How to Gain Major Publicity Without Breaking the Bank

For people not in our business, 'the race for space' means governments trying to outdo each other in exploring the heavens. In our world, the phrase has another connotation–PR pros attempting to gain media coverage for those they represent.

Having a large budget gives communicators the opportunity to expand a program, but limited resources can also lead to success. Less sometimes is more. Often a limited budget forces you to concentrate on tightly targeting media, which can help gain coverage efficiently.

Here are some ways to gain major media with a limited budget.

  • Forget trying to develop the big, expensive creative idea. Media members don’t care about your creativity. They are interested in the news value of your pitches.
  • Throw away the PR rulebook and think out of the box. Despite the above dissing of big, expensive creativity, media want something different. Instead of limiting your pitch to a few lines–a PR hallmark–be expansive. Construct your pitch as a mini-feature story. If well crafted, it should provide the journalist with several ways to approach a story. The exception is when pitching an important hard news story.
  • For corporations, develop an issue in the news and will remain there for at least a year. Example: Speaking out against corporate corruption always results in publicity, at a minimum cost. All it takes is a willing company and phone calls to set up interviews.
  • For product promotion. Give reporters and producers something different than the usual spokesperson pitches. Example: For a product (except a truly new product, which sometimes is considered hard news) provide journalists with a history from the time it was invented to the present. Emphasize how changes improved it. Deploy a spokesperson who was involved with updating the product.
  • When using spokespeople be different than 99.9% of your competitors. Pitch journalists with an unexpected spokesperson. Example: Reach into the scientific or academic communities for candidates to talk about your products. Use well-known personalities who have not been in the news recently.

A Flagship Project: Good and Bad

Many PR pros strive for the multi-million dollar flagship projects. Senior management watches those most closely. Working on a flagship project, though, has its good and bad points.

  • The Good: It shows that supervisors have confidence in you.
  • The Bad: These projects usually have multiple handlers. As a result, it’s difficult to demonstrate what sets you apart from the run-of-the-mill staffers. Your exceptional contribution to success may go unnoticed. Others may camouflage your talent; they want to receive the credit. For PR pros at agencies, a rule of thumb is the larger an account, the less chance you have to stand out.
  • The OMG Factor: If a flagship project's results are disastrous, some supervisors may point fingers at innocent staffers; they want to save their own jobs. Your extraordinary work will not prevent you from catching heat.

Shine in the Darkness

Early in my career, as a journalist and later in PR, I always volunteered to cover unglamorous news stories or to work on minor PR projects. That gave me an opportunity to demonstrate creativity. (Remember, at an agency you have to find ways to let management know of your contributions.)

So, if assigned to a small or mid-sized project or account, think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability. Proving that a limited budget is not a deterrent to achieving the desired results is a sure way to impress. Doing that will help those you represent, help the agency (if you work for one) and, importantly, help you.

So don’t be envious of colleagues assigned to glam projects or stories. It's likely they'll get lost in team results’ reports, their contributions hidden. You have a better chance of gaining attention doing outstanding work on a smaller project.

Arthur Solomon was a journalist and SVP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller. He is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. Contact him: [email protected] or [email protected]