A Kentucky-Fried Marketing Lesson on Free Media Coverage

By Jeff Beals

Not a single name-brand fast-food restaurant operates in Gaza, a 140-mile strip of land inhabited by 1.7 million Palestinians surrounded by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The flow of people and goods are restricted in this politically sensitive area, but that doesn’t stop smugglers.

According to a recent New York Times article, hundreds of illegal tunnels cross under the border separating Gaza and Egypt. Through these tunnels pass weapons, people, construction materials, luxury cars, iPads, iPhones and fried chicken.

Yep, that’s right…One of the most coveted products smugglers bring into Gaza is “finger lickin’ good” chicken cooked at a KFC restaurant in El Arish, Egypt. By the time the chicken and side dishes arrive in Gaza, they’re cold and soggy instead of hot and crispy, but that doesn’t matter. Many Palestinians living inside Gaza crave what the outside world offers, and they’re willing to pay more than twice the retail value for fried chicken even though it has been sitting in a bag for two or three hours.

While this was an intriguing story, what really captured my attention was the full-color photo on the New York Times’ international page of a smuggler walking through a rocky tunnel carrying two large bags bearing the KFC logo plus one of those iconic KFC buckets of chicken.

My first thought was, “What did Yum! Brands (owner of KFC) have to pay to get this kind of exposure?” Of course, the answer was “nothing.” It was simply a newspaper article, but I bet the marketing team at KFC was thrilled. Who knows…Maybe KFC planted the idea for this article in a reporter’s head.

Seeing the photo and reading the article made me want to drive to the nearest KFC and order a box of “Original Recipe.” Think about the powerful benefits this article provided for KFC – millions of newspaper readers all over the world saw that photo and read an article about people who go to extreme lengths for the taste that made Kentucky famous.

This article is a perfect example of the power of free or “earned” media. Whether you are a business seeking clients, an organization recruiting members or an individual striving to build a widely recognized personal brand, there is simply no substitute for positive media coverage that you don’t have to pay for.

Sure, you can buy advertising. For many products, advertising is highly effective, which is why advertising is justifiably a multi-billion-dollar industry. But for a large percentage of products and services, and certainly for individual persons building personal brands, advertising is not an efficient use of resources. In these instances, earned media is the way to go.

Frankly, earned media is more credible than advertising. Anyone who reads an ad knows that somebody paid for it, so it is obviously biased. Articles or stories on radio and television come across as more objective.

Since winning earned media is so powerful, here are a few tips to remember:

A Recognized Expert

Make sure you or someone in your organization becomes recognized in your industry or your local marketplace as a true expert, someone who is known to be on the cutting edge of a subject. Media people love experts especially fascinating ones who are well known.

Relieve the Pressure

Journalists are under constant pressure to fill space and time. They finish one magazine and have to start right away on next week’s issue. Once a talk show host signs off at the end of his Tuesday show, he has to go right back to work preparing Wednesday’s show. Those people who frequently supply interesting information make journalists’ lives easier. Journalists appreciate that and reward these people by putting them in the news.

Value is Key

Provide value to the journalist. Give them the information they need without divulging client secrets or violating your company’s policies. Don’t just throw fluff at them. If you provide valuable information you will be quoted again and again over many years while your competitors scratch their heads and wonder how you do it.

Relationships

It’s a relationship business! Those professionals who get to know local or industry media on a first-name basis are much more likely to be called upon as news sources and radio show guests.

Be Quick!

The news business is famous for its deadlines. Time never stands still in the media world. If you take too long returning a call or an email from a journalist, he or she will simply find one of your competitors.

Find an Excuse

Look for reasons to be in the news. Give ideas to journalists. It can be hard for a newspaper or broadcast station to come up with fresh story ideas each and every day. If you provide something that is interesting, timely and hasn’t already been covered by a competing news outlet, you stand a good chance of scoring earned media coverage.

Localize It

If you notice a national or international news story that relates to your area of expertise, contact your local media outlets and offer to talk about what the story means locally. Similarly, you can take a major story and contact your industry’s media and offer to explain what it means to people in your profession.

Be Persistent

It might take many attempts before a media outlet finally runs your story. Remain patient and keep trying. Even though earned media is free, it does take a lot of work. Many times articles that appear to randomly benefit some organization were published because a company or person facilitated it.

Be Forgiving

You will occasionally be misquoted. Unless the erroneous quote seriously damages you or your company, just ignore it. Let it go and forgive it. Similarly, there are times when the media will decide not to use your material even after interviewing you. That’s frustrating, but you have to let that go too. If you complain to journalists too much, you are probably guaranteeing that they will never quote you or your company again.

Avoid Clichés

Most journalists are turned off by corporate or industry jargon. They also don’t want to hear a bunch of politically correct double-speak. You can use regular words and still come across as a highly intelligent person working for a cutting-edge company.

Just like KFC, you and your company can benefit mightily from earned media. Your efforts might not land your product on the cover of the New York Times, but they will almost surely be effective in earning coverage in print, broadcast and virtual media outlets.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

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