6 ways to get free publicity

CBS This Morning in the Newspaper segment CBS/iStockphoto

CBS This Morning
CBS/iStockphoto
(MoneyWatch) Good publicity is the marketing gift that keeps on giving. That's because in the online world, stories about your company tend to live forever. When prospects search the Internet for information about your product or service, publicity ensures it appears. Here are six ways to get your name in print.

1. Write a letter to the editor. Although these are among the best read items in a newspaper, trade journal, or other publication, many editors don't receive as many letters as they would like. Email them a letter commenting on a particular business issue, news event, or story that appeared in the publication. Letters should be brief and include your name, address, and daytime phone number (in case they need to check a fact).

2. Write an opinion column. Choose a topic you feel strongly about and argue your case in 700 words or less. But be careful -- columns that promote a specific company or product will not be used. Sometimes it is a good idea to send the editor a brief email with a thumbnail description of what you intend to write to get the go-ahead.

3. Suggest a story about a recent business trend. Send a brief email to the editor -- they may consider it when they make story assignments. Also present your credentials and highlight why you would be a good resource to be interviewed for the article.

4. Suggest a story idea to one of the columnists. This is for either a print publication or a blog in the online version. Typically, columnists won't promote a specific product or service. But they do need sources to comment to round out a story. Always ask if they would publish your website address, but be understanding if they can't. If you don't ask, you don't get.

5. Offer to write a trade journal article. Before investing time and money in writing a "how-to" article, pitch the idea to the trade editor first. This can be done with a short, compelling letter or email. Once you get the green light, you can interview your customer. After honing your angle, you're ready to approach an editor. Don't pick up the phone and call. Just as if you were selling any other product, you need to write a convincing, professional proposal. But don't worry, it doesn't need to be lengthy; in fact, the shorter the better.

6. Send the query before you start writing. Editors typically want ideas submitted in the form of a short email called a query. They don't want to see the entire manuscript. And you're wasting your time by writing the entire article before you know if you have a salable idea or the specific slant an editor may want. It's important that your letter not just whisper your idea in a boring business letter style. It must trumpet it in a way that will be music to the ears of an editor whose in-basket is deluged with proposals from professional writers, public relations agencies, and others who want to see their names in print. Your first paragraph -- the lead to your letter -- should capture the imagination of the editor by painting a scenario with a real-life anecdote, offering a startling statistic, posing an intriguing question, or turning a phrase in such a way that it makes the editor want to know more.

Perhaps the most difficult part of getting publicity may be selling your best customers on the idea of agreeing to be interviewed. The time commitment on their part is probably three to five hours during the next four weeks. They will want to be assured they won't be giving away any trade secrets. In my experience, about 1 in 4 will agree to share the information, data, and procedures that you need.

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