Publicity From Thin Air

In an ideal world, your business would be overflowing with

newsworthy stories, and the media would be waiting with bated

breath for your next press release, ready to give you front page


In the real world, however, it’s not always so easy to generate

real news. There are only so many hot new products or

breakthrough achievements with which a business can capture a

journalist’s attention.

So what do top publicists do to get news coverage for clients who

have no news to share?

They create opportunities for publicity from thin air. A good

publicist can quite literally invent a story that the news media

will eat up. And, best of all, they’re usually stories that can

be presented with little or no adjustment year after year.

Here are few of the ways you can create a great story from


Start a Hall of Fame. There are two reasons for you to take a

look at -- my very

own Public Relations Hall of Fame. First, it’s filled with

examples of companies who have created great publicity stories

from thin air (the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the National Discount

Broker’s Duck Quack, to name a couple) and second, it’s an

example of a time-honored publicity technique -- the Hall of


It couldn’t be easier. For your field, create a Hall of Fame,

induct some of your industry’s top luminaries, send out a press

release. You don’t need a marble-columned building or bronze

plaques. A simple press release (and maybe a supporting website

similar to the Public Relations Hall of Fame) will do the trick.

Each year, induct some more members and send out another release.

Really, it’s that simple.

Make a List. Mr. Blackwell made himself a household name with a

simple "Worst Dressed List". And the "Most Boring People of the

Year" list that gets huge press every year? It’s the creation of

a single, very clever publicist from New Jersey. And take a

look at one of the more recent lists to get massive publicity --

the Most Annoying People of the Year from (

The media simply devours lists. The best, the worst, the most,

the least, the top 10, the bottom 10, whatever. Is there actual

news here? Nope -- it’s just entertaining, fluffy and a bit

gossipy. In short, lists are the perfect fodder for an editor

seeking to balance out all the horror and sadness of a typical

news day with a bit of levity. Lists such as these are

practically the reason "People" columns in newspapers were


Craft an Index. Here’s a neat variation on the list concept.

Essentially a twist on the government’s cost of living index, a

publicity index is a fun way to quantify a trend.

Let me give you an example of a good index that generated strong

publicity year after year. Back in my agency days, one of our

clients was the company that imported Moet Champagne. Somewhere

along the line, a very sharp publicist had a brainstorm, and

invented "The Moet Index". It was basically a list of some luxury

items -- such things as a Maine lobster, a jar of Russian caviar,

a diamond bracelet and, of course, a bottle of Moet -- with the

total cost of all the items if one were to purchase them. The

number was compared with the amount they would have cost last

year, and the year before and -- voila -- the Moet Index was

born. The Index purported to ask the question "How much more

expensive is living the good life this year as opposed to

previous years?" The media loved it, and Moet had a nice annual

story. They simply tallied up the new numbers each year,

distributed a press release, sat back and counted the clippings.

Create a Petition. Is there a hot topic in your industry? A

growing controversy? Something people would like to see happen

that’s not taking place? Create a petition!

Thanks to the internet, starting a petition drive is a breeze. No

need to stand outside supermarkets with a clipboard -- just

provide a link for your visitors and you’re off and running!

Sites such as

( ) allow anyone to

start a petition for free.

Here's a recent look at some of the petitions on the site:

"Operation Keep Vanessa on General Hospital"; "Request to CBS to

air the Lane Bryant Lingerie Show"; "Declare Sept.11 a National

Holiday"; "Eminem For President In 2005". Whether serious or

lighthearted, a petition that generates lots of signatures is a

great publicity hook.

For example, let's take a closer look at the "Lane Bryant

Lingerie Show" petition. It notes that, because 60% of women in

America wear at least a size 14, CBS should provide a plus-size

fashion show as a counterpart to its airing of the Victoria’s

Secret show. Now, I don’t know who was behind this petition, but

imagine if you ran a website for plus-size women, and you were

the one who started the petition. And let’s say you managed to

get 3000 people to sign the petition. Do you think you might

have a pretty good shot at getting coverage in newspapers,

women’s magazines and other media outlets. Heck, yeah!

Petitions are an awesome way to create publicity from thin air --

and hardly anyone is using them for that purpose. Jump on this

idea and keep it to yourselves.

Here are my tips to create a story from thin air:

* Keep it light. Journalists know what you’re up to, and

they’ll play along if it’s all in fun. Think in terms of placing

the story in the "People in the News" column or with a "notes"

columnist who specializes in lighter stories. Don’t try to

pretend that your "Top 10 List" or online petition is

earthshaking news. Keep your tongue planted in your cheek and

you’ll have a much better chance of placement.

* Keep it positive. Mr. Blackwell is pretty tart in some of his

comments and, I suppose, one of his targets could up and sue him

one of these days. That probably won’t happen because he’s well-

established and a star who took him to court would end up looking

like a bad sport. Still, for your efforts, try to stay positive

and avoid criticizing, ridiculing or otherwise embarrassing

anyone. We live in a litigious society, and there are folks who

wouldn’t take kindly to finding themselves on the "Top 10

Buffoons of the Year" list. Let others take those chances. While

calling people boring, or annoying, or hideously dressed does

seem to generate attention, there are plenty of ways to succeed

taking an opposing approach. What about the most heroic, the

most inspiring, the coolest, the smartest, and so on? Let your

list, index, petition or Hall of Fame celebrate the positive in

our society or your industry, and it will reflect well on your


* Keep it Relevant. To make it work for you, a created story

needs to fit your business. Mr. Blackwell is a designer, so a

worst-dressed list makes sense. It would do no good, however, for

a car dealership to put out such a list. Keep it relevant.Let

your story support your marketing message (e.g. Moet Index =

"Moet is part of the good life") and it will do more than fill

your clipping book -- it will fill your cash registers, too.

# # #

About The Author:

Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as

one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine

and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for

PR-Hungry Businesses

, he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of

scoring big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips

and much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site:


Bill Stoller, the "Publicity Insider", has spent two decades as one of America's top publicists. Now, through his website, eZine and subscription newsletter, Free Publicity: The Newsletter for PR-Hungry Businesses he's sharing -- for the very first time -- his secrets of scoring big publicity. For free articles, killer publicity tips and much, much more, visit Bill's exclusive new site:

Go Deeper | Website

Have a question for Bill?

* Required information
Email Address:
(never displayed)

Your question or comment:
Human? What is the next number: 10, 12, 14, ..?
Enter answer:
Tell me when Bill responds to me.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.
New Graphic
Subscriber Counter