Top News StoryIt all started with the best Monday staff meeting ever.

My husband/CEO and I decided over the weekend to offer unlimited paid time off to every one of our staff, no strings attached.

In our minds, it was a matter of respecting our colleagues as adults and teammates.

We would set the goals and milestones, and let them decide how to get there.

When we made the announcement on January 25, 2010, you could’ve heard a pin drop, and then smiles spread all around the room.

We felt proud, elated, and rebellious all at the same time.

What Makes A News Story?

I was so excited I thought it would be fun to share this news. After all, how many companies have the cojones to do something like this? We knew it wouldn’t become a top news story, but perhaps we could get a little blip in the paper!

(Here’s where I note I had been studiously sending out old-school, boring press releases for about 10 years with little or no effect. Facepalm. I’m a business owner, not a PR professional, folks.)

Read Content from the Outlets and Journalists You’re Targeting

At the time, I was a big fan of the Seattle Times, which was led by journalist/blogger Monica Guzman. I read it consistently, but only interacted a couple of times. Based on reading her content over a long period of time, I knew that this was the type of story she might like.

I sent her a quick dashed off email. All of two sentences, including something like, “Hey, just thought you might like to know that we’ve just announced a policy of unlimited paid leave for all of our employees, no strings attached.”

In preparing this Spin Sucks story, I asked Monica what she thought when she saw my original email.

“I do remember your email making me stop and go, “Hmmm…”It was a bold step, and I was curious how common the practice was, or was becoming. It seemed ripe for conversation, and I appreciated the short, to the point email that didn’t try to dress up the topic.”

The next day, she wrote a brief story on the Seattle Times blog. We were psyched.

Be Ready for Success When it Comes

The day after that, the phone was ringing off the hook…local news was first, vying to get the interview. I gave a TV interview on the sidewalk outside my son’s basketball game. Yeah, that was surreal.

The snowball kept rolling, and we ultimately got coverage on CNN Headline news, Fox & Friends, the Wall Street Journal, multiple radio shows, the BBC, HR Executive, and more. There have been followups during the last three years as well, including a detailed interview on All Things Considered on NPR.

Business Lessons and Takeaways from the “Kerfluffle”

Don’t keep doing something if it’s not getting the results you want. If you are churning out traditional news releases and not getting anywhere, evaluate your strategy. Or hire a pro (hey, I know some people…).

Find the media outlets and journalists who write in your niche, and read their content consistently. Get intimately familiar with their topics, likes, dislikes, and style. Be genuinely interested in their material.

  • Be brief and to-the-point. Always. Everywhere.
  • Be flexible. If the news outlet needs to bump you, move your time slot, or hold the interview on the sidewalk, roll with it.
  • Be ready. Almost every interviewer ended with “is there anything else we should know?” Have your 30 second answer to that question ready and down cold.
  • Be camera-ready. If you’re lobbing out a news item you hope will get coverage, go get your hair color touched up, buy a camera-friendly suit, and be ready for your closeup.

Journalists pay attention to each other. Once I sent out the initial email, I did nothing to keep the ball rolling. Every bit of coverage after that was the result of journalists picking up the story (some without even talking with us). I didn’t know we were featured on CNN until my parents called me.

I had sweaty palms when I clicked “send” on that random email. But I did it anyway. Follow your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to take a leap.

What are your best tips for making that initial publicity spark?

Rosemary O’Neill

Rosemary O’Neill is Co-Founder/President of Social Strata, which makes the online community platform. For the last 14 years, she has been evangelizing the social conversation. You can find her online via Twitter, on her small business blog, and on Google+. She also makes a mean blueberry pie.

View all posts by Rosemary O’Neill