Using Publicity as a Creative Marketing Tool
Michael O. Schwager
[condensed from Creative Selling Magazine]
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.
- Use News to Make
When you prepare a press release or pitch
letter, keep the following editorial criteria
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.
- 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?)
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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
If the product is vital to the American way
of life, the media might click with a suggestion
for a story on a major anniversary of the
product. This includes biggies like
television, radio, refrigerators and cars
all the way to such mundane indispensables
as zippers and toothpaste.
Other kinds of anniversaries work too. During
the centennial celebrations for the Statue
of Liberty, we convinced Kelloggs to sponsor
a campaign that publicized the closest living
relative to the man who designed and built
Lady Liberty. This included the scripting
and shooting of a video news feature story
for television newscasts around the country,
and our pickup was enormous--including some
very nice positive image reinforcement for
- Controlled Messages
A controlled message is a message that you
prepare in advance and place with various
media as a finished product. When we
promoted a book that turned into a major bestseller
called Swim With the Sharks Without Being
Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay, we employed
a number of techniques that come under this
Three examples of this technique are the video
news feature, matted columns for suburban
newspapers, and by-lined articles for specialized
A video news feature is simply
a 90-second to two-minute news piece that
gets scripted, shot and distributed to newscasts
around the country. The local newscast
incorporates the piece as part of its news
coverage, and the average viewer has no idea
these stories are supplied by outside sources.
A matted column is simply
a one-column or two-column story that is sent
to suburban news weeklies as camera-ready
copy. They don't have to edit it or prepare
it for print. The column usually offers some
kind of consumer advice, with a discreet yet
effective plug within the story.
Vertical trade publications
are magazines that are published for a specific
audience or industry. Hundreds of them are
published each month. Years ago, we ghosted
by-lined articles for the president of a company
that analyzed utility rates for other companies,
showing them how to save thousands of dollars
every year. These articles were placed with
dozens of magazines that catered to a variety
of industries. This campaign was the company's
sole marketing vehicle for many years.
When one of our clients, a major photography
magazine, needed to increase its exposure,
we designed a segment on The Today Show in
which one of the magazine's editors brought
the very latest camera equipment to the program.
For seven minutes, he demonstrated the most
current camera technology to millions of viewers.
He also achieved some substantial awareness
for his magazine.
Another client, the Magazine Publishers Association,
was interested in increasing recognition.
They wanted to establish the fact that magazines
are at the leading edge of creative advertising
communication. We designed a segment on The
Today Show that displayed the latest in pop-up
ads in various magazines.
In another situation, a German beer company
wanted to increase sales in the USA. The company
turned to us, asking us to increase their
name recognition with a publicity program
instead of advertising. The built-in challenge
was that very little can be done editorially
for alcoholic beverages. The solution was
to look for secondary uses which would nonetheless
position the beer in a meaningful and positive
We convinced a well-known German restaurant
to develop dishes prepared with beer as an
ingredient. We invited the entire national
food press to a Cooking With Beer Festival.
The food writers for every major magazine
and newspaper attended. Media coverage was
staggering. Many products can be used in special
publicity events. By promoting indirectly,
sponsors can reap media coverage.
POSITIVE PUBLICITY SELLS.
A creative publicity program can be a powerful tool for selling
your product or service. Publicity efforts can be more cost-effective
than traditional advertising. Plus, they pack more power because the
publicity comes from recognized media sources instead of from your
company. This increases consumer confidence and promotes a positive
public image. The end result of creative publicity is an increased
awareness that attracts potential customers.