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Free Media: No such thing as a free lunch
As the host of a weekly interview show on a local radio station and an interview subject for numerous radio, TV and print outlets, I can attest to the value of “free media.” That is, media opportunities for which you don’t have to pay a red cent – at least, for the air time. But as there’s no such thing as a free lunch in life, there’s none in media, either.
“Free media” include any opportunity for which you don’t pay for time or space. An appearance on a radio or TV interview show, is a good example. A bylined op-ed in a print publication, is another.
That’s where “free” ends.
For starters, you need to expend significant time and energy to focus the message that you want to share via free media. Remember, you’re not buying an ad, so you can’t completely control the message you want to deliver nor the media used to convey it.
Say, you’re caught in a PR nightmare of your own doing – e.g. ExxonMobil in the Gulf and Tokyo Electric Power in Fukushima. The last thing you want is to be on the receiving end of tough-as-nails interviewers’ lines of questioning. However, if your business is widely perceived as a victim – e.g. one of the many Gulf fishing fleets – then an uncontrolled interview could be just what the doctor ordered. America loves its victims and despises those who victimize them.
On the flip side, America also loves its heroes – especially local ones. For example, publicizing the fact that your business has supplied emergency power to homes blacked out during one of this past winter’s never-ending onslaughts of snow and ice. You don’t need to be either a villain or a hero to get free media. But you do need to have a compelling, interesting story to tell. More than anything else, Americans are suckers for tall – albeit true – tales.
“It’s showtime, folks,” as the Bob Fosse character declared to his mirror image in All That Jazz. You’ve got your business message down and your free media determined. Next up: Scheduling the free-media “opps.” This can be easier said than done. Too many media gatekeepers – yours truly, included – don’t always respond immediately or at all to interview inquiries. Usually, it’s because we are constantly inundated with them and tend to answer those that pique our curiosity and/or fulfill our mission. Persistence pays, and you’ll need plenty of it.
Once you’ve landed a free-media opp, you’ll need to much spend time and energy to prepare the interview subject for it. Most interviewers will provide a general outline of the issues they plan to cover. Whether they do or don’t, make sure to do your own research on your prospective interviewers. Do most people regard them as fair and accurate, or cheap-shot artists? Do they give interview subjects enough time to respond, or hog the mike?
When the latter is the case, it’s best to pass on the opportunity. Just because you’re getting it for “free” doesn’t mean you need to humiliate yourself and your business.
Now it’s time for the interview. With print and radio, you can often conduct it by phone. And with TV, you can now do it with Skype. But nothing beats face-to-face, which allows you to look straight in the eyes of your interviewers while clearly viewing their facial expressions and hand/body gestures. These sorts of non-verbal communications are critically important to realizing a productive interview.
So how much can it cost for just one free-media opp? To be on the safe side, I’d budget at least seven and as many as12 hours, as follows:
- Focus your message: one to two hours
- Determine your free-media opp: one to two hours
- Land your free-media opp: three to four hours (be ready for lots of phone/e-mail tag)
- Research your prospective interviewer: one to two hour
- Conduct the interview: one to two hours (including travel and wait time)
In an upcoming blog, I’ll share tips on how to leverage the free-media opp that you’ve just completed, using the Unified Marketing strategies and tactics employed by my colleagues and me at CommCreative.