The Best Kind of Good Publicity is Free

By Rich Lindblom, YSN

I can hear you already: “Well, duh, of course it is.” But I’d be willing to bet that it’s not for the reason you think. 

Now don’t get me wrong — nobody loves getting something for nothing more than me.  But what I’m talking about is the actual valueof that free advertising. Let me give you a real-life example of what I mean …

A couple of years ago a woman came into my store and told me she was remodeling her kitchen and needed a full suite of appliances. It didn’t take very long before I had her all set up with a range, refrigerator, microwave oven and dishwasher that fit her needs perfectly.  As I was writing up the sale, we started chatting a bit and I happened to ask how she heard about my company. She reached into her purse, pulled out a folded-up scrap of newsprint, and as she handed it to me said, “I saw this story in the paper a long time ago and saved it, because I knew that when I was ready to remodel my kitchen, I was coming here to buy my appliances.”

I unfolded the article and realized it was a “fluff” piece about my store that our local daily newspaper had run about eighteen months prior. (Talk about shelf life!) The woman had read the story about our local, family-owned business and decided a year-and-a-half in advance that she was going to fillher kitchen with appliances purchased from my store.  Notice I said “purchased,” not “shopped,” because as it turned out I probably could have sold her anything I wanted at any price. Based simply on this half-page newspaper story that didn’t cost me a dime, she decided she wanted to buy from my store and nowhere else.

While this might seem like an extreme example it didn’t surprise me at all, because I was already keenly aware of the true value of free publicity. Whenever we were featured in one of these human interest-type stories we instantly saw a bump in both new appliance sales and service calls.   

I came to realize that the true value of these freebies lies in the impact they have on people. Folks love to hear a good human-interest story; it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which of course makes them happy. But that’s not all it does. It also allows them to form a bit of an emotional bond with the subject of the story. And just who is the subject of the story? It’s your company, of course.

In my particular situation, we actually had two competing newspapers vying for our business, which made my task that much easier as it allowed me to play one off the other. Not wanting to overdo it, I would reach out to these newspapers about once every two or three years and “encourage”them to write a story about our company.  And when I say encourage, I really mean politely insisted. I would just remind them that I do a lot of advertising with them and if they wanted that to continue, I needed one of those feel-good stories written about my business. The way I saw it, they are always looking for human-interest type stories anyways, so I just figured I needed to remind them of that every once in a while. 

After COVID hit last year, it occurred to me that the subject of how small business owners are dealing with the pandemic would make for a good story. So I reached out to my newspaper rep and suggested it. Apparently his bosses agreed, because about a week later, there it was: A front-page story about a company contending with COVID. Problem was, it wasn’t my company.

Not surprisingly, I was not happy, and I fired off an email to my rep, saying something like, “I guess your editor must have really liked my idea.” Less than an hour later he called and asked if a photographer could stop by the store to take some pictures and ask some questions for an article. I guess they got the point. 

Typically, I would only recommend you pursue full coverage from your local paper for major announcements, events, awards or milestones.  For example, does your company have an anniversary coming up?  Did you win a major award, such as BrandSource’s Dealer of the Year?  Are you adding a new location? These are all newsworthy events that are worth sharing. 

If there is one thing that is consistent across all forms of media, be it newspapers, radio, television, blogs or websites, it’s that they all need a regular flow of fresh content.  Why not do them a favor and help yourself out at the same time. 

And for all those not quite front-page-worthy stories, there are plenty of other ways to garner free publicity as well:

  • Do you have an employee with a major accomplishment or milestone?  Did you help out a local charity?  How about holding a cooking demo or a wine tasting event?  While these might not merit full coverage, they are certainly still worth sharing.
  • Another great way to garner free publicity is by writing and issuing press releases. If you don’t know how, just google “How to write a compelling press release,” or something similar to that.
  • Do you have a relationship with one or more local radio or TV stations?  How about doing a live remote?  You will probably have to offer up some kind of giveaway like a dishwasher, TV, gas grill or mattress, but I bet your vendor sales rep can work something out, as long as he or she sees value in the event. 
  • How about offering your parking lot and a little free water to a local organization for a car-wash fundraiser?  Wouldn’t you trade a few gallons of water for a few hundred cars parked in front of your store for ten minutes at a time?
  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are all free, and you should be pumping out content to them every chance you get.  And you need to ask your friends, relatives and employees to “like” and share your posts.
  • Promote your company as the “local expert” in a host of areas and offer that expertise to local TV, radio and newspaper outlets. Offer them tips and insights into home improvement, plumbing, electricity, remodeling, kitchen design, or appliance and electronics repair.

But there is one major caveat to creating successful, memorable and free publicity:

The key to maximizing the value of free publicity is to avoid paid-for “advertorials.” People see through this and often just ignore them. But like the lady with the old newspaper scrap, readers will likely recall a compelling article.  So if you have a good tale to tell — something that makes them feel good or provides value — they will be far more likely to remember the story and your store when it comes time to buy that gas grill, sofa, OLED TV or side-by-side.

It’s always gratifying when someone reaches out to me after reading one of my articles because it struck a particular chord with them. So if you have a question or comment (good or bad) about something I wrote about, please contact me at egvrich@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you.