FREE publicity in the media can have a striking impact upon your business’s sales, and I witnessed a dramatic example of this early in my journalism career.
Actually, I caused it.
Twenty-five years ago I was a cub reporter at the Daily Mercury newspaper in Mackay in tropical North Queensland, a few months out of university and already a few hundred “yarns” into my cadetship. You pump them out in the provinces!
It was a Friday and the chief-of-staff had given me my usual five stories to write, one of which was about a plant nursery owner at Mackay’s northern beaches who had started selling something called a ‘neem tree’ from India, which he said repelled mosquitoes and sandflies.
At the time, at least in Mackay where I was born and raised, nobody had really heard of the neem. I suppose the chief reckoned readers might be keen to learn more about a tree that could fend off the swarms of airborne attackers that bedevilled our backyard barbecues and deck dinners in the tropics.
Interview, article, photo
Anyhoo, I interviewed the nurseryman over the phone and wrote the story, which ran with a pic on Page 3 the next day, a Saturday.
And I didn’t think any more of it.
A few months later my older brother, Anthony, held a party in the backyard of our family home and I was introduced to one of the guests.
“Actually, we’ve spoken on the phone,” he said. “You wrote up an article with me about neem trees.”
It was the nurseryman.
“Oh yeah, I remember,’ I said. “How did it all go?”
“Pretty incredible actually,” he said.
“The day the paper came out, we had 30 people come just to buy the neem.
“It’s gone so well, that’s all I sell now - just neem trees.”
That was the first time I’d noticed a news article I’d written for the newspaper having a beneficial commercial impact for the subject.
In this case, there was the immediate effect of 30 extra sales in a day, and the lasting kick-on benefits were such that the nursery owner re-organised his business to take advantage.
Reasons for success
Let’s examine why it worked so well for him, for those thinking of doing some of their own PR.
- It was “earned media”, meaning it was in the editorial part of the paper and not a paid advertisement. It’s less likely to be ignored like an ad, and more likely to be trusted given it’s been vetted by journalists and no money has changed hands.
- Saturday’s paper has the biggest readership of the week.
- It was genuinely newsworthy. We’re not talking Watergate here but it was fresh and potentially solved a real problem for readers - that being, annoying and painful biting bugs.
- The article appeared on Page 3, the second-best position in a newspaper after the Front Page. This boosted its ability to be noticed.
- A photo ran with the article. An image helps to grab readers’ attention.
- The overarching point to remember when dealing with the media about free publicity is that they hold all the power and they call the shots. A journalist cares not a scrap about delivering you a commercial outcome. They only care about serving their reader. If you happen to benefit coincidentally, that’s OK, but on a list of their top 1000 priorities, aiding your sales and marketing efforts comes in at a solid 1001.
- You must have a genuine news angle. In the neem tree example, the novelty and potential usefulness made it newsworthy. This not only got it in the paper, but on Page 3, and with a photo. This is not a paid ad where you get to sprout your marketing messages. Something about your product, service or company must be unusual, interesting, important, noteworthy or educational.
- Do all the work for the journalist. Write a thorough press release so that the journo doesn’t have to chase any of the basics. Include contact information for you and any sources. It must read like a proper news article - don’t fill it with blatant self-promotion and marketing guff.
- If targeting print media, send a photo in with your press release. As mentioned above, images attract eyeballs. Even if they don’t like your pic, it puts the idea in their head and they may send their own staff snapper, which is an even better result.
- On making contact, clearly, simply and concisely tell the journo why your story idea is of benefit/interest to their audience.
Don’t be like this lady, who sent me this email:
“I'm the owner of an Italian restaurant in Hamilton, Brisbane QLD, and I'm writing to you because I would like to if [sic] you would consider writing an article about us.
"Look forward to hearing back from you soon
Kind regards ...”
She failed to mention how she was offering me something of value to my readers, and it looked like I would be using my precious time to write about her business so she could sell more food and drink. Zilch for my readers, nothing for me except unpaid effort, and money for her. That's a 'pass', I'm afraid!
Coverage in the news media is great for business. It can help put your name/product/service front of mind, and it can even lead to more immediate sales.
Think about who your customers are, figure out which media they consume, and then offer the media outlet a content idea (featuring you) that will appeal to their audience. Make it easy for the journalist - don’t give them work and problems.
Persist, even if you get a few knock-backs to start. The benefits can be substantial.