John D. Schulte
Direct Mail Marketing Consultant and Mail Order Expert
International in Scope | Over 30 years experience
Certified by a United States Federal Court as a Direct Marketing and Catalog Expert
Read John's Business Start-up Book!

Eight Steps to Getting Free Press

"You have to be confident enough to initiate the first contact, and creative enough to develop ways to present what you are selling in a newsworthy way"  --  John Schulte

Getting free press usually requires more than just sending out a press release. If you do some planning, your chances of success will be greatly improved, and your material will be less apt to wind up in the dreaded circular file.

Developing press contacts takes a lot of time, energy and persistence. You have to be confident enough to initiate the first contact, and creative enough to develop ways to present what you are selling in a newsworthy way. No matter how large or small your company is, allot yourself a generous amount of time for this effort and set definite goals for making contacts. The eight tips to get you started are:

1. Create a master list
Find all of the publications whose readership is most likely to benefit from your product or service. The magazines you select for your list will be the same ones in which you would want to advertise your product or service. To find all the publications available, check the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS) Directories, and the Bacons Directories. The SRDS books list magazines and their advertising dates. The Bacons Directories list magazines and their editorial data. Both are available at your local library.

2. Become familiar with the publications
Call the magazines that you feel are appropriate for your business and order their media kit. They will send you a sample magazine and their editorial calendar. These are provided free to businesses and advertising agencies that may want to advertise in the publication. Study the magazine, paying careful attention to the articles, material covered and other items showcased. Look for special sections that may be a fit for information about your company.

3. Develop a story angle
If you have studied the publication, you will know what topics are likely to be accepted. Remember that the editors are very interested in providing information that is pleasing and of prime importance to their readers. You can help them do that by submitting good information to them. If your company sells home decor, for example, you may want to select one item and give tips on how to use it in the home. Write your story in a similar style to the one the magazine uses.

4. Plan the timing of your release
Newspapers have short lead times before publication, and require material that can be used within a week or two and they usually want information with local appeal. Newspaper editors are very sensitive to old news," or that which has been printed somewhere else the day before. Magazines have long lead times, so your article or release must be in their hands months in advance of when you are hoping it will run. If your material is appropriate to run with a magazine's special feature, you will know from the editorial calendar you have received in the magazine's media kit.

5. Pitch your story idea
Make your first contact by calling and discussing your idea with the editor. Ask for advice. Usually, the editor will ask for a release. If not, offer to send one, and then mail it that day. Keep in mind that magazines and papers usually have an editor for each department, so if the material you have received does not reveal the editor's name, call the publisher and they will provide it for you.

6. Listen!
When you are talking to the editor, listen to find out if there may be a different story angle for the same story, that they may want create. If so, tell them you'll get information to them right away and immediately change your release. Take advantage of an opportunity to be a part of their story idea when you can.

7. Make a follow-up call
Remember you are selling a story idea. Sometimes it takes several calls to an editor before they feel the story is worthy. Your first call-back should be a confirmation that they received your release. Ask the editor what he/she thinks of it. If you receive a negative response, ask for suggestions; if suggestions are offered, follow up using the suggestions as new guidelines.

8. Play the percentages
In an ideal world, all of your releases would be printed. However, you are going to win some and lose some. Be persistent and keep working with follow-up telephone calls. The term " relations" is just that. You are developing a relationship with someone at a media outlet. The more you get to know them, the easier it will be for you to get your story told.

John Schulte is a Small Business Consultant and Direct Marketing Strategist. He is a 30-year veteran of advertising, marketing, publicity, promotions and sales. He is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of mail order, direct mail, cataloging and overall direct marketing. He is one of the few people in the United States that has been certified by a United States Federal Court as a Direct Marketing and Catalog expert, able to act as an expert witness in federally related corporate disputes. John is also president of the National Mail Order Association and author of Direct Marketing Toolkit for Small and Home based Business. This article is an excerpt from this book.

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