Marketing communications – telling customers about your products and services – has two parts: advertising and publicity.
Advertising is straightforward. You pay money, the media company publishes or broadcasts your message. You control your message and its presentation.
Advertising is a commercial transaction.
Publicity is different
Publicity also costs money – plenty of businesses accept payment for promotional services .
With publicity you don’t usually pay the media to promote your message. And you have no say over timing, placement or presentation.
You can’t even be sure your message will run.
In theory, you get publicity when the story you tell is so compelling journalists and editors fall over themselves to publish it. Remember their idea of compelling isn’t the same as yours.
Editors need to give readers, viewers or listeners the hottest news, up-to-date information, the most relevant background features and the best stories. They also look for entertaining material to brighten their pages. They can be grumpy.
Editors are not your sales team
Editors don’t care whether their stories help you or your business if they are doing their job properly.
There are publications where this doesn’t apply.
A common misunderstanding about publicity is a press release is best way to get it. This is a pre-written version of the story you’d like to see in print. Press releases are usually written in a highly stylised format, containing the basic facts together with background.
Press releases can work. Usually they don’t.
Many go straight into the bin. And rightly so. That’s the place for rubbish. Press releases mainly exist because clients like them – they create an aura of useful media activity.
Press releases just part of the mix
Some of the best communications professionals – they may call themselves public relations consultants, press agents or something posh sounding like ‘media consul’ – will tell you press releases are only one, not particularly useful, strategy and account for a tiny fraction of their work.
We look at the press release mechanics elsewhere.
Publicity involves enticing the media to write or broadcast information about your company, product or services because you have something new, important, exciting or otherwise interesting to say.
The best way to do this is to call a journalist and tell them, quickly and concisely, just what your story is and why it may interest their readers. Like everything else in business, this is about forming the right relationships.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, get some media training or hire a press agent to call on your behalf. Good public relations professionals know who to call and how to pitch stories in a way that makes them more interesting to journalists or editors. They introduce you to the right people, set up face-to-face meetings or organise phone interviews and help you prepare for these.
Occasionally when you have something important to announce, you may want to hold a formal press conference or maybe host a less formal gathering of journalists for morning tea, lunch or afternoon cocktails. This kind of event works best when used sparingly, it isn’t always the best way of telling a story, but it is a great way to make or maintain contact.