Getting Free (and Good) Publicity

Date Published: 
May, 2006
Original Author: 
Jeff Crilley
FOX 4 News, Dallas, Texas
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, May 2006

You believe a positive news story is a lottery you win. It's your local TV station, radio station, newspaper, calling to say they want to do a positive story on you. My message to you is: The phone works both ways.

There are two times in our lives as reporters when we need your stories: During horribly slow periods and during "feeding frenzies."

Every government holiday is a slow news day. Thanksgiving week there won't be any school stories, no court stories, no city hall stories.

When was the last time you turned into your local news and heard the anchor say, "Sorry folks; nothing happened today. Here's 'Gilligan's Island.''' The newspapers are in the same jam.

We're so predictable that we can be used to get out your positive stories. All you have to do is circle the government holidays and the days surrounding them and you're going to find a predictably slow chunk of news time to stage your story: Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July.

Stories we would never care about during a normal news cycle suddenly become interesting when nobody else is feeding the media.

Why press releases aren't working
The press release system in America is broken. It worked in the '50s, '60s and '70s, but by the '80s everyone had a fax machine, by the '90s, everyone had e-mail. At my station in Dallas, we get 300 paper releases every single day off the fax machines, and 700 e-mails. Who can read a 1,000 page book every day?

When bad news happens
It's never the mess-up that gets them in trouble—it's the cover up.... If you messed up, fess up! If you show up and there's a TV camera parked there and the TV person jumps you and say" "We talked to this widow and she says she was overcharged, blah, blah, blah." What do you do? Always, always, always cooperate. Do you know what she's praying you'll do? She's praying you put your hands over the lens and say, "Get that camera out of here.” Because NOW she's got a highlight film. "Coming up tonight at 10, what does this person not want you to see?"

This article compiled from an address presented by the author at the 2006 ICFA Annual Convention