Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Journalists Offer Tips for Making Sure You Get Media Buzz

Some journalist friends were commenting online recently about the best ways for small businesses, small nonprofit organizations, and others to get that free media attention known as publicity. They gave me permission to share their advice here so that more could benefit from their wisdom:

  • Keep your press releases short and as to the point as possible.
  • Always ask yourself this question: Would YOU read about your press release topic if it featured another business?
  • Watch for trends and use them to pitch stories that will help put a spotlight on your business or organization.
  • Be willing to tell the story of how you coped when things went wrong. Conflict is the crux of a good story.
  • Put the point in the first paragraph of the press release. If you're telling me about your new restaurant, get the opening of a new restaurant in the first graph, don't give me four graphs about the local foodie scene and the chef's mother first.
  • Include complete contact info.
  • Don't send giant photo files.
  • If your press release is in plain text and in the body of the e-mail rather than in an attachment, I already like you better than people who sent attachments.
  • Who needs a press release? Just send the basic facts in a basic format. "Hi. I'm John Smith and I have a story that I think your readers will be interested in."
  • Show that you read the paper. Suggest where your story might fit. If you send it to several editors (and that's OK), you can mention that you did so and we won't hold it against you.
  • Respond quickly when a reporter calls you. They may be looking for sources who are available that day or that week. If you're not ready, they will move on to someone else. I used to do shopping guides, and I was amazed at how many stores refused to answer basic questions, such as hours. So I left them out and moved on to someone else.
  • If you are the business owner yourself, you can call a few times to follow up. If you are a local PR person, you can call once. If you are an out-of-town PR person, don't call.
  • Don't call to find out if your item has been in the paper, don't ask me to help you find it on the Web site and don't ask me to send you a clipping. It shows you don't read the paper, so why would I waste my time putting you in it?

This is all just common sense, but sometimes we need to be reminded.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pool Safety Publicity Opportunity

A scarey segment on The Today Show this morning highlighted the danger of faulty swimming pool drains. (To see the segment, go to and select "Keeping pool safety in mind" from the list of videos on the right.) When there's a problem, the suction can trap children on the drain so they drown. (There are other problems, too.)

Who knew? Not me. And probably many more. Are you in a position to talk about this threat in a credible way? Then do so. Talk to your local media outlets so they can protect local families. This is a great opportunity to do good while getting some exposure if you're:
  • A pool and spa retailer
  • Consumer safety advocate
  • Nonprofit advocating for child safety
  • Pool and spa manufacturer/dealer association
  • Lifeguard
  • Public pool manager
  • Country club manager
  • Pool drain manufacturer
Take action; save lives.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Promotion Class is June 2-27

Got a book coming out you want to hype? Has your publisher’s publicist moved on to other projects? Do you have a book in stores that you know deserves more media attention than it’s getting? Are you a self-published author who needs to tell the world your book is available? Or are you working on a proposal that would benefit from a better understanding of what you can do to promote your book?

"Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz” is a dynamic online course that teaches everyone from veteran authors using mainstream publishers to first-time self-published writers how to generate the kind of media and online excitement that sells books.

Offered June 2-27, 2008, the class is taught in a forum format, with lessons and homework assignments posted online in a private, password-protected forum. The highly-interactive course covers:
  • How to create a book publicity blueprint you’ll be excited about
  • The single secret most authors don’t know about generating ongoing media exposure
  • The most effective and cost-efficient publicity tactics
  • How to generate buzz online using virtual book tours and other techniques
  • Radio and TV producer hot buttons
  • How to bring an energizing new level of creativity to your publicity efforts

The course for self-published authors includes content and assignments that help you announce the book to the media and other key influencers.

Registration is limited to 20 students; we still have a few spots open. Learn more at for the original course and for the self-published class.

Questions? Please post them here so everyone can benefit from the answers or e-mail me at

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who Are You Targeting?

Who is your target audience? And how do you figure out who that is?

I ask these questions because when I am providing guidance to individuals publicizing a product, service or organization, it's clear that many don't have a good grasp of who is most likely to need or want what they're promoting.

Here are a few questions to help you determine if you're going after the right customers with your promotional messages:
  1. How would you describe the person who is most likely to be interested in your message? Does gender matter? What about age or ethnicity, profession, income level or location? Write down as much as you know about this person.
  2. What thought-leader influences this person? Who does this person look to for guidance (real or imagined) when making a purchasing decision? Those influencers might be local or national and in some situations, could be celebrities.
  3. Who are your current customers? What can you learn from them? What do they all have in common? How can you find more people just like them? your current customers look a lot like the person you described in point 1?

It's crucial that you know as much as you possibly can about your target customer because it's the only way you'll know how to get your messages in front of the right people.

