Publicity is a perfect complement to your advertising and other promotional activities. If potential customers read an article about your business, they may begin to follow your adverts more closely and eventually they’ll want to try your products and services.
Publicity is media exposure, a mention or complete article in your local or regional newspaper or magazine.
There are basically two types of publicity:
- The newspaper editorial that is an item of interest to ALL its readers. This is placed at the discretion of the newspaper, and there is no charge for it. Unlike the placing of an advert, editorial publicity cannot be arranged at whim. That’s because it is free media exposure, and how or whether it gets used at all depends on the news value of your story; what is important to you might be considered of little interest to the wider spectrum of readers.
- The paid editorial. Known as an “advertorial”, this follows the same principle as a normal display advert where a business pays for the space used. The appearance resembles that of normal newspaper editorial and is usually written by the publication’s journalists. The advertorial has become accepted and popular with advertisers large and small, because payment grants control and ensures its placement.
Whichever method is used, the major advantage lies in credibility. An unbiased observer (the journalist) is saying that your business is worthy of notice. This greatly enhances your credibility – provided, of course, that it is an honest statement in the first place! As with an advertisement, you have to live up to what is being said.
While one cannot, even with paid advertorials, expect to see one’s business name in the news every week or even every month, there are ways of working towards generating this valuable exposure.
- Unusual or newsworthy activities such as product launches, or an official opening of new premises;
- Special recognition of staff (long service, national sales award);
- Community projects you initiate;
- Functions arranged by yourself where a prominent speaker or special guest will be present.
What usually happens is that the local newspaper is telephoned and asked to “cover” one of our events or to conduct an interview. A few questions are asked, photos are taken, and we hope for the best that:
- an article will appear in the next issue;
- that the facts will be correct.
As with advertising, businessmen have a role to play in ensuring that their publicity is accurate and effective. The better the information you provide, the better the final story.
Identifying your news value
There should always be something of specific interest to your public. A special event about to take place, a new product, or perhaps your business itself is different enough to be of special interest.
The key is to identify very clearly what makes you different and interesting. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Who are your customers (past, present and potential)? This will help you determine to whom to direct your information.
- What do you want to tell them about yourself? Consider:
- what makes your business different?
- what are your business strengths?
- why should a customer come to you rather than your competitors?
- are you currently involved in any activities that would interest your community?
- is there anything special about the services you offer?
This information may well give you more than one news angle. If so, each can be developed into a separate press release which will give you more than one opportunity to promote your business over time.
Preparing your news
Once you’re sure of what it is you want to get across, you can request the newspaper to send a journalist to discuss your proposal with you. But, it is far more effective if you have already prepared a typed press statement with all the details. This will allow newspaper staff to familiarise themselves with what you have in mind and help ensure the facts are correct. Remember that a press release, like a letterhead, projects the image of your business. It must be attractive and appear interesting. If you’re sending one out to more than one publication, rather retype them than photocopying.
The aim of the press release is to provide – quickly and simply – the details and news you wish conveyed to the public. Try to limit it to two pages at the most, but preferably restrict it to one. It should be written simply and clearly, with short sentences and paragraphs, the latter being restricted to six or seven lines. Keep typing double-spaced, and make sure you spell the names of individuals correctly.
Don’t be tempted into boasting too much about how wonderful your business is. It’s far more effective when a journalist establishes that for himself.
All press releases should contain the following elements:
- Who it comes from and who to contact for more information. Provide the name, address and telephone number of the contact person, placing it at the top of the page.
- Release date: state the date when you would like to have the information released.
- Headline: this should be a factual (not a clever) summary of what the release is about. Make it a brief, one-sentence summary.
- Body of the release: give all vital details (who, what, where, when, why) in a short first paragraph with the balance provided in descending order of importance. Explain what you are doing, where it is taking place and when.
- A release should conclude with information about what the public should do if interested.
- Publicity works best when accompanied by photographs of events. If your story lends itself to the visual and can be told with a photograph, you will do well to invest time and money in getting a quality picture taken. Sometimes pictures get used instead of a press release, so your photo might well be the special element that catches the editor’s attention.
- When people are involved, it’s best to have some sort of action taking place. Try to think of something that will depict your story. Avoid the static photograph; there’s nothing very interesting about a picture of five or six people facing a camera.
If you have arranged someone outside of the newspaper to take the photographs, then ensure the photos are identified by details on the back. Use a gummed sticker for this, as ink does not work well on the chemically treated surface. Also take care to protect your valuable photographs by placing them between stiff cardboard. Avoid the use of paper clips.
- Every photograph should be labelled in two ways: a gummed label with a brief identification should be affixed to the back, and a caption should be attached as well.
A word of caution: When editorial is being arranged, newspaper staff might urge you to place an advert as well. This often happens, especially with rural newspapers where journalists perform an advertising function as well. Take out an advert by all means — but insist that it be placed on a different page to the one containing your editorial. Having it alongside your article might boost reader awareness of your advert, but it also ruins the credibility of your news story. The reader might gain the impression that you have paid to “be news”. Besides, an editorial and an advert spread across different pages gives you two opportunities to be seen.