely they are to take you seriously and provide coverage. Plus, if they know that you know their audiences, areas of coverage and deadlines, when they see a pitch from you in the future, they’ll realize you’re credible and are more likely to give you serious consideration.

#8: Know what makes a good news story.

  • Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes and ask: “Would this story be interesting to my audience?” If you can’t honestly answer yes, you need to rethink your pitch.

#9: Give them the first shot at a story whenever possible.

  • Reporters like to be the first one to cover a news story, and not just report the same news that others have.

#10: Make them look good in front of their bosses.

  • The news media is a very competitive business, and more and more media outlets are taking a hard look at the level of interest in reporters’ stories. Like any other profession, reporters enjoy getting recognition and praise for their stories – and success means job security.

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

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Don’t Miss Publicity Opportunities for Your Agency

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In dealing with the tyranny of the urgent, ad agency can easily overlook publicity opportunities just waiting to be told. These opportunities are valuable in generating awareness and, in some cases, helping to establish or reinforce expertise in particular areas.

Here are my Top 20 Topics to consider:

  1. Awards
  2. New clients/customers
  3. New employees
  4. Employee promotions
  5. Human interest stories about employees
  6. Community involvement
  7. Survey results
  8. Introducing a new product or service
  9. Expert commentary that address newsworthy topics/trends
  10. Appointments to boards
  11. Publications (articles, books, etc.)
  12. New offices/geographical expansion
  13. Mergers/strategic alliances
  14. Trends, projections, forecasts
  15. Speeches
  16. Sponsorships
  17. Mentoring programs
  18. Pro bono work
  19. Guest columns
  20. Case studies that could become feature stories

One of my favorite examples of a good human interest story involves a real estate agent named Alex Delgado.

“Once I got into real estate, I got really successful really fast, and I had all this money I didn’t know what to do with,” he told our local paper. Rather than pamper himself, Alex looked to the needs of others by giving a portion of his commission for every house sold to sponsor impoverished children in developing countries.

At the time the story was published, he was supporting 53 children in 19 countries.

The article quoted from letters he received from his sponsor children, who described the ways in which his involvement improved their lives. One girl from India, who signed her letter “loving daughter,” explained how his money provides her family with food and soap.

A little boy who lost both parents to an accident, and later his younger sister, wrote, “Now I am alone. I thank God for getting you as my sponsor.”

If I were looking to buy or sell a house, Alex Delgado is the first person I’d call. And I imagine a lot of other people felt the same way after reading this story. It obviously was good publicity for his company as well.

What stories like this are in your agency or client roster that ought to be shared?

Don Beehler provides public relations consulting services to advertising agencies and businesses.

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