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Why do you read the stories you read in the media? No doubt there was something that hooked your attention. Before you got to read it there must have been an angle that hooked the editor or the producer. I hear people talk about something called free publicity. Is there such a thing as free publicity? The old adage says: “The sun comes up, and the sun goes down, and nothing else is free.” Publicity isn’t free, your earn it by capturing people’s interest. To be newsworthy, you must identify with the needs, wants, concerns and interests of your potential clients. The next time you are brainstorming ways to create earned publicity, try this checklist of 27 proven publicity hooks (examples are drawn from a variety of industries so you can cross pollinate ideas). This is also handy for blog posts, newsletter articles and stories within a speech. When I ghostwrite books for professionals and consultants I write each chapter with a publicity hook. That way when we use the chapters to market the book and the consultant, the media-pleasing publicity hook is already built in.

You can't save souls in an empty church. You can't promote unless you have hooked people in.

27 hooks for speeches, articles and blogs

1. The Trend Hook. The media love to report on trends, and they can use all the trend watchers they can get. UC San Diego Extension garnered national media attention by issuing a list of the top ten hottest careers for college graduates (even picked up by CBS Sunday Morning Show). Wawa convenience stores won media attention with its trend stories about the 133 million Americans that eat outside the home daily, and their need for family sized dinner deals on the commute home. Organizers of a lingerie and swimsuit trade show in England announced before the show that major retailer Marks and Spencer announced an end of its policy for charging higher prices on bras sized DD or above. The protest was about a tax on women with bigger busts. The media caled it a “Storm in a DD-cup.”
2. The Essay Contest Hook. How can you get publicity in 50 words or less? Ask for essays and offer a unique prize. For example, the Better Business Bureau seeks essays on workplace ethics. Quick Chek convenience stores garnered publicity with its hockey themed Devils Night Out essay contest, tied to a trip to go see the New Jersey Devils play. “We get TONS of PR on the San Diego 50 Best Mom’s Essay Contest we promote annually with Time Warner Cable,” says publicist Joice Truban Curry.
3. The Charity Hook. Faith and hope are nice, but charity gets coverage. Hitching your publicity wagon to a worthy cause lets you give back to the community that supports you. Two examples involving Wilson Farms convenience stores are when the chain supported the Variety Kids Telethon by tying in March bread sales and community hospices by selling paper sunflowers. “We do these a lot. With Disney on Ice one year the show was Princess Wishes,” says Curry. “We got two sick Make A Wish children – took them in a limo to a salon, got them all dolled up as princess, back to the arena in the limo with a red carpet arrival in the limo and they had a tea party on the ice with their parents and got to skate with the cast and meet Snow White and the Dwarfs. It was great show PR for the engagement and made those kids and their parents day. It was one of the cooler and touching events. Another one that I still fondly think of that we enjoyed doing was a Blind Touch Tour. We contacted the San Diego Braille Inst. and invited kids and families to come and did a real blind touch tour where our sight-impaired guests we able to try on costumes, pet exotic animals, even do an act – a special behind the scenes circus experience. It was amazing to do and I sill have the smiles on their faces in my memory today.”
4. The Title Sponsor Hook. Tying your name to an event that will get coverage can also get you coverage. For instance, Kwik Trip convenience stores used this hook with its sponsorship of the American Speed Association Midwest Tour.
5. The Celebrity Hook. Linking with a celebrity is a proven way to boost visibility by association. Anthony Pezzo understood that when he linked his Brooklyn car wash and convenience store with former New York Knick basketball star Charles Oakley. When the NBA Allstar Weekend was in Las Vegas, the Harlem Globetrotters promoted their game that they played against Dennis Rodman. The Globetrotters aligned themselves with Rodman to raise their profile and sell tickets to their show by doing an exhibition game of Dennis’ Bad Boy team against the Ambassadors of Goodwill – the Globetrotters. It worked great sales and PR.
6. The Seasonal Hook. You don’t need psychic powers to predict the news. Certain seasonal stories appear with regularity. January is fitness, February is romance, March is college basketball March Madness, May is moms, June is dads and grads, September is back to school and so on. Station Stores tied the holiday season in with its publicity on sponsorship of a local Parade of Lights. An example is the Discover Boating campaign that the National Marine Manufacturing Association does is a great example. The push is Memorial Day through Labor Day (summer) and the objective is to grow boating and boat sales.
7. The Anniversary Hook. Another predictable aspect of media coverage is the anniversary story. Major news events are re-examined one, five, ten, twenty and twenty-five years later. Create something that ties to the anniversary and spread the word.
8. The Book Hook. Books are revered. Publishing a book is a great way to open up publicity opportunities. For instance, Wawa convenience stores did this by publishing a history of its 200-year-old dairy and retailing. The Noteworthy USA National Convention hired author Shel Horowitz as a speker. They used five of his articles at no charge in their newsletter to promote the value of what would be communicated at the convention.
