Friday, December 10, 2010

Marcia Yudkin talks about Publicity Tactics

I liked marketer Marcia Yudkin's new book, Publicity Tactics: Insights on Creating Lucrative Media Buzz, so much that I provided a back cover blurb and asked her to do a Q&A here. The book distills Marcia's wisdom and years of publicity experience into short chunks of information that are easy to understand, read, and act upon. I think what I like most about it is that Marcia really gets you thinking about how to apply specific publicity tactics to your own business -- whether you're a solo, a small nonprofit, an author, or a small business.

Here's our Q&A. I hope you find it helpful. Feel free to ask questions -- I'm sure Marcia would be happy to answer them.

For those who don't know her, Marcia Yudkin is the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, now in its third edition, and 13 other books. She has a knack for engineering public attention for clever ideas. Her publicity clients run the gamut from a urologist selling guaranteed vasectomy reversals to entrepreneurs releasing ingenious new mobile phone apps.

Your new book, Publicity Tactics, helps small businesses, nonprofits, authors, sole practitioners, and others discover the things they can be doing to generate priceless publicity for their endeavors. What's the best starting point for all of them - where should they begin when they start thinking about how to secure publicity?

Start with the word “who” – whose attention are you trying to attract? If you have a local business, the answer might be “people within a 10 mile radius of my bakery.” If you’ve written a romance novel, it would be “people who love reading romance novels.” If you’re an architect, you’d answer “people within 100 miles who want a new or renovated house.” Rarely is the correct answer “everyone.” Once you’re clear on the target market for your publicity, you can identify the media that reach that group. And then you’re on to thinking up a publicity angle.

From your experience, what's the hardest thing for people to do when they're trying to generate publicity? By this I mean, what do they struggle with the most? Why?

Coming up with the publicity angle tends to be hardest for people. They tend to feel, “Who, me? Us? Who would ever pay attention to us?” The truth is that people featured in the media are not necessarily extraordinary. It’s more like this: When light is shined on them in a certain way, they appear interesting. If you know how to step into the light in the proper way, you’ll come off as interesting also. There are so many kinds of light possible to step into, you’re bound to find several of them feasible. That’s actually a major emphasis of my book.

What advice would you offer small businesses and others about identifying what's newsworthy in their businesses?

Think small. Rather than try to imagine what the media would find interesting about your business as a whole, look for little things you are doing or that you know that are new and different or unusual and useful.

For example, I live out in the country, and yesterday I got my hair cut at a new salon in the next town that is struggling to build its clientele to the point that it doesn’t even have a business phone listing yet. We were talking about a problem I’ve been having with my hair that the salon owner said may be attributable to minerals in our well water, and she said she knew a product that specifically counteracted the well water. That was news to me, and I’m certain it would be news to lots of people in my area who get their water from wells. All she has to do is email a local reporter that she can provide information for a story on the effect of well water on hair, and I’m pretty sure that would prompt a story.

If you wrote down the content of every conversation you had with customers in the course of a day, I guarantee there would be at least three or four topics amongst them that have the makings of newsworthy media angles.

What are people not doing to get publicity that they should be doing?

The main thing they’re not doing is simply not trying. Every few years I do a round of my colleagues asking them for new press releases and publicity success stories, and I’m always amazed that even those who have experienced the power of publicity in the past just let things ride for years before trying again. Publicity can cost little or nothing, and the payoff can boost your credibility and visibility for years.

What are some common mistakes organizations or individuals make when it comes to publicity?

One common mistake is turning away publicity by not leaping to take advantage of opportunities. Recently I wanted to feature an artist who’d won a certain kind of grant in my Marketing Minute newsletter, which goes to nearly 12,000 people every week. When I wrote to the email address on his web site, I received a canned reply saying that he was way too busy to reply to every email personally. I wrote again and was simply ignored. Talk to any journalist or broadcast producer and you’ll hear the same experience – a shocking number of people simply don’t understand and take advantage of their good fortune when a chance to get publicity shows up on their doorstep.

Another common mistake is trying to bully the media person into doing things your way. That rarely works and only alienates someone who may move around from one media job to another and never give you another chance.

For example, I’ve seen advice on the Internet that when someone asks you for an interview, you should agree to it only on the condition that the media outlet gives out your contact information during the interview. That’s terrible advice. You shouldn’t set conditions when a media opportunity comes your way. Instead, you can provide an incentive for them to give out your contact information, such as by offering a free report or video especially for the audience of that interview. This works most of the time.

What do you think is the easiest publicity tactic in your book to execute, and why?

If you’re opinionated and like to write, you should write letters to the editor of publications read by your target market. Each one, just two or three paragraphs, takes you half an hour or so to write when you’re fired up about something you’ve read. When I had a letter to the editor published in Inc. magazine, I got one new client immediately and nice notes from several clients who’d seen it.

Interestingly, when I published a column in my newsletter with tips on writing letters to the editor, I received a couple of replies asking me how that counted or worked as publicity. You see, whatever puts you positively into the public eye boosts your credibility and visibility and often brings opportunities that you might never have thought up on your own.

For example, there was once a little piece in the Boston Globe about a book I’d just published. It may or may not have influenced people to buy the book, but more interestingly, it prompted a talent scout from a TV production company south of Boston to contact me about a corporate video opportunity that a few years later turned into a chance to create a demo program for a public TV show.

What's the most important tool in the publicist's toolbox?

Creativity. Think up an angle no one has used before, and it can get people stampeding to give you publicity. Sometimes it’s just a matter of new words. For example, in the days when people thought of car rental companies as having only new cars for customers, a business owner changed his outfit’s name from Bundy Very Used Cars to Rent-a-Wreck, and within days CBS News was there doing a feature on the company.

How can businesses use social media to get publicity?

Whether it’s blogs, online videos, Twitter or Facebook, social media are a form of publicity in and of themselves, taking you directly to the public without the intervention of the media.

Be mindful of the persona you use in social media – if you engage in name-calling, sarcasm, vindictiveness or any kind of outright dishonesty, this can work to your detriment. I once landed on a blog where a consultant was not only bitingly critical of companies he did not agree with but also nasty to people commenting on his blog who had a different point of view. How in the world was that supposed to help him get clients?

One way to use social media to get traditional publicity is to follow reporters, newscasters or talk show hosts whom you like on Twitter, Facebook or their blogs and to post interesting replies there. This can get you into a follow-up story or into a personal exchange with the media person that leads to a seemingly unrelated publicity opportunity.

Would you like to add anything else?

Just thanks, Sandy, for the chance to talk to your readers! May you each have your 17 ½ minutes (or more) in the spotlight.

Have you got a question for Marcia? Please use "comment" to share it.


Susan Weiner, CFA said...

I always enjoy Marcia's tips.

Vivian Kirkfield said...

Thank you, Sandy! You always provide us with relevant, usable information. Marcia's tips are spot-on! I will check out her book...but I will immediately implement the suggestion about following and commenting on local newscaster's Twitter and Blog sites. I'll let you know what happens. :)

Bruce Frankel said...

Thank you, Sandy! I appreciated Marcia's tips. They have the flavor of what works: begin modestly, but begin! Identify and pitch one clear, concrete and timely aspect of your work/product, initiate actions and connect. And follow through. Look forward to your next. Bruce

Sandra Beckwith said...

Thanks, Susan, Vivian & Bruce! (And Bruce, you're so right -- "Just do it!") Do any of you subscribe to Marcia's weekly Marketing Minute newsletter (

Dara Chadwick said...

Fabulous, Sandy! Thanks, Marcia, for sharing these great ideas.

Doreen McGettigan said...

Great tips thank you time for me to buy the book!