Publicity From Thin Air

In an ideal world, your business would be overflowing with
newsworthy stories, and the media would be waiting with bated
breath for your next press release, ready to give you front page
coverage.

In the real world, however, it's not always so easy to generate
real news. There are only so many hot new products or
breakthrough achievements with which a business can capture a
journalist's attention.

So what do top publicists do to get news coverage for clients who
have no news to share?

They create opportunities for publicity from thin air. A good
publicist can quite literally invent a story that the news media
will eat up. And, best of all, they're usually stories that can
be presented with little or no adjustment year after year.

Here are few of the ways you can create a great story from
scratch:

Start a Hall of Fame. There are two reasons for you to take a
look at http://www.publicityinsider.com/HallOfFame.asp -- my very
own Public Relations Hall of Fame. First, it's filled with
examples of companies who have created great publicity stories
from thin air (the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the National Discount
Broker's Duck Quack, to name a couple) and second, it's an
example of a time-honored publicity technique -- the Hall of
Fame.

It couldn't be easier. For your field, create a Hall of Fame,
induct some of your industry's top luminaries, send out a press
release. You don't need a marble-columned building or bronze
plaques. A simple press release (and maybe a supporting website
similar to the Public Relations Hall of Fame) will do the trick.
Each year, induct some more members and send out another release.
Really, it's that simple.

Make a List. Mr. Blackwell made himself a household name with a
simple "Worst Dressed List". And the "Most Boring People of the
Year" list that gets huge press every year? It's the creation of
a single, very clever publicist from New Jersey. And take a
look at one of the more recent lists to get massive publicity --
the Most Annoying People of the Year from AmIAnnoying.com (
http://www.amiannoying.com/2002/mostandleas t.aspx).

The media simply devours lists. The best, the worst, the most,
the least, the top 10, the bottom 10, whatever. Is there actual
news here? Nope -- it's just entertaining, fluffy and a bit
gossipy. In short, lists are the perfect fodder for an editor
seeking to balance out all the horror and sadness of a typical
news day with a bit of levity. Lists such as these are
practically the reason "People" columns in newspapers were
invented.

Craft an Index. Here's a neat variation on the list concept.
Essentially a twist on the government's cost of living index, a
publicity index is a fun way to quantify a trend.

Let me give you an example of a good index that generated strong
publicity year after year. Back in my agency days, one of our
clients was the company that imported Moet Champagne. Somewhere
along the line, a very sharp publicist had a brainstorm, and
invented "The Moet Index". It was basically a list of some luxury
items -- such things as a Maine lobster, a jar of Russian caviar,
a diamond bracelet and, of course, a bottle of Moet -- with the
total cost of all the items if one were to purchase them. The
number was compared with the amount they would have cost last
year, and the year before and -- voila -- the Moet Index was
born. The Index purported to ask the question "How much more
expensive is living the good life this year as opposed to
previous years?" The media loved it, and Moet had a nice annual
story. They simply tallied up the new numbers each year,
distributed a press release, sat back and counted the clippings.

Create a Petition. Is there a hot topic in your industry? A
growing controversy? Something people would like to see happen
that's not taking place? Create a petition!

Thanks to the Internet, starting a petition drive is a breeze.
No need to stand outside supermarkets with a clipboard -- just
provide a link for your visitors and you're off and running!
Sites such as PetitionOnline.com
http://www.petitiononline.com/petition.html allow anyone to
start a petition for free.

Take a look at some of the petitions on the site: "Operation
Keep Vanessa on General Hospital"; "Request to CBS to air the
Lane Bryant Lingerie Show"; "Declare Sept. 11 a National
Holiday"; "Eminem For President In 2004". Whether serious or
lighthearted, a petition that generates lots of signatures is a
great publicity hook.

For example, take a closer look at the "Lane Bryant Lingerie
Show" petition. It notes that, because 60% of women in America
wear at least a size 14, CBS should provide a plus-size fashion
show as a counterpart to its airing of the Victoria's Secret
show. Now, I don't know who was behind this petition, but
imagine if you ran a website for plus-size women, and you were
the one who started the petition. And let's say you managed to
get 3000 people to sign the petition. Do you think you might have
a pretty good shot at getting coverage in newspapers, women's
magazines and other media outlets. Heck, yeah!

Petitions are an awesome way to create publicity from thin air --
and hardly anyone is using them for that purpose. Jump on this
idea and keep it to yourselves. This is one just for my Publicity
Insiders!

Here are my tips to create a story from thin air:

* Keep it light. Journalists know what you're up to, and
they'll play along if it's all in fun. Think in terms of placing
the story in the "People in the News" column or with a "notes"
columnist who specializes in lighter stories. Don't try to
pretend that your "Top 10 List" or online petition is
earthshaking news. Keep your tongue planted in your cheek and
you'll have a much better chance of placement.

* Keep it positive. Mr. Blackwell is pretty tart in some of his
comments and, I suppose, one of his targets could up and sue him
one of these days. That probably won't happen because he's well-
established and a star who took him to court would end up looking
like a bad sport. Still, for your efforts, try to stay positive
and avoid criticizing, ridiculing or otherwise embarrassing
anyone. We live in a litigious society, and there are folks who
wouldn't take kindly to finding themselves on the "Top 10
Buffoons of the Year" list. Let others take those chances. While
calling people boring, or annoying, or hideously dressed does
seem to generate attention, there are plenty of ways to succeed
taking an opposing approach. What about the most heroic, the
most inspiring, the coolest, the smartest, and so on? Let your
list, index, petition or Hall of Fame celebrate the positive in
our society or your industry, and it will reflect well on your
business.

* Keep it Relevant. To make it work for you, a created story
needs to fit your business. Mr. Blackwell is a designer, so a
worst-dressed list makes sense. It would do no good, however, for
a car dealership to put out such a list. Keep it relevant.Let
your story support your marketing message (e.g. Moet Index =
"Moet is part of the good life") and it will do more than fill
your clipping book -- it will fill your cash registers, too.

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 http://www.PublicityInsider.com/freepub.asp, 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:
http://www.publicityInsider.com

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