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Publicity from Thin Air
Don't just wait for news to happen.
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 Publicity Insider 

by Bill Stoller, Publisher
PublicityInsider.com

In an ideal world, your business would be overflowing with newsworthy stories, and the media would be waiting with bated breath for your next press release, ready to give you front page coverage.

In the real world, however, it's not always so easy to generate real news. There are only so many hot new products or breakthrough achievements with which a business can capture a journalist's attention.

So what do top publicists do to get news coverage for clients who have no news to share?

They create opportunities for publicity from thin air. A good publicist can quite literally invent a story that the news media will eat up. And, best of all, they're usually stories that can be presented with little or no adjustment year after year.

Here are a few of the ways you can create a great story from scratch:

Start a Hall of Fame. There are two reasons for you to take a look at (http://www.publicityinsider.com/HallOfFame.asp) -- my very own Public Relations Hall of Fame.  First, it's filled with examples of companies who have created great publicity stories from thin air (the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the National Discount Broker's Duck Quack, to name a couple) and second,  it's an example of a time-honored publicity technique -- the Hall of Fame.

It couldn't be easier. For your field, create a Hall of Fame, induct some of your industry's top luminaries, send out a press release. You don't need a marble-columned building or bronze plaques. A simple press release (and maybe a supporting website similar to the Public Relations Hall of Fame) will do the trick. Each year, induct some more members and send out another release. Really, it's that simple.

Make a List.  

Mr. Blackwell made himself  a household name with a simple "Worst Dressed List." And the "Most Boring People of the Year" list that gets huge press every year?  It's the creation of a single, very clever publicist from New Jersey. And take a look at one of the more recent lists to get massive publicity -- the Most Annoying People of the Year from AmIAnnoying.com http://www.amiannoying.com/2002/mostandleast.aspx.

The media simply devours lists. The best, the worst, the most, the least, the top 10, the bottom 10, whatever. Is there actual news here? Nope -- it's just entertaining, fluffy and a bit gossipy. In short, lists are the perfect fodder for an editor seeking to balance out all the horror and sadness of a typical news day with a bit of levity. Lists such as these are practically the reason "People" columns in newspapers were invented.

Craft an Index.  

Here's a neat variation on the list concept. Essentially a twist on the government's cost of living index, a publicity index is a fun way to quantify a trend. Let me give you an example of a good index that generated strong publicity year after year. Back in my agency days, one of our clients was the company that imported Moet Champagne. Somewhere along the line, a very sharp publicist had a brainstorm, and invented "The Moet Index." It was basically a list of some luxury items -- such things as a Maine lobster, a jar of Russian caviar, a diamond bracelet and, of course, a bottle of Moet -- with the total cost of all the items if one were to purchase them. The number was compared with the amount they would have cost last year, and the year before and -- voila -- the Moet Index was born. The Index purported to ask the question "How much more expensive is living the good life this year as opposed to previous years?" The media loved it, and Moet had a nice annual story. They simply tallied up the new numbers each year, distributed a press release, sat back and counted the clippings.

Create a Petition.  

Is there a hot topic in your industry? A growing controversy? Something people would like to see happen that's not taking place? Create a petition! Thanks to the Internet, starting a petition drive is a breeze. No need to stand outside supermarkets with a  clipboard -- just provide a link for your visitors and you're off and running! Sites such as PetitionOnline.com (http://www.petitiononline.com/petition.html) allow anyone to start a petition for free.

Take a look at some of the petitions on the site: "Operation Keep Vanessa on General Hospital";  "Request to CBS to air the Lane Bryant Lingerie Show"; "Declare Sept. 11 a National Holiday"; "Eminem For President In 2004." Whether serious or lighthearted, a petition that generates lots of signatures is a great publicity hook.

For example, take a closer look at the "Lane Bryant Lingerie Show" petition. It notes that, because 60% of women in America wear at least a size 14, CBS should provide a plus-size fashion show as a counterpart to its airing of the Victoria's Secret show. Now, I don't know who was behind this petition, but imagine if you ran a website for plus-size women, and you were the one who started the petition. And let's say you managed to get 3000 people to sign the petition. Do you think you might have a pretty good shot at getting coverage in newspapers, women's magazines and other media outlets? Heck, yeah!

Petitions are an awesome way to create publicity from thin air -- and hardly anyone is using them for that purpose.  Jump on this idea and keep it to yourselves.  This is one just for my Publicity Insiders!

Here are my tips to create a story from thin air:

 Keep it light. Journalists know what you're up to, and they'll play along if it's all in fun. Think in terms of placing the story in the "People in the News" column or with a "notes" columnist who specializes in lighter stories.  Don't try to pretend that your "Top 10 List" or online petition is earthshaking news. Keep your tongue planted in your cheek and you'll have a much better chance of placement.

 Keep it positive. Mr. Blackwell is pretty tart in some of his comments and, I suppose, one of his targets could up and sue him one of these days. That probably won't happen because he's well-established and a star who took him to court would end up looking like a bad sport. Still, for your efforts, try to stay positive and avoid criticizing, ridiculing or otherwise embarrassing anyone.  We live in a litigious society, and there are folks who wouldn't take kindly to finding themselves on the "Top 10 Buffoons of the Year" list. Let others take those chances.
While calling people boring, or annoying, or hideously dressed does seem to generate attention, there are plenty of ways to succeed taking an opposing approach.  What about the most heroic, the most inspiring, the coolest, the smartest, and so on?  Let your list, index, petition or Hall of Fame celebrate the positive in our society or your industry, and it will reflect well on your business.

 Keep it Relevant. To make it work for you, a created story needs to fit your business.  Mr. Blackwell is a designer, so a worst-dressed list makes sense.  It would do no good, however, for a car dealership to put out such a list. Keep it relevant. Let your story support your marketing message (e.g., Moet Index = "Moet is part of the good life") and it will do more than fill your clipping book -- it will fill your cash registers, too.


Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider," has spent two decades as one of 
America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine and subscription 
newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for
PR-Hungry Businesses http://www.PublicityInsider.com/freepub.asp
he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring
big publicity.  For free articles, killer publicity tips and
much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site:
http://www.PublicityInsider.com





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