The number one rule of being successful in the world of publicity (or in just about any other field, for that matter): Don't sabotage your efforts with dumb -- and easily correctable -- mistakes. Here then are the dumb things that publicity seekers do. Avoid them, and you'll be well on your way to scoring great coverage!
1. Thinking Like an Advertiser
The more you remind a reporter that you're a commercial entity seeking promotional exposure, the less chance you have. Blatant ad copy, excessive use of trademark symbols, overblown quotes, puffed-up claims and other techniques better suited for advertising copy are sure ways to assure that your release gets trashed. You must think like an objective journalist and have a sense of perspective about who you are and what you sell, and communicate that in your materials. If you just can't do that, chances are you've been...
2. Getting Too Close to Your Product
If you spend all day eating, breathing and sleeping packing tape, it's easy to start believing that the slight change you made in the thickness of your company's new packing tape is an advance on par with the printing press and the polio vaccine. Now, if you're planning on working with Packing Tape Monthly, perhaps the editors of that fine publication will agree. But the guys down at USA Today may hold a different opinion. In deciding (a) what's newsworthy and (b) how to present this news to the media, it's vital that you take many steps back and view your company as a marginally interested outsider might. If you can't do that, ask friends, family and other outsiders to help.
3. Getting Too Close to a Journalist
I've worked with lots of reporters whose company I enjoyed. I've shared meals and drinks with a bunch of them. One thing I've never done, however, is forget who they are and what their jobs are. If a reporter is interviewing you, whether in person or on the phone, never say anything you wouldn't want to appear in a story. Journalists have different interpretations of what "off the record" means, and it's foolish to try to test those limits. Carefully think about everything you say, don't be pressured into commenting on things you don't feel comfortable about, stay on message, don't gossip, backbite or share secrets. In short, just as the journalist has his or her job to do, so too do you. Stay smart.
4. Obsessing Over the Big Hits
Maybe you really will get on Oprah. And maybe you'll win the lottery and never have to work again. In either case, it's probably a good idea to have some backup plan in place in case you don't beat out the 10 million or so other folks who harbor the same dreams.
It's fine to think big, but smart publicity seekers know that time spent getting actual press coverage is a better investment than chasing dreams. So go ahead and send that press kit to Oprah but, in the meantime, work your butt off to get placement in weekly papers, syndicates, e-zines, local radio and other less glamorous places. Scores of successful businesses have been built on such "small" publicity. You don't need Oprah or Newsweek or The Today Show. You need coverage - anywhere and anyway you can get it. Dreamers dream. Publicists get publicity.
5. Reading from a Script
It's pretty annoying to pick up the phone at dinner time only to have some guy reading a script about how great vinyl siding is. Now imagine how a journalist, who's busy working on deadline, feels about "publicists" calling up to do the same thing again and again. If you're planning to phone pitch a journalist, never read from a script or repeat a rehearsed spiel. She's a human being, so talk to her that way. (And always start your call with "Is this a good time to talk?". Never just launch into your pitch.)
6. Using Outdated Media Lists
News flash: Look magazine is out of business. So too are about half of the new magazines launched in the past decade, for that matter. Your media list is the lifeblood of your publicity seeking efforts. Take the time to keep it fresh and up to date, or you'll be wasting your time. Invest in Bacon's media guide (www.bacons.com), visit websites of publications that interest you, visit your local library or bookstore's magazine rack. Do a little homework and you'll get a big edge.
7. Not Understanding Timing
A non-savvy publicity seeker would ask, "Why do a story about Christmas publicity in June?" A smart publicity seeker understands completely. It's all in the timing. If you're not thinking months ahead, then it's probably too late. In early summer, you should be working on "back to school" releases for newspapers and other short-leads (it's already too late for long- lead magazines). Have something to offer for Thanksgiving? Start planning now. Learn the lead times for various publications, plan out a yearly schedule. Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Plan ahead.
8. Not Being Accessible
If a journalist wants to use your release, he may call to get some more information, get some clarification or even to see if you actually exist. If he gets voice-mail (or a busy signal) and doesn't hear back from you, you've probably blown it. On your releases and pitch letters, include the most accessible phone number you have (your cell phone, perhaps, if you're on the road a lot) and an e-mail address you check throughout the day. If you miss a call from a journalist, or receive an e-mail, get back to him immediately. Don't put it off -- he could be on deadline and have calls in to your competitors.
9. Not Telling the Truth
There may be worse people to lie to than journalists -- detectives, IRS agents, the guy who's administering your lie detector test -- but not many. Think about it folks: these men and women are trained to discover the truth. They know how to do research and how to talk to others in your fields to determine whether or not you're being truthful. So don't take any chances. Don't even think about inflating your sales numbers, or making up a story, or pitching something that's mostly BS. Not only will they figure it out, your attempts to bamboozle them may even make it into the press.
10. Being Sloppy
Typos, bad printing, hideous press kit covers, poorly shot photos, improperly formatted press releases... these are the signs of an amateur. Amateurs don't get coverage. Before you send out anything, proof it. Then proof it again. Then give it to someone else to proof. Then proof it again.
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 his secrets of scoring big publicity. To subscribe, visit Bill's web site at http://www.publicityInsider.com.