9. The Scam Hook. This is a special type of advice hook that warns consumers about cons, rip-offs and pitfalls. When bad news broke about local identify thieves, Wesco convenience stores warned consumers about credit card fraud possibilities, especially at the gas pump.
10. The Publicity Stunt Hook. Gimmicks still work wonders. The New York Auto Show attracted attention with a pre-show Monster Truck Crush, featuring a pair of 15-foot high monster trucks demolishing six aged vehicles dolled up to look like those owned by local celebrities. Typically for best results, try to tie in a visual symbol such as a child or an animal. Allie’s restaurants had a salad eating contest for charity, pitting an elephant vs. a team of college students recruited by a local radio station (elephants eat 150 pounds a day, it was a pachyderm rout). “With Ringling Brothers circus, we have done elephant racing kids, elephant buffets in Vegas, we have taken the Globe of Death and the Wheel of Death acts out of the SD Sports Arena and put them in Seaport Village as stunts,” says Curry. “We have also done watermelon eating contests with kids vs. elephants. We got kids from the SD Boys and Girls Clubs to do it. All pulled incredible coverage! But if you are doing a costly stunt, shoot video yourself and take tape to hedge your bet!”
11. The Survey Hook. Use numbers to capture interest. The media love to report numbers, so pick a provocative topic that relates to your position and commission a publicity-generating survey. For example, if you like steamy sex conversations over dinner, you’re probably single, according to a survey of 300 adults by Sfuzzi restaurants.
12. The Analysis Hook. Borrow some numbers to analyze that relate to your positioning.
13. The News Event Hook. Tie in to a news event of the day. Heritage Dairy Stores raised money to purchase calling cards for the soldiers in Iraq so they could call home more often.
14. The Insider Advice Hook. Research industry insider tips that you can pass along to consumers. The media welcome helpful advice and view it as a public service. Vagabond Inns turned its “Innsider Travel Tips” into a national story carried by Associated Press.
15. The Hall of Fame Hook. Create a special type of award that honors the most outstanding people. Outside of their store Road Runner Sports created the runner’s Run of Fame, with running shoe imprints in the sidewalk cement with some of the all time great marathon and triathlon runners.
16. The Contest Hook. These are always a winning idea for publicity. The best publicized contests contain an element of humor and the media can use them to add entertainment value to the news. A small bed and breakfast inn in New England received national coverage about its recipe contest to find the best chocolate chip recipe to serve guests. At Book Expo America, a spelling bee in honor of the book The Bee Season let booksellers vie for the smartest wordsmith title.
17. The Prediction Hook. What will the world be like in five, ten or twenty-five years? Dust off your crystal ball. Next to numbers, the media like a bold prediction from an expert.
18. The Event Hook. Create an event and spread the word. For example, QuikTrip convenience stores created four costumed mascots and took them on a store tour (who wouldn’t want to meet a rooster, donkey, ram and dog?). The press always turns out for the National Hardware Show when Popular Mechanics conducts its Editors’ Choice Awards. The magazine’s editors select their top picks and then recognize winning exhibitors during a special awards reception.
19. The Petition Hook. Start a petition drive for a cause. You can even have the petition handled online at a Web site. Sites such as allow anyone to start a petition for free.
20. The Myths Hook. Perception vs. reality is always a popular media topic. What myths could you bust? The media welcomes the chance to put urban legends and old wives tales to rest.
21. The Recipe Hook. The food section is in search of a new recipe or two. Combining this with the seasonal hook works, like football food for Super Bowl or no-cook ideas for the dog days of summer.
22. The History Hook. What happened on this date 10, 25 or 50 years ago? More important, how does it tie into what you are doing today?
23. The List Hook. Lists of the best, worst, most, longest, highest, top and so on are a media staple. Mr. Blackwell became famous with his annual list of worst dressed. Another example is PETCO pet stores, which created its list of top ten holiday gifts for pets. What list do you have the authority to issue? This can also take the form of awards. At the New York International Gift Fair promoted personal care and wellness products with a “Best New Products Awards” competition.
24. The Quiz Hook. Let people test their smarts. You can make it true or false, multiple choice or fill in the blanks. Don’t forget the answer key. The Action Sports Retailer convention featured a “Skateoperdy” game show take off on the TV show “Jeopardy!” Eight skate shop owners vied for cash prizes in a skateboard trivia contest.
25. The Op Ed Hook. Writing a commentary is a sure way into print. If you are not ready for an essay on the opinion and editorial pages, consider writing a letter to the editor.
26. The Index Hook. Create your own index. Moet Champagne created a list of some luxury items — such things lobster, caviar, diamond bracelets and a bottle of Moet. The total cost was compared with the amount they would have cost last year, and the Moet Index was born.
27. The Checklist Hook. Oops, you know about this one. You are reading it.
Want to hear Henry Speak? 1. Henry is teaching a nine-week three-hour per night course on Public Relations Tactics at UC San Diego Extension starting September 29, 2010. Cost is $415.
2. Henry is hosting a Marketing With A Book Summit November 13-14 at the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

 You can follow Henry on Twitter @Henry_DeVries