Now in its third printing, Bulletproof News Releases has become the standard for generating business news the media will use. As the best-selling news release how-to book on the market, Bulletproof News Releases blows the lid off one of the most effective yet elusive marketing tools known to man -- free publicity. Journalist Kay Borden combines her knowledge and experience with the expert advice of 150 American Media Professionals -- afterall, they decide what receives media coverage -- to show small business what the media wants and how to give it to them.
First publicity guide ever by media professionals specifically for
Entrepreneurs and Small Business.
What will I learn?
--- who is the only person standing between you and free publicity, and how to win them over -- What editors want from the editors themselves.
--- what makes your business newsworthy and how to use it to get free publicity --
Learn how to trade what you do everyday for free media cover.
--- when to use news releases for the greatest impact -- How to anticipate and plan for "sudden" opportunities.
--- where to send your news releases for the biggest return -- You've already got a friend in the media.
--- why the public responds to news releases -- Generating profitable no-strings-attached endorsements for you business activities.
--- how to plan a successful news release campaign that will pay dividends for years to come -- Using publicity after you get it to generate more publicity.
Plus Hundreds of Ideas That Will Work For You.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Myths & Misconceptions 1
Publicity for the new millennium 3
Hiring publicity help 6
Why just newspapers -- for now 12
2 To Market, To Market 15
Advertising that's virtually free 19
Making sure they think of you 22
Marketing and the Internet 23
History repeats itself 27
Being first 29
The right image 30
Watch for trends 37
Reality check 43
3 Working With Editors 49
The maddening media 50
Understanding the species 54
The headlines vs the bottom line 55
Media relations 58
Become the expert 61
Preconceived prejudices 62
Handling negative publicity 65
News vs ads 67
What is 'news value'? 70
No overwritten news full of holes, please 75
First impressions 76
Photos & illustrations 77
Follow-up & deadlines 78
4 News Under Your Nose 83
Begin at home 84
Developing a nose for news 87
Putting your expertise to work . . . indirectly 88
Relating knowledge to news 89
Venturing away from home 104
The mechanics 106
Photos & illustrations 107
Digital image files 111
Media kits 112
Mailing lists 112
Publicity ideas 115
5 Writing For Success 131
Learning to relate 136
Think before you write 140
Readable writing 141
Localizing lead paragraphs 148
Using the right words 154
Guts and grammar 156
Um . . . where to put price, phone number, and our web address 158
Tools for Writing 160
6 Managing Success 163
So you think its less than totally flattering 168
Media kits 169
Measuring success 169
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Read an excerpt . . .
from Chapter 1 - Myths and Misconceptions
Myths & Misconceptions
News release publicity is dead. Many promotion-minded business owners and hired publicists still waste time and money sending out poor imitations. But more telling, huge numbers of entrepreneurs and small business people dont know to use news releases -- or how. Resigned to the situation, media professionals have neither the time nor a spirited commitment to educate either group. Pity. It could have been so mutually beneficial.
According to those in the media who actually decide what news we receive, an over abundance of publicity seekers demonstrate a woeful lack of know-how. Incredibly, it's not only the do-it-yourselfers who fall short, but many of those hired to publicize fail miserably.
Robert A. Hatch, formerly with the public relations agency Carl Byoir & Associates, says Byoir client material reached its intended audience because journalism-trained professionals had the final ok; a simple and successful system albeit, as he puts it, a "somewhat tyrannical" one.
Says Hatch: "We prided ourselves in putting out publicity materials to the media that the media could use. Everyone at Byoir had been a newspaper reporter or editor or wire service or magazine professional for five or more years before we jumped the traces. The agency even had a copy editor, a former Associated Press editor, who had the right to reject releases, no matter how badly the client wanted them put out in a specific form."
Hatch goes on: "I mention all this because the quality of news release writing, indeed the quality of the ideas and quotes that go into [news releases], has fallen way off... I hardly ever get a release, even from a major agency, that contains a lead that could be used as written. Often they look as if they were produced by a junior sales promotion writer or, worse still, the ad manager of the client firm. Each of these disciplines has a legitimate approach to conveying a commercial message, but neither of them speaks in the language of the news writer."
Hatch's comments are particularly revealing since, as editor and publisher of The Lakeville Journal, Lakeville, CT, he's on the other side of the desk, receiving and evaluating releases for newsworthiness rather than generating them.
What would account for the drop-off in quality news? Perhaps its the multitude of untrained publicists who naively produce advertising that only looks like news, and remain blissfully unaware of the difference -- or that a journalist can spot it. Perhaps, in more recent years, it's been the net-marketing boom, e-commerce, and the rush of new start-ups wanting a piece of the action. Perhaps its a fair amount of both.
