7 Things that Could Be Costing You Free Publicity

Mar 28, 2016
Communications Training

Free earned media is a Holy Grail for brands, so why do so many marketers get in the way of it happening?

You probably don’t think you do it. But I’ve spent 17 years in mainstream media newsrooms and these are the most common things I’ve seen that have stopped brands and individuals getting their name in the paper or their mug on TV.

Putting out a press release and going on holidays

This happens so often. A press release lands in your inbox; you read it, write a reply with some extra questions and hit send; and instantly an out-of-office message bounces back. Or you call the number on the release and the phone is turned off.

Journalists generally will not just write an article from a press release. They will usually, at the very least, have more questions. Most will use a press release as background information and require a chat with someone if they want quotes for their article.

Don’t put out a press release and go home for the day; you’ve only done half your job. You need to be there for the journalist. Their being able to contact you may well decide whether you get coverage and how much coverage you get.

Not answering calls, not calling back

We’re all busy. Journalists know that. But they’re also working to incredibly strict deadlines. Bulletins go to air at the allotted time. Printing presses have to start rolling bang on time because delays cost tens of thousands of dollars a minute. There’s no flexibility. So when a journalist can’t get hold of a contact — when that contact is  not answering their phone or their email — they go to plan B. If they were calling you as an area expert, they’ll go to the next name on their list. You’re missing out on free publicity and your competitor is building their relationship with your important media contact.

If the reporter was calling you because they needed to offer you the right-of-reply, then chances are the news will go out with a sentence like ‘Mr X could not be contacted for comment’. Like it or not, accurate or not, it will look like you have something to hide. Try to get back to a journalist as quickly as possible.

Which brings me to…

Missing the deadline

This is self-explanatory. Be aware of deadlines. A journalist will usually tell you what time they need a comment by. Miss the deadline and chances are you’ve missed out completely. Don’t assume you can have a second bite of the cherry the next day. The media moves on quickly!

Saying something that means nothing

If I had a dollar for every meaningless quote I’ve ever read in a press release or in a response to my questions, I’d be writing this blog post from the second floor balcony of my seaside villa.

Meaningless quotes come in several forms: The fluffy ‘it’s great to be working together’ type, the jargon-filled bureau-speak ‘this is a whole-of-government approach to sustainability’ type, and the shamelessly self-promoting ‘as an industry-leading company we think…’ type. (And when a journalist gets ‘as an industry-leading company we think it’s great to be working on a whole-of-government approach to sustainability’, it’s time to finish your drink!) These responses are all bunkum and they won’t get used. Always try to say something that advances the journalist’s story. They need content, not filler.

Blocking emails from the media

Why any brand would put an email blocker on a media email account is beyond me. Why calibrate your spam filter so emails from reporters keen to write about your business cannot get through? This seems to particularly happen in the U.S. It is completely mystifying.

Recently a very experienced reporter on my team had to resort to tweeting a major company in order to get their attention so she could write a profile about something innovative they were doing. She was offering them the kind of good publicity brands would kill for, yet they made it almost impossible to get in touch with them.

Keep your communication channels with reporters open.


Not making your media contact details readily available

Chances are you already know the reporters you deal with regularly. They have your mobile number and you chat often. That’s great. Getting coverage is so often about having relationships with key journalists.

But just because your local paper or your industry’s main news website has your contact details doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other news services who would like to quote you or feature your business. Put your media contact details on your website so it’s easy for them to get hold of you (because believe me, if it’s easier to go to your competitor, they probably will).

Pitching history instead of news

News doesn’t stay news. It very quickly becomes ancient history. If you have a story, or if you have something to say, you have to get in there quickly. Journalists aren’t interested in something that happened last week (heck, they’re probably not interested in something that happened yesterday.) Contact reporters with your story in a timely way.

If you’d like to know more about how to develop a media mindset, call Lush – The Content Agency. Our office is filled with traditional journalists working to help brands communicate more effectively.