Free or purchased publicity: Where are the boundaries?

publicity cadcr
We earn most of our money by selling advertising in regional and national publications, such as Canadian Design and Construction Report. But what approach is best for you?

I have a real challenge in managing the websites and editorial content for eight publications/websites serving distinctive regional markets. There’s a constant need for content, especially since we publish weekly eletters as well as the websites and related magazines.

This means, if you number comes up lucky (or you do the right things), your good-news story will quite possibly find its way into our eletters, websites and social media feeds, and all you need to do to get all these results was to send an appropriately worded news release.

Yet there is another side to the story. Our business earns 99 per cent of its revenue from advertising, and we know quite well that editorial content is more effective than paid advertising. So we essentially give the best stuff away for free . . .

But not always . . .

And that is the key determination.

If you have the good fortune to receive positive free editorial publicity for your business without any business/advertising relationship with the publisher, you have to appreciate that the publisher has absolutely no obligation to do what you want, when you want, and (this is important), the harder you try, the more likely you are to receive a less-than-positive response.

So I’ll start with the basics.

No phone calls, ever.

Since free publicity must be at the publisher’s convenience, anything that impedes the convenience is a loss. And that means, you must NEVER phone me with your publicity pitch. Ever.

I don’t have time nor desire to take a “invitation call” for the “great story” you propose. I’ll immediately put my back up no matter how you try to sugar coat you are “trying to share some good news” — it is commercial publicity you are seeking, and I know it. I’ll automatically and directly refer you to the advertising department to work out an editorial placement deal.

Pay to play can be a good marketing deal.

I like to practice what I?preach, and that means?great client experiences are worthy of celebration. So if you are one of our paying clients, you can be assured you’ll receive all the free publicity we can arrange (and yes, I’ll take your phone calls — but you generally don’t need to do that type of pushing to get the results you are seeking.) Some of our clients purchase annual or bi-annual contracts; one payment means every time they send a news release, they know it will be published. Some of the news releases I receive from clients need reworking to be credible and easy-to-read, and sometimes it is a challenge to match the appropriate media/outlet with the news release, but we’ll make sure the news/publicity?appears on schedule.

So, yes, talk to our (or the relevant publisher’s) advertising department. Even publications or media outlets with clear “editorial/advertising” walls still have provisions for advertising special features. You should certainly use them.

Cool the superlatives and provide the essential facts in your announcements.

Your project is NOT “iconic” and you are not the “leading” contractor, architect or engineer. The only grounds for these assertions would be a true independent third-party saying that without your prompting. If you are building a large project, its public dollar value is important. Large projects have architects, contractors and other key professionals. Leaving out this information leaves us?in the dark. Keep it factual, please.

The simple press release works well. Use it.

A news release drafted in journalistic style, with embedded direct quotes (see the note about puffery above, though) will be much easier to process than a lengthy diatribe or an incomplete email offering “content”. The latter gets my back up because I almost certainly know it is some content-marketing agency paid by a client to pump links for their clients (they can talk to our advertising department for that service, if it is even available.)

Make it easy to use. If you have high quality images, include them with the package. Even videos, but make theme easy to post (best would be a YouTube link where I can grab the relevant shortcode and drop it in quickly).

Don’t overdo it, and don’t expect us to care about the news that is important to you (or your client)

Quite often I receive effusive stories about small projects that are already built and completed. These land in the trash. (Which of our readers, looking for new work or opportunities, could possibly care about this news?) Alternatively, a contractor wants to brag about a community contribution. (Okay, maybe once, but repeating the message two times in two weeks will receive a trash-can response.) Or the contractor cites an “award-winning” project, but doesn’t explain the source of the award, or (worse), it is one that is issued by a competing publication/media outlet. Really. You think we are going to rush to drop everything to share this news? Forget it.

(Repeat point: Some pay-to-play goes a long way. Find some budget, please.)

No need to make a big deal about it, but purchasing some advertising will solve many of your media-management problems. In this context, you can consult with the publisher on the best strategy/schedule to increase your effectiveness. ?You’ll take the chance out of the equation and turn your media strategy into a marketing investment. And I’ll always be helpful in designing your materials so that other media will pick it up, for free.

If you would like to see how to obtain effective results, send an email to me at or phone (888) 627-8717 ext 224. Yes, the phone number is here.

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