By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Editor
Free publicity can be “gold” for companies and company leaders alike. The same can be said about a company and its representatives being viewed as “experts in the field.” All types of media — including print, television and radio — are looking for news items. That can lead to free publicity for businesses. Knowing how to become successful in this endeavor, however, often requires taking the right steps.
That was the message presented by Emmy Award winning journalist Jeff Crilley, CEO & president of Real News PR (realnewspr.com), who was a guest speaker during the 2018 ISSA Show, in Dallas, TX. His presentation was titled, “Free Publicity? Yes — And It Could Happen For You.”
Crilley’s public relation’s firm represents such clients as ISSA and ARCSI (Association of Residential Cleaning Services International) as well as Cleaning For A Reason, a nonprofit organization that provides free house cleaning services for cancer patients.
During his session, Crilley provided practical insights on timing and pitching a company’s story, how to get free publicity for that story and how to lend oneself as an industry expert to the media. In particular, he highlighted how his firm, Real News PR, has been able to arrange hundreds of media interviews for Cleaning For A Reason, now an ISSA charity. That recognition has helped the organization rise to national prominence, in association with the nonprofit’s founder, Debbie Sardone.
A former news reporter at several television stations throughout the country, Crilley also has authored a book, “Free Publicity: A TV Reporter Shares The Secrets Of Getting Covered On The News.”
Crilley offered several tips on how to get free publicity, when it comes to newspaper, magazine, radio and/or TV coverage. His first tip might surprise people, especially those of younger generations who are used to only contacting people electronically.
“When it comes to pushing for news coverage, I have discovered that it’s good to use the telephone ‘the old-fashioned way.’ You have to call people,” Crilley said. “The problem is, most press releases from companies are now arriving at news rooms via email. When I was working at a television station in Dallas, it was receiving 3,500 press releases a day. It doesn’t matter how well written a press release is, nobody can read 3,500 of them per day. I tell people, ‘The assignment desk is where all great stories go to die.’”
A phone call, on the other hand, even if it leads to the message machine, has a greater chance of reaching the right person at a news organization, according to Crilley.
He added that news rooms today are not receiving nearly as many telephone calls compared to emails.
“I am finding that members of the millennial generation are not using the phone like previous generations. That means older guys, like myself, who get paid to successfully find publicity for people and companies, are having a field day,” Crilley said. “If I’m not getting clients on the news, I’m not getting paid.”
Develop Your Pitch
Crilley noted that there is a correct way to approach news professionals in the hope of receiving publicity about a company or individual. The first step is to conduct the proper amount of research concerning a specific reporter and his/her news organization. Being complimentary about the reporter’s previous work is also a good starting point.
“For example, when calling a news professional, don’t hesitate to tell that person how much you enjoyed his/her past assignments. You can conduct research on that person’s work through Google and YouTube,” Crilley said. “Let him/her also know that you haven’t contacted any other news outlet about your story idea.”
Crilley stressed the importance of pitching a “news story” to news professionals, as opposed to pitching “a commercial.”
“Why is that important? It’s not a journalist’s job to give you, or your company, free publicity. It’s the journalist’s job to educate, entertain and inform his/her listeners, viewers or readers,” he said. “Publicity, in and of itself, is actually a byproduct of a journalist simply doing his/her job.”
Along with contacting specific news organizations, Crilley also said companies can benefit by working with HARO, an acronym for Help A Reporter Out. It’s a publicity online service created in 2008.
HARO (helpareporter.com) allows journalists to obtain feedback from the public, and enables them to connect with experts on issues relevant to their reporting. A company representative can work with an interested journalist through HARO, submit a pitch and hopefully that journalist will respond with a news report or article. The company can then have its website linked to the website of the news organization carrying the story.
“That is huge, as those are links that come from very established news organizations,” Crilley said.
He noted that a maid service in Dallas, for example, used HARO, leading to the company being featured on NBCNews.com.
“Why is that important? Anytime you have a major news organization that is linking back to your own website, it’s gold,” Crilley said. “I would place such a link on your homepage, allowing everyone who visits your site to see that your company ‘is a big deal.’”
The link connecting NBCNews.com to the maid service’s website also helps the latter site become more prominent during a Google search, he added.
When making a pitch to a news person, it’s important to emphasize the benefits a viewer or reader can get from such a story.
“With cleaning, for example, you could push stories focusing on ‘cleaning tips,’ such as at the beginning of flu season, and prior to the holidays as people prepare to receive guests in their homes,” Crilley said. “Cleaning is a very timely subject during certain times of the year.”
During his presentation, Crilley showed a video clip of Debbie Sardone, as she discussed household cleaning tips during an appearance on a Dallas morning news show.
“Debbie provided a ‘show and tell’ piece on how to properly clean certain household items. They were great cleaning tips. Her appearance also helped convey to the public that Debbie is an expert in her field,” Crilley said. “As a business owner, you can recommend to a television news producer in your area to search Google for Debbie’s segments, and then state that you would like to do something similar. That is one way to gain publicity about your company to a wider audience. You can then link your own television appearance to your company’s website, adding exposure for your business.
“I love local morning and noon television news shows. Why? Because they provide so much news inventory. One of the television stations that I worked at ran its morning news program from 4 to 10 a.m. That is a lot of time to fill. Those stations are looking for multiple guests every day. That demand can lead to free publicity for a lot of companies.”
He added that local newspapers and industry magazines also offer many opportunities when it comes to publicity.
“It’s important to know the publication's readership. Who are their journalists trying to reach? What type of articles do they typically publish?” Crilley said. “I have a theory that many media organizations believe in recycling news stories. For example, if you look at the top men’s health magazines, they all seem to feature the word ‘abs’ somewhere on the cover. How many times can you write about the proper way to do crunches for better abs?
“My point is, if you can find what I call the ‘abs’ article of your industry — the subject news organizations keep reporting on — and you have something to add to the narrative, that should greatly benefit your pitch.”