Getting your company’s stories and views in the news is one of the best ways to quickly and freely get a high and positive PR profile.
But chief reporters and news editors can be a fickle and gruff bunch especially with stories they see as ‘just a free ad’ or PR for your business.
So how do you get past the gatekeepers with ‘news’ stories that are essentially PR or advertising?
There is one method that works time and time again in New Zealand media … and that is to run a survey or ‘newsy’ competition where the public get involved, and then to run the results as new, must-have information.
Condoms and computers
Condom maker Durex is a master at this. The company regularly surveys their customers about attitudes to sex and then publishes the findings, and the media can’t get enough of it.
Likewise, a recent search for New Zealand’s oldest TV set was a thinly disguised promotion for the rollout of digital television.
Last week the New Zealand Herald ran a piece about a search to find Auckland’s worst office. Read a few lines in and you see it’s a Dell-sponsored competition.
It’s a puff piece that shouldn’t have gotten past the front door of the newspaper except for its prospect of a juicy follow-up exposing the best of the worst offices and its more subtly played focus on improving the economy in difficult times. It aims to showcase how “a second-rate information technology set-up can cause big delays for businesses and can harm productivity”.
This week they’ve also secured the promotion’s success by partnering with the newspaper to run the competition, and the Herald has an online promotion for the Dell promotion under the top-of-page banner ‘Business Editor’s Picks’.
One could argue with the ethics of an editor’s news banner highlighting an advertising feature but from Dell’s point-of-view the transformation from advertising fluff to real news story is now complete!
Stories on a plate
One reason perhaps this manufactured news works is that it hands media the story on a plate.
Newsrooms have become so streamlined that resources can be thin on the ground, and these surveys and competitions provide everything pre-packaged — well-written, clearly communicated and ready to be broadcast or published.
Dell is playing the game cleverly.
They have got the announcement of their competition in to the newspaper, based around a news issue that concerns many people these days — a business activity that can harm the economy (with the added titillation of seeing people failing badly and being prepared to stand up and admit it!).
They’ll be able to highlight a few funny examples during the competition and then the grand winner will be announced in a fanfare as Dell products are handed over to that backward office — and as Dell positions itself as helping business and so wanting to help the national economy. And that’s not a bad aim at all.
How publicity becomes news
So clever publicity to sell product is aligned with the national interest … and this becomes news. Or in the case of Durex, it’s a bit more simple. Sex sells, for sure, but dress people’s bedroom habits up in the guise of research … and it becomes news.
Every organisation has stories that can be similarly packaged and marketed. It just takes some imagination, sound planning, integration with the overall aims of your organisation and people who understand how the media works.
If you’ve ever wondered what PR people do to earn their money, the Dell and Durex stories above are good examples of this type of PR activity.