There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding “free” and “paid” media. Let’s cut right to the chase and clear this matter up right now. First of all, truly “free” media is about as a rare as winning the Powerball. Free media would mean that somehow, somewhere, sometime, someone like Justin Beiber just happens to walk into your coffee shop. He stops to have an espresso and declares the experience so magnificent that he is going to come in every day for the next several years, and spend hours and hours signing autographs and occasionally preforming a dance number for your customers, just to stay fresh.
Of course, your life is now perfect.
Since that is not going to happen, this is how free media works. You create an event or put a notice out into the press about your product, through a press release. The television, radio, newspapers and internet services then pass that message along to all of those whom they think will be interested. You don’t have to pay the media anything for this message, they do it partly as public service, and partly to fill in the hours per day of programming they have available.
To make this work, you need a compelling message with a hook. That hook is a special event or a change from the norm. Perhaps it is your Grand Opening, a move to a new location, a celebrity visit, a special sale, a charitable event, or some other truly interesting event.
“Now offering Door to Door Helicopter Service” is new and interesting. “We are the same cab company that has always been here, we’re still here, and we’ll be here tomorrow” is not newsworthy. In other words, you might need to come up with a catchy event or activity to get free press. And you might want to have someone create that compelling message for you, in a professional manner. It won’t be free, but it may be a big savings compared to paying for the air time.
Now “paid” press might look the same to the reader or sound the same to a listener. Basically, you take a story and pay for placement of it in the media, just as you would with a regular ad. In fact, regular ads are paid media. But for today we are focusing on Advertorial pieces. These look like regular editorial content, but you can control the message down to the last word.
This is a really good way to get a clip for future publicity. For instance, now you can say, “We were written up in the Wall Street Journal,” and show the piece. Some may cry foul, but the truth is the newspapers and outlets that offer this service strictly control the content of an advertorial, it has to be newsworthy, true and interesting, or they won’t publish it. The process is more collaborative than the standard paid ad or free editorial, it is a bit of a gray area, but perfectly legitimate.
We find that many business owners biggest mistake is focusing on one type of media market, or focusing on each market in piece meal fashion. The trick to get the biggest bang for the buck is to create a message that can translate consistently across all media, then to create the right mix. Thus, you might ask for a little “free” journalistic space along with your ad buy, but also make sure it is the same strong and consistent message.
As an example, you are hosting a charity event at your business. You buy radio time. At the same time you also ask the morning hosts to attend, free of course, and you ask them to talk about the fact that they will be attending, at least a couple of times each morning. You might even ask for the opportunity to call in and chat with them about it. Of course, you are more likely to get all of this special attention if you also buy a series of ad spaces. And all of it will be more effective if it is designed to go together from the ground up.
But you can’t take advantage of the full range of media, unless you are living and breathing it every day. That is why you need expert help, to get that advertising mix just right, at the lowest price possible. To create hooks that get “free” publicity and then artfully combine them with paid. It’s what gives your campaign legs and your company profits. None of it is exactly free, but the right mix can surely save you money and create results.