Another look at media publicity (and the strategies for winning positive attention)

media scrum
The media scrum: You'll rarely want or need to be caught in this situation in seeking publicity for your business.

Every day, I’m on the receiving end of dozens of missives seeking publicity in our various regional publications. ?At the same time, I need to generate upwards of five to eight “stories” a day — quickly. There’s a sweet spot for publicity seekers in this mix. A well-written news release, with photos, and which covers a topic of relevance to our readers, is almost certain to be published, without even a cent of advertising expense. Best of all, for the publicity seeker, the news release can be distributed to other media with positive effect, and once the story is posted in our titles, it is redistributed extensively on social media.

Pretty powerful free publicity, eh.

Alas, the story isn’t quite as simple as slapping together a quick news release and seeking some free attention. This business, clearly, depends on advertising for most of its income, and so I’ve set some guidelines for news release usage and don’t generally bend the rules.

  1. The story must be of real value to readers, more than to the organization seeking publicity. ?A simple example of this rule in process is that I’ll publish news of a start or contract win, if it seems reasonable there may be opportunities for downstream sub-trades and suppliers to win work for the project. However, I’m not interested in project completions. There’s no work to be done for others in the industry, and it is simply a “blow your own horn” story for the contractor seeking the publicity.
  2. Over-use is the kiss of death. Maybe some people think that because we’ll use a news release, we’ll use dozens. Not a chance. If you go overboard, I’ll tighten the standards. As an example, we might publish an occasional personnel announcement/promotion story, but if you start announcing every small change in your company, I’ll respond with an invitation to speak to our advertising department.
  3. Puffery and platitudes don’t help. Facts do. ?I’ve had enough stories about condo developments that don’t bother explaining the building permit value of the project, but gush about the “luxury” accommodations. ?First, if I see the word “luxury” in any news release I’ll remove it (and probably every word around it. ?I don’t care about how expensive it is to purchase the individual units.) Second, if you can’t tell me how much the project is worth in public building permit value terms you are spewing meaningless garbage. Into the trash bin these releases go.
  4. Charitable and community service are good. Excessive bragging about really small deeds is not. I’ve received extensive news releases (and follow-up public relations agency calls) gushing about a multi-million dollar company’s contribution of $5,000 in kind (merchandise) for a good cause. ?Give me a break. I don’t care and probably even the charity receiving the gift is frustrated by the public relations “take” here.
  5. Personalizing news releases with worthy information is good. Phone calls and repeated
    My free guide on media publicity. You can request a copy by emailing

    attempts to pitch a story I’ve declined are not. These days, the only phone calls I generally receive uninvited are from folks trying to sell garbage and overpriced junk (or are scams.) So even if you have a legitimate news story, do you want to make your introduction to me in that environment? ?Best to send an email. If time isn’t too urgent, an old postal mail message with enclosures and information might be okay. Just allow me to decide when and how to read that email and not be forced to take your “urgent” call.

  6. Finally, and most importantly, if you are really serious about using our media to promote your business/cause, then heck, spend a little money with us. All of the rules above go out the window when you advertise. We’ll take news releases and modify them to our standards, and work with you on content management. ?And it is quite okay to phone us if you have a question or special request. In case you are concerned about editorial integrity, consider that the examples in 1 to 5 above are based on businesses and organizations seeking commercial publicity to suit their interests. But we are a business, too, and of course we want to treat our clients properly. And we do.

Positive media publicity is an imperfect science, and publishing is most definitely an imperfect business, because the service we provide that provides the greatest value (the editorial content) also usually doesn’t correlate with our advertising revenue source. Yes, you can work the system and obtain plenty of free publicity if you follow the first five rules above. With rule 6, you get an added opportunity — you can break the rules 1 to 5 with us, and receive our (free) guidance on how to structure your publicity so that you receive free attention in other media. We’re always happy to help you publish your free news releases in the media of our direct competitors.

If you’d like more information about publicity, you can connect with me at I’ll send you our free guide about media relations techniques.

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