Using Publicity As A Creative Marketing Tool

Publicity is an important and often overlooked tool of creative selling; and a more cost-effective way of reaching your target audience than advertising. With the inherent third-party endorsement of the media implied in every editorial story, a news or feature article in a newspaper, magazine, or on television or radio, is an infinitely more credibly-perceived communications message than an ad or commercial. Publicists less frequently are favored with hard news stories. They are more often tasked with getting “softer” news and feature stories on-air or in print. Here are some techniques involving creative conceptualization and application – what I call CREATIVE FORMATTING – and they work very effectively when carefully thought-through and constructed.

1 – Use News to Make News.

When you prepare a press release or pitch letter, keep the following editorial criteria in mind:
* Relevance (how valid and appropriate is this story?)
* Impact (does this story affect a large number of people?)
* Timeliness (is the story current?)
* Novelty (does the story have an unusual or unique twist to it?)

Your topic should tie in with current news issues and/or subjects that concern the public. In my earlier p.r. days, I promoted one product by showing how it could be used to the advantage of a specific news item of the day. In this case, the issue was government waste. Revelations were surfacing that various federal agencies were buying products at absurd prices above retail: you may remember $500 toilet seats and $75 rulers. The American taxpayer was being seriously abused by bureaucratic waste.

Our client was a publishing house that had just come out with a directory for buyers at government agencies. The directory listed major manufacturers all over the country who were not in the business of ripping off Uncle Sam. The directory was distributed to the agencies free of charge. The publishing house made its money by selling ad pages to companies who wanted to attract the attention of these buying officials.

We attracted a significant amount of publicity by telling editors that the publishing company had come up with a partial solution to the problem of wasteful government spending. The story was picked up by the wire services and nationally syndicated TV newscasts.

2 – Seasonal Tie-ins

News editors are always looking for feature stories that tie in with holiday or seasonal happenings. I remember a very successful campaign for a manufacturer of postage meter equipment. Eight weeks before Christmas, we convinced the manufacturer to designate a Holiday Consumer Affairs Specialist who could talk about “everything you wanted to know about mailing gifts for the holidays.”

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we arranged dozens of phone interviews with reporters at large radio stations in major markets. The company was plugged in every interview and the entire campaign tied-in with a major catalogue and in-store p.o.p. merchandising campaign. Sometimes, a creative p.r. idea can pave the way for a strategic marketing campaign.

Another successful campaign tied in with the advent of winter and escalating fuel prices due to an international oil crisis. One of our clients manufactured a draft sealer, a simple rubber plug that fit into electrical wall outlets. The sealer kept cold outside air from coming into the home and kept warm air inside from leaking out. Consumers could save money on their fuel bills. We convinced the Today Show to do a live five minute segment on a new energy-saving device for the home.

3 – Products Are Newsworthy When They Are Evolutionary or Revolutionary

On Sunday, May 29, 1994, we generated a story in the Business Section of the New York Times on a new kind of paper that changed color upon the touch of the hand. We knew the story had merit, because the product represents a revolutionary leap forward in paper goods.
Several years ago, a new product created by a camera manufacturer, an instant slide processor that develops slides in seconds, represented an evolutionary step up in instant photography. We offered Good Morning, America a first exclusive on the announcement, and we convinced the show’s producers to have host Joan Lunden demonstrate the product live in a five minute segment. The product sold out nationally.

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