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Five people approached me last month to “write about them in the news.” Four of them wanted to pay me for it, which is a guaranteed way to ruin your writing career. One of them, from LinkedIn, replied with a laconic “I see” when I explained this. Then she asked if we could “find a way.” Another one — this one a seller from Fiverr — was more blunt and essentially said, “The risk exists only if it gets out. If we do it privately, no one will know.”
I roll my eyes.
This practice of “pay for play” apparently happens all the time. The silly thing is that getting into the news honestly is a far better strategy than shady deals that risk both the writer and business’s reputation.
Here are some tips on how to get your business into the news.
Have a newsworthy story
Unless you’re Jeff Bezos, your new business’s launch is unlikely to be newsworthy.
I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and — bless their hearts — entrepreneurs are very much like writers.
In Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he recommends putting a manuscript away for six weeks after the first draft and getting busy on something else. Writers get clouded views of the value of their creations when they’ve slogged away at them for so long.
Entrepreneurs are the same.
What is a newsworthy story? It’s something you would like to read about in the news. Some examples of newsworthy stories might include new studies that explain some social phenomenon, peer-reviewed independent research, rags-to-riches stories or anything with high social impact.
Publications buy stories, not products
If your story really is newsworthy, finding a writer to write it should be a piece of cake. Freelance writers are often looking for a hot story that a publication will pay them to write.
Understand that: The publication will pay the writer, not your business — because publications are in the business of buying great stories, not new products.
Instead of trying to sell your product to a publication, you should be selling a story to them.
Freelance writers who contribute regularly to publications will be able to spot a good story. Pitch it to them. And if it really is a good story, they’ll be eager to help you.
The copywriter you usually work with is not the person to pitch. He or she would have a financial conflict of interest, which would need to be disclosed. But that writer might know other writers who could help.
LinkedIn is another good place to find freelance writers.
You could also go directly to the publication you’re interested in, find some articles you enjoyed reading and then see who wrote them.
If your story is truly newsworthy, you might even get into some of the bigger outlets like CNN, Huffington Post and so on, by using a press release.
Press releases are usually short and work best when written in a journalistic style — no overly promotional fluff or beating around the bush. CBS News has some good tips on how to write press releases.
Unlike the news story itself, you can (and probably should) pay a professional to write your press release. But he or she would not be able to write any subsequent news stories for you without revealing the conflict of interest.
Choosing the publication for your story
Unless your chosen freelance writer has an existing relationship with a particular publication, the piece will likely end up in whatever publication chooses to publish it.
There are a few things to know about this:
- Not every publication accepts stories from freelance writers.
- Those that do, need to be pitched.
- If they like the pitch, they’ll either contract the writer (and pay him or her) to write it, or they’ll work with the writer to get a similar story out.
You can surely ask a freelance writer to pitch a story to a magazine of your preference. But keep in mind that, if you’re not footing the bill, the writer will likely choose the magazine that pays him or her the most for the story. (Usually, those are the bigger magazines, anyway, so everybody wins.)
Never forget the Golden Rule: It’s not about your business. It’s about beautiful stories!
Advertorials are paid advertisements that read like a news article. In some publications, it’s not obvious you’re reading an advertorial until you get to the end. But I’ve only seen this in non-U.S. and non-U.K. publications.
In the case of advertorials, yes, you can (and should) pay a professional writer to write them for you.
Giving to charity
If you have no good stories to tell, find a local charity and start helping it out regularly. Not only will society benefit, but you’re also guaranteed to start getting some newsworthy stories about your business and what it is doing.
Tipping a news outlet
And then there’s the Wild West option of tipping a news outlet directly. In this case, you “pays your money and you takes your chances!” A quick search for “tip CNN” or “tip The Verge” or “tip Huffington Post” will take you to each news outlet’s tipping page, where you will be asked to submit documents, evidence and anything else that might assist them in writing your story.
Publications sell stories, not products. If you always think in the direction of giving them a great story, then you’ll have far better chances of getting your business in the news ethically.