The art of self promotion

There is no dearth of public relations firms and publicists in the world. The PRSA, for one, has 28,000 members.

There is no dearth of public relations firms and publicists in the world. The PRSA, for one, has 28,000 members.

But for every corporate entity, non-profit, and celebrity that pays a firm money to handle their publicity, media relations, crisis communications, and community outreach, there are others who make do on their own, whether due to budget restrictions, inability to find a mutual fit, or mere preference. PRWeek.com brings you some examples of how the other half operates. Ben Brown, publisher, So New Media So New Media is an Austin-based small book publisher that started out focused on e-books for young, lauded writers like satirist Neal Pollack (Beneath The Axis Of Evil: One Man's Journey Into The Horrors Of War) and short story writer Claire Zulkey (Girls, Girls, Girls). Brown also runs BookPunk, a series of readings and music that buck the traditional paradigm of an author, a podium, and a passage from his or her latest work. "We do a lot of stuff that basically doesn't seem like publicizing an event or product. We run a humor site and a dating site; we provide these creative communities, in which we then promote the [So New Media] products," Brown says. BookPunk, which is a promotional tool for the publishing company, involves a lot of day-to-day promotion around Austin. The company will hire people to design promotional posters and put them up. The philosophy of Brown's promotional work is very much rooted in the Austin community. He and his volunteers take great pains to ensure the quality of the events they have, so that people will want to spread the word around. "We work within a culture, and our promotional efforts have to be a part of that cultural environment," Brown says. Brown tries to use entertainment for its own promotional sake. "We don't say 'buy this book.' We say, 'Here's a [short] story, isn't it great? Now go buy the book.' " This type of strategy works, Brown says, because "our [target audience] is definitely not a fan of ads." Dealing with authors and musicians, for such a small firm, can be a hassle if the acts themselves are unwilling to do their own publicity. "The author is responsible for as much promotion as they can do, just as we do as much as we can do." He adds: "We ask, 'Are you willing to make this one of your top priorities for the next year?' " Brown says he doesn't work with authors that can't make a commitment to publicize their materials. "It's on them to be a shill for their book," he says. Randy Durig, CEO, Durig Capital Durig Capital is a financial advisory firm that offers stock portfolios, retirement planning, mutual funds - through Schwab Institutional - and brokerage services - through Financial West Group. His publicity attempts have been hit or miss, he says. He tries to reach out to the media every three months or so. He says he's been reaching out aggressively recently. "I personally believe that the investment field is too crowded, and it's often hard to separate the good from the bad," he says. "Even if you have some of the top numbers in the nation and have a great track record, after September 11th, people are nervous to move forward in an equity market." Durig preaches an investment strategy called modern monopoly theory, where he focuses on stocks like Microsoft and Intel that have become "proprietary de facto standards" in their niche. He has used this theory to garner press attention from CBS Marketwatch, CNNfn, Global Investor, Motley Fool, USA Today, and others. Additionally, the company features a lot of free reports and articles on its website, www.durig.com, which he says receives one million hits a year. Durig says his decision to handle his own publicity is due to the company's size and his dyslexia, which he says makes his mind work unlike others. "I do better in personal contact," he says, adding "No PR firm has showed me a strategy that works better." Durig says that he's been cold-called by PR firms and has received offers on occasion, but none of the firms were trying to integrate a strategy with what he's already been doing. Jen Chung, editor, Gothamist Gothamist.com, a New York City-centric blog, is considered to be one of the premier new media outlets in the online community. The publication boasts a readership of anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 page impressions per day. Jen Chung, who also works for an advertising agency, dutifully provides a majority of the content. Blogs are inherently publicity-driven, as readership grows through links from other sites. Gothamist itself has branched out to provide blogs on weather, sports, advice, and launched a sister publication called Chicagoist. As publications from Business 2.0 to the New Yorker have started to point out the cultural and business influence of blogs, it should be no surprise that Chung focuses a lot of her publicity endeavors on the site itself. The group has held happy hours and other events with other blogs, such as 601am.com, which Jen publicizes organically through Gothamist.com "We mainly rely on Gothamist.com itself to promote our events or new sites, as well as e-mailing other people we think would be interested in [our events]," she writes via e-mail. "A blog is a funny thing - by its very nature, it fosters self-promotion, because you can leave comments on other people's sites (for example, saying, "On Gothamist, we have a post about that..."), you can link to another site in a post which may also send a link back the post you have written," Chung writes. She says that she doesn't spend too much time promoting the website outside of the posts. And she doesn't find promotion being a chore because she's interested in pursuing ways to build out the business, a word that is a bit ironic considering she concedes that she never intended the site to a "cash cow." "The way [promotion] has been successful for us is to have interesting stories that will attract other people's interest, like covering a certain event, or taking a certain stand on an issue, and just letting interest build from there," Chung says. She adds: "Gothamist works very well, has a great readership that grows every day, so we're trying to understand what makes it work and use some of our lessons on other sites. Of course, blogs allow for more [promotion] trial and error and evolution than other products." Scott Jordan, CEO and founder, ScotteVest Jordan, whose company produces clothing geared towards holding multiple gadgets in hidden pockets, has relied predominately on a media outreach e-mail campaign. He says he was an early adopter to this effect. "I view the media much like a customer. I try to accommodate them." He says he does so by avoiding clumsy PDF files and press releases, and he attributes his success to persistence. "When people thought it wasn't a serious story, I picked up the phone and called them directly," Jordan says. His product has been featured in as diverse publications as Cigar Aficionado, The Wall Street Journal, Parade, ComputerWorld, USA Today, and Penthouse. "I hired a PR firm, but they only gave me two [media interviews when I was in New York City]. So I pounded the pavement myself," he says. Jordan recalls going into the Time Inc. offices and using the phone to call all of the departments until he found someone to talk to him. "The next week I was in Time magazine," he says. "I keep reinventing the story and process. I think, 'How do I get USA Today to write about me for the fifth time?' " he says. The major difference he sees between his own efforts and an outside PR person is that he can take more risks. "When you're selling something as a professional PR person, you have to be careful because you may need to go back to the same reporter with another client, he says. "I don't have that problem, so I have been fairly aggressive in certain situations."

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