From the March 1999 issue of Startups

Business is booming . . . We're opening a second location . . . We're staying open later to accommodate the crowds. Want to hear yourself saying those words? Wonder if your company's 15 minutes of fame will ever come? It could happen sooner than you think, says Alan Caruba, PR guru and author of the handheld guide Getting Famous: How to Write a Successful News Release (The Caruba Organization, $5, 973-763-6392). Caruba knows plenty about grabbing the spotlight: He's also founder of the hype-driven Boring Institute, a media spoof known for its annual list of the 10 most boring celebrities.

Fame is elusive, and it's no wonder some businesses go completely unnoticed in their communities, says the Maplewood, New Jersey, PR expert. What start-up entrepreneurs don't know about the power of a good press release can hurt them--and that's no laughing matter. To start with, Caruba points out, it's called a news release, so it's got to contain news.

"[Your PR strategy] is determined by how newsworthy your business is," Caruba explains. "Every business has various issues that can be addressed, whether they're health, environmental or social. Stay abreast of the issues that affect your industry, and learn to think of yourself as an expert. Whatever business you're in, you're trying to help people solve problems."

Exactly who should be in the know about your company? Create a media list--a "who's who" of area newspapers, news shows and the names of the media people whose recognition you want to cultivate. (Take a trip to the library to cull addresses and phone and fax numbers.)

Next, send one news release a month--and don't be surprised if it's six months before you get any attention, says Caruba. Media contacts need to get comfortable with seeing a regular release from you before they'll act.

Ready to get famous? Sample the essential elements of a successful news release, below. (We asked Caruba to use an imaginary graphic design firm as his model.)

1. An eye-catching headline that uses action words (e.g., "reveals" or "exposes"): Design Determines Success or Failure.

2. A subheadline that tells who you are: Miles Cameron of Supreme Graphics Reveals Design Secrets.

3. A lead paragraph containing a strong quote or statement about a matter of general interest: Graphic designer Miles Cameron of Supreme Graphics says, "Without strong design elements today, any product, publication or project is at a significant disadvantage." A survey by Supreme Graphics on the link between graphics and success produced surprises.

4. A second paragraph offering key information about the location and nature of your company: Supreme Graphics of Summerdale, California, is offering a report on its recent survey to local businesses and organizations.

5. An easy-to-comprehend third paragraph with concise information on the reason for the release: Find out how graphic design can make a difference in your bottom line, from increasing repeat business to a higher referral rate.

6. A strong closing quote or statement: In print, on television and on the Internet, an investment in graphic design has become an essential factor of success in today's competitive visual era.

7. A reinforced key word (such as "success") that appears in the beginning, middle and end of the release.

8. Name and phone and fax numbers of the contact person.

9. One page in length only.

Still intimidated? Don't be. "If you can write a good letter, you can write a good news release," promises Caruba. And if you can't? Pay a professional to do it for you. "Public relations is essential, no matter how much money you're spending on advertising," Caruba says.

Need a jumpstart? Check out Caruba's Web site (http://www.caruba.com) to request a copy of Getting Famous.

Pet Peeves

What's the best way to get your news release noticed? Learn to think like an editor. Bombarded daily by mile-high stacks of mail, these long-suffering souls learn quickly how to separate the fluff from the real stuff. These characteristics, says Caruba, alert editors to press releases worthy of the circular file:

  • An overnight courier service delivers the material.
  • It arrives in triplicate.
  • It's addressed to an editor who died some years ago.
  • It's immediately followed by a call asking if it arrived.
  • Its topic remains a mystery even after the third reading.