Publicity for the new millennium
Since some media drag out all manner of shock-producing words and images to get our attention, perhaps some operators of ordinary small businesses never consider news media coverage as an option. Business owners who understand the benefits of publicity can become quickly discouraged at the thought of competing with some of today's headlines. Its no wonder then why a clothing store owner, eager to jump into the promotional arena, may head off in a slightly skewed direction. In her misguided mind, a new line of street-length dresses may become publicized as Dresses for Street Walking.
Who could blame the dry cleaner for mentally musing over his fantasy news release entitled Man Drops Pants? And a publicity-minded hot dog vendor might imagine a story proclaiming we relish your buns.
You're probably wondering where you fit into all of this. You're working 16 hours a day trying to make a living; how can you grab your share of news space when your publicity ideas are slim to none, and if you had one, it probably wouldn't stand a chance? Shock media -- if it bleeds, it leads -- is getting ever more aggressive and disturbs even seasoned journalists. However, less sensational matters occupy a sizeable portion of available news space each day. These refreshing stories help keep us sane and many of them tell of ordinary business people just like you. The result is extraordinary publicity. Do you recognize them? Youve read or heard broadcasts of tens of thousands of them. It takes a thoughtful approach, but not only is it possible for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get their share of the headlines, it's highly probable.
Now www-charged businesses struggle to define their web presence, develop content, attract traffic, convert visitors to clients, and make their web site investment pay off. The worldwide web holds the magic to sell products and services for some enterprises, while serving as strictly a information source for others. Either way, it falls squarely in the publicity arena, is uniquely accessible to target markets worldwide, and yet its well within the financial reach of any size business.
Fact is, most small businesses limp around promotionally deficient and advertising poor. Though the material in this book cannot identify how you are unique, it can help you spot uniqueness in yourself. It doesn't take much effort to get the public's attention if you can support claims of startling technological advances, phenomenal growth, or an altogether unusual approach to some aspect of business.
Since these kinds of headline-making accomplishments aren't likely for Pigpen's Laundry & Dry Cleaning or Adam and Eve's Rib Shack, the material in this book is specifically designed to show you how to identify and use the more mundane aspects about your business to gain no-cost/low-cost media exposure.
Nothing is so ordinary that it can't be viewed in a new light, improved on, reintroduced, and publicized. And you have to look no further than Ed Katz' reinvention of the cardboard box on page 103.
With the help of 150 American journalists, you will be introduced to a whole new way of thinking about your business activities and learn how you can take advantage of them to build a reputation, increase customer traffic, and ultimately affect the bottom line in a positive way.
Perhaps in your pursuit of business promotion, you have read books or magazine articles that included a few paragraphs about promoting with news releases. A search of currently available material on the subject turns up vague though well-meaning recommendations such as "try to get your local newspaper to run a news release about your business." Without specifics, this bit of so-called advice brings to mind all manner of possible actions from trickery to attempted bribery to a pitiful display of unabashed begging.
Equally appalling are such declarations as "the media are eager to give their audience news about your products and services," another empty statement producing more questions than answers. Though essentially valid, neither suggestion begins to tell you what to do and how to do it. Such statements can motivate, but trying to get started without direction can leave you all pumped up and frustrated.
Since there really is no free lunch, you can't think of publicity as free advertising, which implies getting something for nothing. Think of it instead as a fair trade -- exchanging useful information for valuable exposure. Since news releases cost more time than anything else, including them in your marketing plans is fiscally a sound move when compared to paid advertising alone.
Hiring publicity help
Even if you prefer not to develop publicity material and seek out appropriate media outlets yourself, this book will help you evaluate the worthiness and performance of a hired professional. By knowing what to expect, you'll be better prepared to judge a candidate's merit to ensure you'll get your money's worth before you commit.
When interviewing a prospective freelancer or public relations agency, weed out the wannabees by asking to see recently published samples of news clippings about their clients. It may seem odd to ask that of so-called professionals, but a number of editors surveyed during the research and development of this book ranked material from public relations agencies as low as any received for usefulness and overall writing quality. Here's why: public relations firms naturally lean toward pleasing paying customers. When faced with choosing between what the client wants and what the media wants, most bend in order to keep the account.
A news release crafted to please the client becomes just an expensive ego trip if it doesn't result in media coverage. Several media professionals surveyed lived past lives doing PR work, and more than one expressed disbelief at the agency-produced material they now receive. In fact, many in the media consider public relations as one of the lowest life forms around.
