The world of business communications becomes more complicated yearly. Traditional methods are tossed aside like old shoes, replaced by new ideas, methods and terms.
Take just one area—publicity. In my last article (see “Publicity
Can Still Work for You, D&WC, August, page 54), I noted how
conglomerate demands and mergers of public relations agencies have
changed many traditional ideas about publicity. The enlarged field
of Public Relations (PR) now includes practices such as lobbying,
punditry (shaping and slanting of news stories) and hype (expanding
Conglomerates, celebrities and politicians love these new ways to
“clarify” adverse news reports. But such biased reporting
has little, if any, meaning or value for the average small independent
retailer. In fact, such PR tactics probably have harmed the acceptance
and usage of basic publicity by retailers. They’ve been turned
off from even considering it.
That’s the conclusion I’ve reached after long luncheons
with my local retired retail “focus group”; also, from
telephone conversations with my informal panel of retired retailers
in Florida. Their low opinions of publicity’s value are verified
by similar comments in varied trade magazines and business magazines.
Many small business persons do not realize how or how much traditional
publicity can augment their sales and images, personal and store.
SOME PUBLICITY Q’s AND A’s.
Q. What is publicity?
A. News! News about your name, business, services or products in
print, broadcasts or on the Internet, other than in a paid-for advertisement.
Q. What is a publicity or PR release?
A. A printed report or article—sometimes with photographs—containing
a news or feature item about you or your business that may be of
interest to the general public and your potential customers.
A “PR feature” is a longer article describing how-to or
containing technical information about uses and end results of your
products or services.
These materials are mailed or delivered in person to an editor or
reporter of your local print and broadcast media with the hope that
the materials will be reproduced in total or in part.
Q. Why is publicity important to you as retailer, regardless
A. Next to word-of-mouth referrals, a simple editorial mention is
rated as the most reliable way to gain the reputation needed to
attract clients and customers to your business place.
A media mention, good or bad, can be a powerful force. Ask any celebrity
or politician. Ask large retailers or aggressive conglomerates.
They know the competitive value of a few paragraphs or a 10-second
mention on the airwaves. They use publicity releases as an integral
part of their marketing—every bit as important as their advertising.
Q. What do you mean by editorial content?
A. The content of a newspaper or news program, other than paid advertising,
consists primarily of:
1. Regular “hard” news (local, national and foreign).
2. Feature articles (special stories of varied subjects given extra
prominence in column-length or category. Example: A window decorating
feature, or an article like this one.).
3. Personal commentary by media editors (editorials), columnists
or readers (letters to the editor).
Q. What is the difference between advertising and publicity?
A. Advertising is paid for; publicity is earned. An advertiser buys
certain space or time in print or broadcast media and controls the
message used. A publicist earns space or time in a media, but has
no control over the message. It is the media editor selecting and
“speaking.” As a result, the publicity information has
a third-party credibility and impact.
Volumes of research over the years verify that news and feature
stories are noticed and read more often than media advertisements
in general. Responses to the same offer, placed in ads or mentioned
in news reports, are greater for news, sometimes by large percentages.
Implied editorial support also confers status and a favorable image
to the person or business mentioned. It can provide a competitive
advantage. (The famed “independence of the press” has
been questioned lately. PR tactics have distorted and slanted news
for political and financial gain by various conglomerate groups.
The public is also more aware of these news control attempts, as
reported by the same criticized media. So, we must assume that the
media will make certain their always reliable reputation for honest
and accurate news reports will continue.)
Q. What subjects could be included in a publicity release?
A. Here’s a basic checklist:
• New product, materials, additions, applications, capacity,
facilities, sources, catalogs, decorating booklets, prices, patents,
joint venture etc.
• Hirings and promotions, service awards, testimonials, people
with photos and captions, store departments and supervisors, changes
or reorganizations in management duties, etc.
• How-to select, use, maintain, extend the life of a treatment,
save energy etc.
• Decorating tips, testimonials from happy customers, story
on designer and designs, history of a style, unusual installations
• Technical capabilities of computer programs, charts and statistics.
Many of the above topics and stories can also be used on a Web Site
or e-mail, for newsletters and direct mail folders, also as copy
and headlines in your ad campaigns. Example: Use reprints of a newspaper
release in your ads. You can get tie-in use from your copy.
Q. Why do so many small retailers neglect the use of publicity?
A. Most retailers offer various reasons:
1. Lack of understanding of how to use and prepare publicity releases.
2. Belief that the odds for actual pick up of your “little
news” items would be prohibitive.
3. They don’t have any budget for something with questionable
Good reasons. Below are some answers. (I will discuss more answers,
along with samples of releases and feature stories highlighting
window coverings in my next article.)
Q. What are the odds that your release will be run in print or
A. That depends on various factors. Publications receive many news
releases daily. Editors may pick and choose to provide their readers
with relevant and up-to-date items. If your release is of local
interest and not just advertising copy, chances are good that it
will be run. Maybe not word for word, but enough for readers to
get the gist of it.
Remember that editors are primarily responsible to readers or their
listening audiences. It’s advertising dollars that make up
the basic income of all media, except publications or stations not
carrying paid advertising. But it’s still reader interest that
determines the success and growth of a specific newspaper, station
Wise businesspersons respect this independence of editors. It can
be difficult sometimes—especially for advertisers—to accept
this fact. (It can be difficult for editors, too, to explain to
an irate, prominent advertiser why they had to alter or not run
a PR release as submitted.)
Q. Why is publicity sometimes called free advertising?
A. Only the ordinary space or time charges for the actual PR release
are free. But, an investment in preparation and distribution of
the release can involve cost of materials, plus the necessary personal
time involved. That latter cost can vary greatly, especially if
you must retain an agency or freelance writer to help you plan and
prepare materials for a release or press kit.
ANOTHER WORD ON MEDIA MERGERS
As noted above, I will discuss other pros and cons about publicity
along with some ways you can save much on publicity costs in my
A final few words! Last article I pointed out that, even with all
the many mergers of local newspapers and broadcast media in the
past decade, editors still depend on the regular flow of publicity
materials. New owners usually reduce editorial staffs. So the media
may have fewer reporters and editors to cover the news in their
local area. Which means the publication or station may depend even
more on releases. Which means, as always, that a press release can
be mutually profitable for both you and the medium you want to use.
Too, it ups the chances that your release will be picked up and
Window Treatment Advertising is a regular feature in Draperies
& Window Coverings examining many ways in which retailers can
make the best use of their time, efforts and resources to create
effective marketing and promotional campaigns. Past articles dating
back to 1996 can be found on D&WC’s online archive categorized
by author and subject: www.dwconline.com/DWC/ArticleIndex.html.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies
& Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience
in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and
retail advertising programs.