Publicity is, in effect, free advertising. Typical examples include feature stories and product or service announcements that are published in either print or broadcast media. Publicity is especially effective as a promotional tool because people — specifically, prospective consumers — give more credibility to what they read or hear when it comes from news sources, whereas their belief in advertising is understandably tainted with varying degrees of suspicion.
The downside of free publicity is that you cannot control what is said about your company, product, or service. Make sure that what you publicize can withstand media scrutiny. After all, members of the media know that to maintain their credibility they must present the facts as they really are, not as you say they are. They have been trained to be suspicious.
Local newspapers, business periodicals, TV and radio stations, and magazines can all offer the publicity for which you’re looking. Don’t limit your search for free publicity to business-oriented outlets; often, exposure in the news or with a human interest story will be of more benefit. Generally speaking, more consumers read or listen to news and human interest stories than to those media outlets that focus only on business people.
In most cases, you need a hook to attract publicity. A hook is the characteristic that makes you or your product or service unique and of publicity value. Examples of hooks include a restaurant where the waiters are intentionally rude to patrons — but where you’ll also find the best Italian food in town; the gas station that gives newspapers to its customers with every fill-up; and the antique shop with goats in its lobby for visitors to feed. A secondary advantage to hooks is that your attempts to find publicity will be easier. A bona fide hook will attract the media, because it will be perceived as something of interest to the readers or viewers.
How about your business? What exactly is your hook? Have you thought about this question? If you can’t think of one, perhaps you need to consider your overall approach to marketing. Everyone can use a hook, whether you’re looking for free publicity, writing a radio commercial, or handing out flyers on the street corner. If your business doesn’t have a hook, it is to your advantage to develop one.
Hooks don’t have to be as exotic as goats in the lobby. Hooks can be as simple as a bowl of Tootsie Rolls next to the cash register, follow-up telephone calls to thank your customers for their business, or birthday cards to your best customers.