Don't be persuaded by a pile of neatly prepared releases ready to be mailed as proof a PR writer can produce. If it hasn't been published, it doesn't count. Be especially leery of a promised 100-publication mailing (or 1,000 or 10,000). Don't be swayed by grand numbers and the shotgun effect behind mass-mailings. On the contrary, someone with published samples and an offer to get your message in one or two area newspapers or a dozen pertinent, highly targeted publications actually paints a much more reasonable expectation and becomes the wiser choice. By the time you have finished reading this book, you'll know why.
Not to cast an altogether unflattering light over the entire public relations profession, but the naked truth here is that the opinions of journalists is all that really matters - after all, they decide what receives coverage.
Publicity happens when your business activities are published or broadcast by a recognized source of news and information. Opportunities and outlets for publicity have never been greater. Now 24-hours-a-day-anyway-you-want-it-news-you-can-use has actually changed the definition of news, the way its gathered, and the way it's presented. With all the air time and print and web space that must be filled, news that didn't fit the strict definition of the word in the not-so-distant past, now passes before us in a format once reserved for entertainment.
Publicity isnt an off-the-shelf commodity but completely customized for a particular business. It takes time to develop, time to make contacts, and time for material to actually be published or broadcast according to press deadlines. It works best when publicized goals and objectives -- your companys public face -- match the day-to-day attitudes and activities actually driving your business. The only way an outsider contracted to produce positive publicity can effectively generate news is by continually communicating with the appropriate contact on the inside. To put it simply, you talk, they listen.
Effective publicity matches media coverage to some point on the company's goals and objectives roadmap. Vague, broad goals must be broken down into small, digestible bites. The best publicity campaigns are waged over the long term because successfully pitching the media means limiting each news release to a single topic. Failing to focus on a broad goal, and educating your publicity writer about it, makes the necessary process of narrowing your focus impossible. If you lack a clear goal on what you want publicity to do, or if you fail to relate it to your hired writer, you will likely be disappointed with the results. A good publicity writer doesn't make up material but finds a slant on factual information that successfully matches a business goal with a trend, then properly presents it to the appropriate media outlets.
Choose your publicity writer carefully because you'll produce better and better results the longer you work together. But he or she cant help you if youre too busy or reluctant to talk. If you dont talk, your publicity writer wont know what is in your head, where you want to go, and what you want to ultimately achieve. Begin by telling them about the passion thats being satisfied by being in business.
For a newcomer to your operation, such as a contracted publicity writer, developing material takes time. Chances are they wont know anything about your business, your target market, or your industry. To help them get up to speed so they can help you, youll need to give them as much background information as possible. Invite them to your office, arrange a tour of your operation, load them down with sales literature, copies of your industrys trade publications, clippings of previous publicity about your business -- good and bad, then talk until youre both exhausted. Its next to impossible to give your publicity writer too much information. Talk about phone calls, letters, e-mails, and faxes you have received from clients, suppliers, and employees. Talk about trends within your industry. Talk about your products and services. Talk about your competition. Talk about how you are different -- both the positives and the negatives. Of course you shouldnt expect any dirty laundry to show up in the press, but discussing problems can pay off because a solution could begin with a single bit of published news.
A publicity writer should be a trusted team member. Terminate the relationship immediately should you detect even a hint of anything less. Conversely, you should treat them as you would your best friend. Its impossible to turn shabby or indifferent treatment into positive publicity.
One drawback to contracting publicity services is you miss the personal benefits of developing promotional material yourself. You miss the process that stimulates your mind and makes you think about your business, and all the new things you'll learn about yourself and it. You miss the added dimension that brings about new discoveries, ideas for solving problems, and better ways to market, grow, and prosper. These things can only happen when you do it yourself, or engage in a lot of dialog with the person that is doing it.
If you decide to hire a publicity writer, put your money behind experienced, trained journalists. Highly respected public relations professional, John F. Budd, Jr., calls news releases "... the oxymoron of our times! They are neither news nor do they release (say) anything -- mostly." Budd, chairman and CEO of Omega Group in New York City and author of Street Smart Public Relations, shares a letter he sent to the editor of the Journal of Corporate Communications, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, regarding a recent article in the Journal about quality in corporate news releases.
"The author completely misses a priceless opportunity to address one of the most troubling issues in communications. He suggests quality is important but perhaps not now. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I can think of ten specific criteria, each of which -- and all of which -- are a quality factor.
1. Writing -- is it pedestrian or professional? This is not a niggling point. The abysmal state of copy is a constant source of irritation to editors. Ask one.
2. Grammatical accuracy -- self-explanatory.
3. Relevance -- is it of legitimate interest to whomever it is being directed? Too many releases are written for the boss, not the ultimate audience.
