10 Insider Tips on How to Get Free Publicity

Headline: “Publicity: The Friend of Journalists and Businesses Alike”
Mission: Dispel publicity myths and show how you can get free media coverage for your business.
Background: Some journalists may cringe at the word publicity. I know I have. This is usually after being at the receiving end of a poor publicity attempt.
As a former journalist, I can recall the days of receiving a blatant sales plug disguised in the form of a media release. This would be followed by a series of harassing phone calls (usually when you’re on deadline) from an overly enthusiastic publicist, asking eagerly ‘did you get my press release yet?’, ‘So are you going to print it?’ ‘Are you? Are you? Are you?’, ‘Ohhh, why not?’.
I have also been on the other side and been the one pitching story ideas to journalists. Fortunately for me, I have enough inside knowledge to avoid the publicity pitfalls. As a result I have been very successful at getting positive media coverage for my clients.
Major myths: journalists don’t like businesses trying to get free publicity for themselves; only publicists or marketing professionals can approach journalists and arrange publicity.
Facts: There’s a huge difference between good and bad publicity attempts. The overriding fact is that journalists are in the business of ‘news’. Journalists appreciate anyone approaching them with newsworthy materials. As long as it’s done in a professional, respectful and convenient manner.
Why you should want publicity: The true value of publicity is hard to measure but it’s widely acknowledged as being far more effective than straight out advertising.
Media coverage or editorial is third-party opinion, so the impact is considered around three times that of a paid advertisement. As an example if a half-page ad in the local newspaper costs $500, then a half-page worth of editorial in the same newspaper would be valued at $1500.
Then you also take into account where the story appears. Is it on a right hand page early on in the newspaper? Is it one of first stories on the news bulletin? These rank even higher.
So yes, publicity is well worth the effort, and can cost next to nothing other than an investment of time and a little effort.
Here are our top 10 DIY tips on how to get free publicity for your business.
1. Know your targets– investigate the best media outlet for your business and industry. Consider all mediums, such as, local newspapers, trade, industry and commercial magazines, radio, TV (local and national), online news sites and bloggers.
There will also be popular bloggers and social commentators that are specific to your type of business or your target audience. Get to know them.
Sometimes your target media outlet may be specific to a news story idea or angle, but generally speaking you will have core contacts that you should have up-to-date details for.
Populate this list by reading, listening, watching the media yourself. Ask your customers what media they use. Research what kind of stories they are interested in. Take a note of key journalists details. If you are interested in engaging a TV or radio presenter, ask for the appropriate producer’s details.
If you’re not sure who the best contact is, call the main number/reception and ask for the appropriate name, number and/or email address.
In Australia, you can subscribe to Margaret Gee’s Media Guide, which has comprehensive listings of specific media outlets and their contact details. It may be worthwhile investing in this if you are intending on sending out a lot of media releases and widely. You can also conduct a free online search using keywords, location or publication type. This will give you basic details to inform your own media list.
2. Develop relationships with key media and influencers ­– once you have identified your targets, consider reaching out to them and introducing yourself. Always have a reason though to initiate the call. You could send them a brief email, saying who you are and offering yourself as an industry expert. Use a current topic as a specific segue, for example, “I saw your story the other day on ‘calls for cats to be registered’. I’m a local vet with 15 years experience and agree this is an important issue. If you would like a local angle on this story or an interview opportunity, please call or email me on the below details.”
A better option would be to develop a tailored media release with your comments and send that through to the contact.
You can call journalists as well, but be very aware they are extremely busy and NEVER call them when they are approaching deadline. Get to know their publishing dates or on-air times, better still get to know their deadlines and avoid contacting them at those times.
When it comes to bloggers and social commentators, follow or subscribe to them. Engage in their comments and stories and make comments where you can add something of value.
You don’t want to plug your business you just want to start positioning yourself as an industry expert.
If you can successfully demonstrate you’re an expert in your field, are approachable and accessible, and can provide good content/interview talent/visual opportunities, then they will start coming to you for comment.
3. Have a story idea– all you need is a good story or ‘yarn’ to get you started.
This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Straight sales plugs are not newsworthy, but a lot of other things are. You should have an idea what kind of stories are usually covered by your target media outlet and try to come up with your own.
Journalists want stories from everyday people about everyday things as well as extraordinary happenings. Human interest type stories are always a winner – David vs Goliath, underdog makes good, everyday Joe overcomes overwhelming challenges.
Consider things that are interesting to your customers and the wider community. Brainstorm ideas with your staff, customers and other key contacts. Ideas may include: Supporting a community initiative; a free seminar; major awards won; environmental initiatives; current issues you could comment on or leverage.
4. Create a great media release – if you cant afford to pay an expert to write a good media release, write your own.
Journalists will give precedence to a well written media release, over a poorly written one. The easier you can make their job, the better your chances are of gaining coverage.
Have a goal in mind of what you want to achieve with your media release and how to best connect with your target audience (as well as the media outlet’s audience).
