Traditionally, businesses have been used to paying media sources to advertise their products or services through commercials on television and radio or in printed forms published in newspapers and magazines. In fact, some large businesses hire public relations organizations whose focus is to find ways to convince consumers to "buy".
Bill Stoller, a professional publicist who has created a website for "Savvy businesses and Entrepreneurs" entitled Publicity Insider describes publicity as "the simple act of making a suggestion to a journalist that leads to the inclusion of a company or product in a story" Now unless you have some experience in this area, you might feel that the task is overwhelming but the truth is that media has a large amount of space and time to fill in order to educate and entertain their readers and listeners. They need your story. You just need to know how to bridge the gap between what the media wants and what you have to offer.
When I was in high school, I wrote a weekly column for our small-town newspaper and enjoyed the experience. Approximately three years ago I was asked to promote Psychology Month in Alberta. Because I had done some work with the media for a charity function, I thought it might be a good idea to offer to do a column which I pitched as "All Psyched Up". A few months later, a lady from my hometown read a couple of the submitted articles and took them to the editor of my hometown newspaper. So, I am now writing a column in the same little newspaper where I was featured thirty-five years ago! As an adolescent I was paid by the inch, so my articles were loooong. Now I submit my column without being paid despite having earned four university degrees! I laugh when I tell others that it just goes to show that education doesn't always move you forward!
That column in two newspapers has opened so many doors for me. Often, we receive calls from readers who want to schedule appointments to work on psychological problems they have been experiencing. We have sold more of my new book because of my writing. In fact, one newspaper purchased twenty books to give to their staff for Christmas gifts. As well, I am now the "media consultant" in the community. I am called to help journalists write on diverse topics that I would never have considered like "What is the psychological effect of having a pet?" or "How do people view Friday the thirteenth?"
A couple of years ago, there was a triple murder in Medicine Hat. I was asked to be a guest on two one-hour radio talk shows. The Country station who hosted this were shocked and unprepared when the phone lights were jammed. Radio, television and newspapers contacted me for interviews as the trial progressed. In fact, a friend called from Vancouver to excitedly explain that she had just seen me on the evening news report.
You don't have to be a writer, though, in order to receive free but invaluable media coverage. Those who do charity work are often chased for interviews and photos. In fact, anything that might capture the interest of the public is likely something that could be picked up by the media - but you need to learn how to "pitch" it.
Last fall I registered for the On Air Publicity course talk by British Columbia's morning man, Wayne Kelly. His training is focussed on learning how to present yourself in a professional but unique manner in order to get the attention of the media. I learned so much that will help me for the rest of my career - not just in gaining free publicity but also in understanding how the world of media works and what to do when they approach me.
As a sole professional, you can hire a professional publicist and invest a great deal of money into advertising or you can invest time and limited funds into learning the skills that people like Bill Stoller and Wayne Kelly teach. When you are your own publicist your reach is unlimited, and you have control over the message.
Learning to be your own PR expert is part of the wonderful adventure of owning and operating your own private practice.