4. Does it have substance? Are you saying anything? You'd be surprised at the meandering, pointless copy produced in the name of a news release.
5. Level of creativity -- run of the mill or interesting?
6. Proactive or reactive? Not a small point, effectiveness in communication is enhanced by taking the initiative; reactive writing is almost always seen as defensive.
7. Presentation -- is it clean, crisp copy on paper, centered with good margins, no strikeovers or white-outs? Is the release paper unadorned with logos and claims of NEWS...?
8. Credibility -- are statements supported by facts? Are sources of attribution credible?
9. Timeliness -- is it hard news or soft? Does the writer know the difference -- and what it means in the writing.
10. Factual accuracy -- self explanatory but a maxim violated often."
An eight-time recipient of public relation's equivalent of the motion picture industry's Oscar, Budd learned early in his career that speaking the "language of the news writer" ensured success -- so much so, his then-employer's copy was accepted by the media carte blanche, a credential worth looking for in your search.
Why does speaking the language of the news writer ensure success? Because journalists are trained news writers, and they know the kind of material other journalists want and the way they want it. The language of the news writer is not so much a language as it is a framework in which to tailor information; tailor your information to the media serving your audience, supply interesting photos, and deliver what you promise when needed. Tailoring depends on the media being approached. The media's audience should need the information. If the editor likes the idea, they will love it with a photo. Delivering promised material by the deadline completes the process. The vast majority of businesses fail the framework test.
A local media reporter can sometimes be persuaded to do a little freelance work, which should guarantee your material at least gets picked up by his or her employer. Whether you choose a freelancer or a public relations firm, come to a clear understanding about who will talk to the media directly should they call for more information. If your publicity writer is more accessible than you are, and you feel comfortable with them as company spokesperson, you may benefit by allowing them to handle that duty. On the other hand, you may want to field media calls yourself. It's strictly a matter of personal preference and will make no difference whatsoever to news publications receiving your release. Public relations firms usually charge a monthly retainer and may be financially out of reach for many start-ups or very small businesses.
Why just newspapers -- for now
Concentrating promotional effort on your local newspaper, at least initially, does several things. First, it forces you to focus on one medium, and it's the easiest target. Second, TV and radio news gatherers read newspapers for leads, so it's possible to also hear your item on radio the day it comes out in the paper. And third, printed items go into more detail, can be reviewed, passed around, placed in a reference file, nicely framed and hung on a wall, posted on the internet, or posted on the refrigerator. You can't do that with anything on the airwaves. Depending on your business, your local paper may actually deliver the greatest benefits of any media you could go after.
Your local newspaper is the perfect medium to get your feet wet, and establishing good relations now will help later as business changes present opportunities for media exposure. With the experience under your belt, youre ready to hone your skills and approach other media. Later, after you become more comfortable about approaching and working with the media, you will want to branch out to trade publications, specialty magazines, and perhaps general-interest media outlets. Each experience will build confidence and give you the chance to speak to media people, find out what they want, what bugs them, how they like to receive material, and give you the opportunity to make a friend who will naturally be more receptive to future story ideas.
Chapter Key Points
The best news releases use the "language of the news writer."
Refer to Budd's 10-point Quality Checklist beginning on page 10.
Hiring a publicist.
Start with your local newspaper.
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About the Author
Journalist and former newspaper editor Kay Borden now coaches small businesses on marketing, publicity, and media relations and is the author of Bulletproof News Releases, a small business publicity guide from Franklin-Sarrett Publishers now newly revised for 2002 and in its third printing.
Borden began her career as an editor at several small-town weekly newspapers where she was on the receiving end of countless pieces of business news. Says Borden: "Collectively, it amounted to an elaborate, expensive exercise of passing huge volumes of paper through a printing press which then passed through the post office before a brief stop-off at the news room on its way to the dump."
Borden moved on to Lockheed Georgia in Marietta, GA as technical publications editor and later moved into the aircraft manufacturer's information services organization, first as an analyst then senior representative.
In the mid-80's, when changes in corporate America prompted the start of the small business revolution, Borden thought back on the paper-to-the-dump experience and decided to write a book about business publicity from a journalist point of view. While writing the manuscript, she surveyed 150 media professionals whose opinions and advice formed the basis for her small business publicity guide, Bulletproof News Releases.
"The book was not written from one journalist's prospective but from the exeriences and prospectives of 150 journalists, a broad view never before presented in a single source and specifically on the subject of small business news," Borden recounts.
The Atlanta native and Georgia Southern College graduate is a popular speaker and radio talk show guest and has authored hundreds of published newspaper and magazine articles including promoting her own activities as well as those of clients.
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