We pursue publicity because it has an interesting ramification – increased sales. The more people know about you, the more likely they are to buy whatever you’re selling.
Publicity and its sibling, word-of-mouth, have more credibility than does, say, advertising, for a simple reason. What other people say about you is more believable than what you say about yourself.
Can you buy publicity? On occasion, yes. Usually, no.
But publicity is freely available to those who with unfettered imaginations are paying close attention to everything around them.
When you’re prepared, publicity opportunities are limitless.
Some of us only want notoriety.
CEO of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, indirectly draws attention to his airlines each time he makes another attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. Very few people care if he actually sets a new record – the attempt itself is newsworthy. Branson has made four attempts so far.
Then there’s the publicity stunt.
One of P.T. Barnum’s homes was right next to the main line of the New York and New Haven Railroad. Barnum hired a man to pay close attention to the railroad timetable, and have an elephant pulling a plow each time a passenger train was due to pass by. Reporters from all of the New York papers wrote stories about Barnum’s elephant, which boosted attendance at his New York museum of curiosities.
Some of us are victims of exaggeration, gossip, or outright lies.
In a 1969 Toronto concert someone threw a live chicken on the stage where Alice Cooper was performing. Not realizing that chickens don’t fly, Cooper picked up the bird and threw it back into the orchestra pit, where it was inadvertently stomped to death by the audience. By the next morning the story had grown to front page status in the Toronto Star, where it was picked up by most other daily newspapers.
Frank Zappa called Cooper to ask if what he was reading was true – that Cooper had bit the head off the chicken and drank its blood. When Cooper denied the story, Zappa reportedly said “Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone it isn’t true.” Zappa considered any front page publicity priceless.
Some of us invent the stories being told about us.
When other managers might have issued a press release announcing their artist’s planned performance tour, Andrew Oldham called a press conference to to announce the Stone’s pending lawsuit against twelve U.S. hotels which had refused to book rooms to the Rolling Stones for their 1966 tour. Weeks later when reporters finally started asking which hotels were defendants, Oldham became unavailable for interviews.
When Mohammed Ali was still Cassius Clay, a free-lance magazine photographer was dispatched to Louisville to shoot some pictures of the champ working out. Ali asked which other magazines the photog worked for, and was told Life. He then asked the photographer’s hobbies. Learning underwater photography topped the list, he mentioned “I train under water,” and explained that the resistance of the water provided a superior workout. The resulting Life photo layout made Ali’s underwater training regimen legitimate, even though it was a story he’d invented on the spot.