All that is
Advertising, getting press releases etc
Your goal -- getting your website featured in newspapers around the country.
Some Basic Truths
Here are some truths that you ignore only at your own risk:
Reporters don't care about helping you.
Reporters are hassled all day by PR people and they're pretty much sick of it.
Reporters don't care about your website, your book, your products or your life story, unless......
.....you are providing something that helps make their job easier -- that is, a really good story.
In that case:
Reporters love you.
Reporters are happy to take your call.
Reporters are fascinated by your website, your book, your products and maybe even your life story.
So what's the bottom line here?
When you design your public relations campaign, develop your angles, develop your media materials and begin contacting the press, always think:
"What can I do at this step that will make this more useful to a journalist?"
developing story angles from a reporter's perspective, not a business owner's
conducting yourself in a manner free of hype, clichés and puffery
Using proper etiquette when contacting a reporter or editor (we'll get to that in just a bit)
Developing an Angle
What does it mean to "develop a story angle from a reporter's perspective"?
Have you ever met someone who has gotten way too absorbed by his hobby? He can go on for hours about his model trains or his coin collection. He can't possibly imagine why you, or anyone else, wouldn't be riveted by his in-depth discussion of Peruvian 19th century coinage.
He's far too close to his hobby to be objective. As it turns out, most business owners are the same way about their company. If you spend all day absorbed in the world of vitamins -- or golf clubs, or health insurance, or any other field -- you can lose sight of the realization that most of the rest of the world doesn't really care.
When I ran my PR firm, I can't tell you how many calls I had with clients that went something like this:
"Bill, we've just released the new X251 and I think we should really push this hard to the media with a PR campaign. How about a press conference?"
"Well, how is the X251 different from the X250?"
"It's got a new right-angle flange and it's blue. I'm telling you, this will be big!"
Now, rather than simply counseling my client to lay down, take a rest and forget about seeing the X251 in the Wall Street Journal, I took another step.
I thought like a reporter.
I asked my client: "Does this new right-angle flange give the X251 a use that the X250 didn't have -- one that would really make a difference in people's lives?"
"Does the new blue color have any purpose, or is just for looks?"
Who knows, maybe it turns out that the right angle flange allowed the X251 to be used in third world hospitals at a fraction of the cost of what they were using now. Maybe the blue color was to prevent endangered birds from bumping into it when it's used in the rainforest. (As you can tell, the X251 is a figment of my imagination, not some new amazing outdoor tropical hospital gizmo.)
Of course it might also turn out that the right angle flange only has some obscure use and it's blue because that's the CEO's favorite color.
But at least I tried to extract a real story from what was only a promotional PR pitch. You MUST do the same when it comes time to develop your main publicity angle.
Step away from your business. View it as a reporter looking for an interesting story. Remember, he's looking for a story that will satisfy his editor and his readers. He's not interested in promoting you, only in crafting a story that will make readers stop and say "Hmmm, I never knew that. Now there's something I can use!."
With that in mind, let's look at the example of theplace4vitamins.com.
Taking Stock of Your Attributes
There are probably hundreds of sites in the Internet that sell vitamins (just as there are most likely hundreds of places that sell whatever your company does). So simply announcing that there's a new venue to buy herbs and vitamins will get you nothing.
You need to break down your current attributes, and determine if you have anything that's newsworthy.
Here's a way of looking at it that may be useful: for every attribute, try to honestly rate its news value. Use these categories:
Not newsworthy. Too common, too promotional, too boring.
May be newsworthy within my own field (trade publications) or to hardcore customers (serious vitamin junkies) but not attractive enough to the general population to build a story.
Potentially of interest, but not quite meaty enough.
STOP THE PRESSES!
Meaty, hearty news that journalists eat up.
OK, let's look at some of what you think makes theplace4vitamins.com special (this is a very important step. When making a list of what makes you special, take the time to get it right. What you say here can be mined for gold, as you'll soon see):
Low prices NO DICE. Too common and will probably be viewed as promotional puffery.
Great service. NO DICE. Ditto.
Wide Selection. NO DICE. Ditto, Ditto.