The most important parts of the media release are an attention grabbing headline, and the opening paragraph. Include quotes from an expert such as yourself. Make sure your contact details are included. Aim for 1-2 pages and make sure it is free of spelling mistakes.
While different news outlets and countries have slightly different preferences in terms of format and presentation, the basics are usually the same. You can find media release writing tips and a media release template here.
Email your release directly to your contact with a personalised note if possible (not a blanket email). You may like to follow up a day later with a phone call, but make sure you don’t call on deadline and have a point to your call.
Eg. ‘Did you get my media release?’, will not get as good a response as, ‘I’m following up my media release to offer you an interview/photo/vision opportunity.’ You will get an even better response if you can offer them something exclusive.
Have key messages or a spiel ready for what you want to say when you speak to the journalist, this is like a mini audition for an interview opportunity so you want to sound like great ‘talent’.
If you have key messages, use them as a guide only and be careful not to read them like a script, you want to sound natural. Be yourself, but your most professional self.
It’s okay to target particular outlets and offer them exclusive coverage first. You can give them a couple of days to consider your exclusive offer before sending the release out more widely. This can work if your story is newsworthy enough.
If you have enough lead time before an event or announcement date, you may like to send out a media alert first (a week before), which is like a date claimer.
You include basic what, where, when and a headline and an opening paragraph, similar to a short media release, which is enough of a teaser to get them to book it in their diaries. Don’t give away the whole story though, as you will save that for the follow-up media release late on.
5. Give your contact exactly what they need – Different types of media outlets have different needs or approaches. It’s a good idea to tailor your media release or approach to the specific outlet. For example, a TV program will be interested in vision and interview opportunities, a blogger may not be very interested in a corporate media release but they may be interested in doing a Q and A session with you on a specific topic or giveaways for their followers.
Newspapers and magazines will want photo opportunities and if there are logistical issues getting a photographer to you they may like you to submit your own good quality images.
6. Take your media releases online – It’s time to dispel another myth. A myth that ‘media releases’ are just for media. This is absolutely untrue. These days media releases can be targeted directly to consumers and even if they aren’t, they may be of interest to a lot of your stakeholders.
You should have a dedicated ‘newsroom’ page on your website that publishes copies of all of your media releases. You should also include videos, images and resources that may be of interest to our stakeholders. All kinds of people visit your online newsroom, not just media, and you should take advantage of this.
Regularly updating your content on your website, by adding media releases, also assists with search engine optimisation (SEO).
Offer your media releases in html and pdf format and optimise them for SEO by including relevant keywords.
Free information on hot keywords and trends can be found at Google Trends and Insights, Wordtracker and Ubersuggest.
Include backlinks to your website and social media in the media release.
Offer an RSS feed or subscription option on your website for people wishing to receive your media releases.
And don’t forget to promote your media releases on your social media platforms.
It’s also a great idea to use an online media release distribution service. Journalists subscribe to these services and it will help to create backlinks to your website. This is great from an SEO perspective and can help get you mentioned on Google News. New stories are generally speaking much higher ranked on Google results than corporate web pages.
There are hundreds of online media release distribution services. Some of them are free, while others aren’t. Do a bit of research on the most credible ones and find the best option for you – www.prweb.com is one such site and you can find a list of free services here.
You can also submit a media release directly to Google News, but you must first register as a provider by providing general information about your business and a URL to your media release. You can find more information here. Make sure you meet all of their requirements. Google News should let you know if your story has been approved or not.
7. Put yourself out there – I have already mentioned that you should try and pitch yourself as an industry expert. There are many ways to do this.
You can put yourself up as a media spokesperson by registering with websites that connect journalists with specific sources. One such site is www.sourcebottle.com, which does offer a free service.
Also get involved with industry events and speaking opportunities that keep you front of mind. This will help build personal brand awareness and build credibility for you and your business.
8. Keep up momentum– aim to send out a media release about once a month, though this may fluctuate depending on story opportunities. Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t always succeed at getting coverage. It’s okay as well to politely ask a journalist if they have any feedback on your release and/or story idea.
9. Monitor and promote media coverage – keep copies of your media coverage and promote it in your shopfront, or include links to stories on social media or your website. If you would like to reproduce a story or images in full, just check with the media outlet first. Many media outlets are fine with you putting a scanned in copy of a story on a website for instance if you credit the publication/journalist/photographer’s name.
Don’t forget to sign up for Google News Alerts so you can keep track of your online mentions.
10. Get expert help when you need it – It can be worthwhile to engage an expert to help you with media release development, distribution and selling-in. Don’t be scared to ask for a quote on different options. If you can’t afford full services, perhaps enquire about them editing a draft media release for you.
In summary don’t be scared of approaching a journalist or blogger. Just approach them armed with a great story idea and well written release. Be professional and respectful but don’t contact them on deadline. Did I mention, ‘NEVER contact a journalist on deadline’. It’s that easy.

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Kylie Fennell
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