To Understand Publicity, You Need To Understand News

"Watch for trends in the news and try to capitalize on what’s happening."

By David P. Kowal, APR

To be in the news, you have to understand news. That simple concept is regularly misunderstood by the business world.

Press releases are distributed about the company’s purchase of a box of paper clips or the CEO’s new hairstyle, and then the company feels snubbed because its “news” isn’t published.

Rather than waste money on a public relations consultant, the company president or the vice president of sales (since public relations is part of marketing and marketing is part of sales) takes the matter into his (or her) own hands. He calls the editor and threatens to pull his advertising!

This cynical strategy is based on the premise that reporters understand that advertising pays their meager salaries and that less advertising means less money in their pockets. This is faulty logic on two counts: first, if reporters cared about money, they wouldn’t be reporters, and second, they resent being beholden to those capitalist swine in the advertising department and – just to demonstrate the power of the press – are likely to diss you in print if you threaten them.

So What?

If publicity is to be part of your public relations and marketing strategy, begin with an understanding of what constitutes news. If you think you have something newsworthy to say, write a press release about it, then take the “So what?” test. Put yourself in the mindset of a potential reader of the publication you are targeting, then read the press release. If you find yourself thinking, “So what?” then your press release lacks news value.

Even if you have news to report, think about your goals before sending out the press release. If, for example, you have a strong story worthy of attention from major media, pitch those media before sending out your press release.

Media such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal ignore the thousands of press releases they receive every day. They want exclusivity.

When, for example, one of our clients was introducing a network for trading restricted securities (a $1.4 trillion asset class), we pitched a few selected media before sending out a press release. This resulted in features in The New York Times and the online version of The Wall Street Journal. Financial media were, of course, still interested in the story after it appeared in those major publications.

If your business does something unusual or unique, such as offering a special service or a new product, it is likely to achieve significant coverage. If not, there are other ways to publicize your company.

For starters, try asking the editors of publications, the news directors of radio stations and the assignment editors at local TV stations about their needs. If you position yourself as a resource, your chances of achieving publicity for your company will be greatly enhanced. Business reporters in particular are often looking for credible sources that they can contact on a regular basis.

Over time, you may succeed in building relationships with key editors and reporters. To accomplish this, you will need to return calls promptly and provide them with good, accurate information. Don’t whine when you see a competitor being quoted. A good reporter will use several sources and will not rely solely on you.

In some cases, you may also submit articles that you write yourself, although you are probably better off having a professional ghost write your articles for you.

Watch for trends in the news and try to capitalize on what’s happening. Sadly, celebrity tie-ins are often the best way to gain media interest. When Martha Stewart was on trial for insider trading, for example, we positioned a securities attorney at a law firm we work with as an expert in insider trading. This resulted in worldwide media exposure, including spots on CNBC, and interviews with AP, Reuters, The Washington Post and other media.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is a lot of work. Unless you have the skills and experience needed to succeed, hire a professional. Be sure to find someone who understands what is newsworthy – and pay attention to what your consultant has to say. If a professional is telling you that what you have to say is not newsworthy, it probably isn’t. Trying to publicize non-news will only waste a lot of time and get your company ignored.

David P. Kowal, APR is President of Kowal Communications, Inc. of Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.