How to Tie-In With News Events to Score Publicity

It's safe to say that we live in interesting times. It seems we
hardly have a breather between wars, tragedies, scandals,
epidemics, circus trials and other events that capitalize the
media's attention. For the business seeking publicity, the "news
hole" for more traditional stories -- new product reviews,
business features, offbeat promotions -- keeps shrinking as the
"big story" mentality takes hold.

Fortunately, you're not completely at the mercy of world events
when it comes to obtaining some exposure. By being smart and
aggressive, you can find a way to break through the logjam by
tying-in -- where appropriate and tasteful -- with the news of
the day.

Here are a few good examples (including a couple in which I was
personally involved):

Taco Bell's Mir Brainstorm. The Soviet Mir space station was
falling, and Taco Bell reaped the benefits. The company set up a
40' x 40' vinyl target -- emblazoned with the company's logo and
the words ''Free Taco Here!'' -- 10 miles off the coast of
Australia. In the extremely unlikely event that Mir hit the
target, the company promised free tacos to all 281 million
Americans. Space-travel experts said the prospects of the debris
hitting the mark were slim to none. Taco Bell added relevance to
the public relations stunt by claiming to have taken out an
insurance policy. A minute-by-minute countdown of Mir's descent
and a photo of the floating target were anxiously seen by
millions of hungry websurfers on the Taco Bell site. The result?
Millions of dollars of free publicity on major news programs and
media outlets around the world. Their website could hardly handle
the traffic.

5 Star Shine Goes to War. Fellow Free Publicity subscriber Glenn
Canady discovered that his car polishing product -- 5 Star Shine
-- was being used by the U.S. Navy to keep the Aegis radar
equipment up and running in the face of saltwater, sea air and
other potentially damaging elements. Take a look at Glenn's
press release -- along with a great hit he earned in the San
Diego Union Tribune--by going to:

Dan's Lucky Angel. We were charged with getting publicity for
the "My Little Angel" doll, so we sent one to a photographer in
Ireland, who took a shot of the doll "kissing" the lucky Blarney
Stone. We then sent the newly-lucky doll on to Olympic
speedskater Dan Jansen at Lillehammer. When the previously hard-
luck skater finally won his elusive gold medal, we took the
credit -- and got lots of press!

Here's how to tie-in with a news event:

1. Be prepared. If something happens that can offer the
possibility of your involvement, you'll need to act quickly.
Make sure you have press materials prepared beforehand so they're
ready to go when needed. Obviously, you can't predict news
events, but you can begin examining your product, service or area
of expertise to discover the types of events that may occur and
the role you can play. Put together a strong bio that details
your background and expertise. Make a list of the news editors,
assignment editors and producers at, respectively, your local
newspaper, TV stations and talk radio stations.

2. Be appropriate. This means two things, actually. First,
don't force a fit where none exists. If the world is focused on,
say, a manned mission to Mars, your carpet cleaning business
probably has nothing much that it can do to tie-in. There has to
be some legitimate connection, or else you'll be laughed out of
the newsroom (on the other hand, if it's proved that the germs
behind some fast-spreading respiratory illness can live in
carpeting, you're just the person to talk to the press about how
to kill germs hiding in carpets). The second measure of what's
appropriate is common sense and decency. Jumping on a tragedy
with a hype-filled press release is just plain ghoulish. In the
aftermath of something truly awful, go to the press only if you
have something unique, helpful, non-promotional and newsworthy to

3. Be timely. If you have something of immediate value to offer
(e.g. you've written a book about a major figure who's just
died), time is of the essence. Work from the media list you've
already prepared and hit the phones. Tell the reporters, editors
and producers who you are and the kinds of insight you can offer
about the current situation. Since seconds count, offer to stop
by with a copy of your book, or to email or fax your press
materials. If you really are an expert on the subject of the
breaking news story, you're doing the journalist a huge favor
right now, so don't be shy.

4. Be timely, part 2. The other side of the coin: You have a
story that might fit in with what's happening, but it's lighter,
softer and less timely (5 Star Shine is a great example. It fits
with world events, but it's not hard news). In these cases, wait
until the dust has settled. The first few days covering any big
story, the media is interested solely in the hard stuff. The
who, what , when , where and why info. If you can help with
that, great. If not, hang on until the media machine needs more
fuel. After a little while, there will be huge blocks of time to
fill, breaking news will dissipate and the media will begin
turning to lighter stuff to fill the void. Consider that, just
in the past few weeks, you've begun hearing about such things as
the "Talking Iraqi Information Minister Doll". Expect much more
to come.

5. Be creative. For non-tragic events, taking a fun approach
often works wonders. Consider the Mir idea (it was already
determined the station would land in the water, so there was no
element of potential tragedy involved. If there was a chance
that people could have gotten hurt, the promotion wouldn't have
been such a great notion). Or think about how ice cream
companies that get mileage out of naming flavors for newsmakers,
or fashion designers who send out lists of fashion hits and
misses for major Hollywood events or DJ's who do things like
sleeping in a billboard until the hometown team breaks its losing
streak. When there no lives at stake and the story is purely for
fun, be as creative and "out there" as you can to tie in.

6. Be smart. One very important caveat has to be mentioned:
unless you specifically cater to a particular audience -- all of
whom are in agreement a particular issue -- don't take sides
politically. No matter how strongly you may feel about a
certain issue, if a segment of your potential or existing
customer base may feel differently, you're taking a major gamble
by choosing sides. If you want to poke fun at politicians,
include both Democrats and Republicans. Unless your area of
expertise requires it, steer clear of divisive issues such as
religion, abortion, gay rights, etc. Using your business as a
personal political soapbox can come back to haunt you. This
isn't about "wimping out", it's common business sense. Customers
are hard enough to attract and keep -- there's no point in going
out of your way to alienate them by showing disdain for their

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, 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:

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