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Public Relations Primer, Part I: Packaging Your Story for the Media

Imagine you're in the breakfast cereal business. You make the best corn flakes. So do you just back a truck-load of them up to every supermarket, then wait for the customers to buy?

Of course not. Because you understand that packaging smartly - the right size boxes, the right look - is integral to selling your product. It's the same with the key technique to publicity success we've been discussing in this column: marketing your knowledge and expertise to the news media for free exposure.

Your knowledge and expertise are just like those corn flakes. Your "box"-what you sell to the media-is your story. Learn how to package, present and deliver your story and you'll become a publicity success. This month and next, we'll lay out the ten basic steps to turning your knowledge and expertise into stories that the media can use-giving you free publicity in the bargain.

Remember, everything you know about your profession is what's going to make the media give you free publicity. If you're a financial planner, you know how to plan for retirement. You know how to fund a college education?.how to buy a house. You know about starting a business. These are things the media, and their audiences, want to know! You just have to slice, dice, and package all this knowledge into boxes of the right size and look, and the media will buy. Here's how we start:

1) Dissect your knowledge (your corn flakes) into many different stories (your boxes). You figure out how it helps single moms, young couples, retired veterans, the recently laid-off-and you develop a different "box" for each one and sell them to the media separately. In this case, less is more-you maximize your visibility by selling a smaller box to more reporters, more often.

2) Connect the world-and the media's-to your story. The media-and the reading public-love trends. If you can fit an otherwise dull story into a hot trend-you've manufactured publicity gold. That's why Wheaties puts those flash-in-the-pan Olympic medalists on their cereal boxes-it's been the same darn Wheaties for 80 years, but they keep it seeming new by making the face on the front of the box the Olympian that everyone's talking about. Think about how the everyday things you are doing for clients fit into the great story of the day. As I write, the big trend is the sinking stock market. Anything you do that you can conceivably package as story and slap "sinking stock market" on the front is something the media will be interested in.

3) Establish the trend. You don't have to go along with the media trends-every once in a while, you'll spot a trend of your own. If you see or hear something you never have before-say, paid leave for people with sick pets-investigate it. Find out what companies are doing it, who's advocating it, what professional association has accepted it. Find some people who are taking off work to care for Fido. You are like a secret agent for reporters-who are too wrapped up in their next deadline to discover things like this.

4) Assemble the pieces. Bring it all to the reporter-the less work she has to do, the more likely it is that she will use your story. Here's what you need:

You-your basic bio and your credentials

Your story

The trend, whether new or old, that the story illuminates Another expert (academic, not a competitor, obviously) or a study

A real life example

Human beings-they will be the conduit for telling the story

5) Reach the media. This is really two steps. First: What publications do you want to be in? A better question is, what audience do you want to be in front of? Would you rather be telling your story to the readers of the local business publication or to the readers of Highlights For Children? The local business publication, of course, and whatever else your potential customers read. Once you target a few publications, read them religiously. Pay special attention to the "bylines"-the names of the reporters writing each story. Soon you will have an idea of what reporter writes about what industry or sector. And when you are ready with your story, you will know who to go to. You'll be working with a small number of reporters, so you'll be able to form relationships. And if you prove yourself as a great interview and resource, that reporter will use you as a source her whole career.

Ned Steele works with people in professional services who want to build their practice and accelerate their growth. The president of Ned Steele's MediaImpact, he is the author of 102 Publicity Tips To Grow a Business or Practice. To learn more visit or call 212-243-8383.


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