When people hear that I am a journalist and media consultant, they often ask: “How can I build my profile?” In some instances individuals are eager to build their personal profile as they believe this will enable them to climb the corporate ladder a lot quicker. Many individuals, who are stepping out of corporate life for whatever reason, also ask this question. Without the backing of a corporate employer, they now need to build their profile as an independent consultant. A third group is typically owners of small businesses who are keen to attract new customers.
In all of these instances there is the caveat – there is no budget to do so. Individuals and owners of small companies want exposure, preferably media exposure, but they are not in a position to pay for it.
I have a stock standard response – print media opportunities are diminishing because advertising spend is down and unless you have achieved something that is front page news it is difficult to obtain free publicity in print. It is also becoming increasingly challenging to find opportunities online. Many free online publications are also now asking readers to make a voluntary financial contribution.
This does not mean that it is impossible to obtain free publicity. However, there are a few golden rules and you must have realistic expectations. It is highly unlikely that you are going to appear as the cover story for Time magazine, the Economist, Forbes or the Wall Street Journal. You are also unlikely to be the cover story in the business section of one of our national newspapers or national business publications. Spend time paging through previous editions of leading publications and the business section of newspapers and you will get a very clear picture of what it takes to make the grade.
Contrary to what many may believe, editors are never short of ideas for lead stories; they are also inundated with copy from publicists and PR companies trying to raise their client’s profile. Editors will always base their selection on stories that are most likely to increase readership. A seasoned journalist friend summed this up nicely – “The story must have the ah ha factor.”
Editorial must never be a personal or a company punt. These stories are advertorial – paid for features, which are branded as such. This rule even applies to community newspapers. If you are a local executive coach, plumber, or accountant and you want to tell your story, you will have to pay for the publicity.
This begs the question: “What do I need to do to get my story published?” You have to be newsworthy. You need to be seen to be doing something that impacts positively on your community or your world around you. Are you staff giving extra maths lessons to children in the local township or squatter camp? As an experienced coach, have you selected a group of unemployed people to coach or mentor on a pro bono basis? In a nutshell, it is about obtaining free media coverage because you are giving back.
The value of this type of free publicity must never be under estimated. Community papers have a considerable reach. Readers live in local communities and include individuals with spending power. Next time one of these readers is looking for an accountant, an electrician, or an executive coach they will recall the story about the individual or organisation that gives back. Your perceived philanthropy could make you their service provider of choice; it may be the reason why you are top of mind.
In future articles, I will discuss what you need to do to obtain free editorial in business publications. Future articles will also cover issues such as blogs, websites, speaker slots, raising your profile by publishing a book and the value of volunteering.