You specialize in weight-loss formulas and books. INSIDE STUFF. Decent topic, but is there enough there to build a story?
You specialize in books and products that promote a healthy lifestyle for teenagers. GETTING THERE. Now you're standing out a bit.
You started the company with money you stole from a pension fund. STOP THE PRESSES!
OK, the last one was a joke, but it demonstrates the gulf between what you think is newsworthy and what a reporter thinks is newsworthy.
So, what have we got to work with? Three NO DICES, an INSIDE STUFF and a GETTING THERE. Not bad -- we might just have enough to build a public relations campaign around..
Your PR Campaign: Taking it to the Press
A story about helping overweight kids cope with ridicule, based on discussions that have taken place in your forums, is a natural for a "lifestyle" section of a newspaper.
So, you want to get an article about it in a major paper (let's say The Denver Post).
First, you've got to find out who the appropriate editor or writer is at the Post. If you live in Denver, just read the paper on a regular basis and clip out the columns that deal with parenting, health or kids' issues. But if you live in Rhode Island, it's more difficult.
Go to your local library and take a look at Bacon's Newspaper Directory in the reference section. Under The Denver Post listing, Bacon's should provide a name for the Features or Lifestyle editor. It might be outdated, so call the Post's main number and ask the receptionist "Is Joan Smith still the Features Editor?" The receptionist will then confirm that Joan is still in her position, tell you the name of the new person in this role, or transfer you to the newsroom to ask someone else. With the editor's name in hand, you're now ready to make your call. (It's also worthy trying the newspaper's web site. Increasingly, full editorial staff listings can be found online.)
Here are some "etiquette" secrets that can help you effectively work with journalists in generating bushels of free press.....
Don't call to "see if they got your release." Journalists hate this. Folks send out mass mailings and then call to see if the release made it there. If you really want to get a story in the Post, call first to pitch your story and then follow up with your release, photos, etc.
Plan your call around their deadlines. Most papers are morning editions. Thus, journalists' deadlines range from 2 p.m. local time and on. Don't call during this time! The best time to reach a newspaper journalist: 10 a.m. to noon local time.
Don't start pitching right away! If you get Joan Smith on the phone, don't just dive into your pitch. This is rude, as Joan may be on the other line, working on a story, entertaining guests or who knows what else. Start by saying something like, "Hi Ms. Smith, my name's Bill Jones and I have a story suggestion you might find interesting. Is this a good time for you?" Joan will reply "yes"--which is a green light to start your pitch, or "no"-- to which you reply, "When would be a good time to call you back?" Your courtesy will be greatly appreciated by the journalist...which can only help your chances.
Pitch to the voice mail. It's fine to pitch your story to the reporter's voice mail. Keep it very short and end the message with your phone number. If you don't hear back, try again until you get the actual reporter or editor on the phone.
Don't read from a script! The bane of many journalists' existences are 22-year-olds sitting in cubicles in big PR firms reading pitches off a sheet of paper. If you've ever been called by a telemarketer doing the same thing, you know how annoying it can be. Practice your pitch so that it seems natural and spontaneous.
Give them a story, not an advertisement. Newspapers do not exist to give you publicity. They exist to provide readers with interesting stories. Your job is to give the journalist what he or she wants, while getting the free exposure. Make your pitch newsy, exciting and relevant. How about: "Ms. Smith, as you probably know, obesity among children is growing at an alarming rate. Because of the ridicule they face from other children, millions of overweight young people are being marked with lifetime scars that can seriously damage their self-esteem. I host a unique website, were overweight kids can anonymously express their feelings and discuss this issue. I think I've learned some important things about a very serious subject." That's a whole lot more interesting to an editor than: "Ms. Smith, I have a website where overweight kids post messages. Would you like to do a story about me?"
Follow up immediately. If she's interested, Joan Smith will ask for more information. Be sure you have a press kit (including news release and photo) ready to send . Send it out via priority mail, and write "Requested Information" below the address.
Call again. Now it's appropriate to call to see if Joan's received your stuff...after all, unlike a mass-mailed release, she asked for it! Ask if she's had a chance to look through it, and what she thinks. If she likes what she sees, you're about to get some very valuable free publicity!