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How to gain positive press publicity

Updated on October 18, 2010
Selling stories to the press for you
Selling stories to the press for you | Source

How to gain good publicity...

Whether you are trying to publicise your child's school charity event in your local paper, hoping to promote a book you've written, raise the profile of your business or sell an exclusive real life story, there are times you will need to deal with a journalist. So which is the best way to go about this? As a journalist and media agent selling exclusive stories to the press, I receive hundreds of pitches every day for stories from people hoping to gain media coverage in a magazine or newspaper. And in the past I have worked on a local paper and also received hundreds of requests from the community asking for coverage for events.

Here's my guide - the dos and the do nots - to maximising your chances of gaining positive publicity ...

The Dos..

* Research the publication or organisation you send your inquiry to. There is simply no point in sending an inquiry, which says "I love reading your magazine" to the editor of a newspaper. Then ring up and ask who to send your inquiry to. Do they prefer an approach by email, post or phone? Then personalise your approach. Email or post your letter to the named person.

* Keep your inquiry short and snappy. Try to think of a good headline to put on the top. It might not be the one the paper does use if they go with your story but a short headline will attract the journalist's attention and mean your inquiry will be read. If you are selling a news story or real life story to a newspaper or magazine, try to initially sum up your story in one or two sentences so the journalist knows immediately what your story is about. For example, 'this is a story about my recent divorce' or 'this is a story about how a charity has helped a young child...'

* Make your story relevant and interesting - if your story is similar to something a recent celebrity has been through, say so. If your story mirrors the plot of an episode in your favourite soap or recently released film, point this out. All of this increases the interest in your story. If you are writing to promote your business or charity - for example, perhaps you want to gain publicity on a recently won award - try to start with some nugget of unique information. Saying how years ago you lost your job and great salary overnight and that made you set up this business is better than saying, "we have won the best business award..." as immediately the journalist can see there is a story to be told. If you are promoting a charity, is there a personal story you can use to start it off? If you don't have one perhaps another charity member does have one? These are commonly known as 'case studies' in the industry and are always popular as they add the essential human element to a story.

* Ensure you include a small amount of information about yourself. Your age, what you do for a living and if you are writing for a local paper, where you live or why this story is relevant for the local area. If there is something quirky about you - you are running for charity but only had a baby a few days ago, say so! Once again, when placing a story the devil is often in the detail.

* Say what photos you can supply - or that you are happy to pose for some. If you are writing to a local paper, ask if it would help for you to supply a photo. If you can supply a photo of the person in the office who is running for charity, then something like this will help make your story bigger and more noticeable in the newspaper.

* Once you have sent your short, snappy and interesting inquiry off, don't hassle the journalist to see if he or she has read it. Leave it a couple of days and then if you haven't heard anything, send a polite email or follow up with a polite phone call. As a general rule, sending your inquiry out to many publications at the same time is probably best left to a professional media agent. It is safest to send your inquiries out one at a time at a national newspaper, magazine or national news agency level. With local papers, sending it out to the local papers in your area at the same time (but personalised!) should be fine.

* Finally include a daytime contact number! You would be amazed at the number of people who leave this off and then obviously don't check their emails for days... very frustrating!

Gaining positive publicity in the press isn't that difficult!
Gaining positive publicity in the press isn't that difficult!

And now the don'ts...

* Don't send an essay to a journalist. He or she will groan at the sight of your long letter and might not get round to reading it. You should remember good journalists are busy and they are receiving pitches all the time. If your inquiry is set aside to 'read later' because it is so long, it might never be read...

* Don't tell the journalist your story will be on the front page, it will make them famous, make them lots of money or make any other such claims (even if you think this) - let the journalist be the judge of this. If you are a business, avoid making too many puffs about yourself or how fantastic your business is. Let the story speak for itself and then far better to simply put a link to your website.

* Don't write with a complicated list of times you can only be contacted - try to ensure you can be contacted all the time (or can ring someone back if you get a missed call.) No journalist will mind arranging to speak with you later - but at least he or she will have made contact with you. Avoid saying you are waiting for their call as well - all this can sound quite threatening! Better to end your inquiry saying you hope to hear from them soon and leave it at that. Ideally, be prepared when the journalist rings to chat straightaway if possible.

* Don't say in your pitch you will give them details only when they ring you. Give the journalist the basic gist of your story in your email or letter. A professional journalist doesn't have time to play games - he or she wants to know what your story is. Journalists make decisions fast about stories and it's better he or she thinks your story is one they want straightaway.

Finally, remember you don't have to employ an expensive PR company to gain good media coverage. With a little research, thought and simple writing gaining publicity is within the reach of everyone. And remember, practice makes perfect. If it didn't work this time, don't be put off. Simply think of another angle and try again...

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer and media agent, who runs Featureworld, specialising in selling stories to the national press.


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