What targeting successes -- and failures -- have you experienced? We'd like to hear your stories.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Kind of Publicity I Love to See

Media outlets are reporting that one tip-off to possible problems with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel leading to a raid this week by the FBI was a service visit from Geeks on Call, a computer help service that makes office visits. A GOC team visited the Special Counsel's office twice in December to erase data from several computers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that office chief Scott Bloch "bypassed his agency's computer technicians and phoned 1-800-905-GEEKS, the mobile PC-help service. It dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Crusier wagons."

It went on to note that "The technician completely cleansed Mr. Bloch's computer hard disk using a 'seven-level' wipe: a thorough scrubbing that conforms to Defense Department data-security standards."

Geez, thanks to the WSJ, we now know:
  1. How to recognize Geeks on Call vehicles
  2. The company's tollfree phone number
  3. That the technicians are so good that the U.S. Dept. of Defense can't complain about their work
They got all of this fabulous exposure at no cost -- and, in fact, actually made $1,149 for the tech's time. Imagine what they might have paid for an ad to communicate this information to WSJ readers -- their target customers. There's just no comparison.

How cool is that?

It's just one reason why I love America.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Thank You for Having Me

I'll admit that I'm easily entertained. Here's what makes me smile pretty much every morning as I watch the "Today Show" while getting ready for the long commute to my office.

The show's "expert" (vs. ordinary consumer who is on the show because she saw a tornado hit a trailer park or performed a super human act in a time of crisis) nearly always says "Thanks for having me" no matter how he or she is greeted.

Meredith or Matt might say, "Attorney Mike Brown joins us now from the court room in Boston. Mike, those women are actually being sued for looking too tan in February, aren't they?" or "Dr. Smith is an expert on post-surgical polyps and will tell us how we can prevent them," or even "Joe, what the heck were you thinking?!?" And still, the response is, "Thank you for having me."

It makes me laugh even though I understand the reason behind the response. These guests are expecting to be welcomed to the show -- "Thank you, Dr. Smith, for joining us. How can we prevent those post-surgical polyps?" or "Joe, we're glad you could join us, especially under the embarrassing circumstances." In the interview script they've rehearsed over and over in their heads while preparing for this big-time appearance, everybody has good manners: The host welcomes them and they, in turn, thank the host for the welcome.

But because they're nervous about being on the show -- and who wouldn't be? -- they aren't listening to precisely how they're being introduced. They're repeating to themselves, "Smile and say thank you, smile and say thank you, smile and say thank you." So that's what comes out. "Thank you for having me."

And that's when I laugh.

It's not a mean laugh. Really, it's not. It's an empathetic laugh. I've been in their shoes before, so focused on what I want to communicate during my few short minutes on the air that I couldn't even tell you how I got to the studio for the interview.

It's a great way to start every day, but it also reminds me about the importance of truly listening, regardless of the situation. I wonder how many doofus communication mistakes I've made -- in interviews or with friends -- because I haven't listened as well as I should.

Well, anyway, thanks for having me.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

5 Fun Ways to Annoy a Reporter

I know a lot of excellent publicists but I haven't worked with many of them lately. Instead, I've encountered some who either need more training, a hefty dose of common sense, or a brain transplant.

But let's not dwell on whether these people should explore a different career. Let's focus instead on what we can learn from their mistakes so that those of us who need to promote our organizations, products or services but don't have a PR education or training can succeed without making the same mistakes as some of the "pros."

Here are five really fun ways to annoy a journalist:
  1. Pitch her on an interview with your client for a story that needs your client's expertise. After the reporter agrees to an interview, say, "I'll check his availability," then do nothing. When the journalist follows up with "Are we doing this interview?" say, "My expert is passing on this opportunity." And make sure you don't apologize for your silence or the outcome.
  2. Send an article pitch letter claiming that your program is the only one of its kind in the country when a quick Internet search reveals there are several just like it.
  3. Invite a trade magazine to write a case study that involves your client and one of its customers, promising interviews with key individuals in the customer organization. But don't -- and this is real important -- don't tell the American writer assigned to the story that the sources only speak Spanish.
  4. Convince an editor to profile your program by promising to provide contact information for clients who can comment on how they use what they learned from your program in their jobs. Then deliver nobody. Nada. Zip. Make sure you discover you have no customers who will talk to a journalist after you've promised that you do and only after the reporter has done the rest of the interviews for the story, which now can't be completed.
  5. Follow-up with the reporter one week after an interview for a monthly magazine to ask if the article "has appeared yet." When the reporter explains that articles don't appear in magazines for at least three months because of the publication cycle, get all huffy and say, "Of course I know that."
Have you tortured a journalist lately? Writers, what have publicists done to make you want to pull your -- or their! -- hair out? Tell us!