newsworthy

Unusual and Outrageous Keys to Earned Media

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

Carl's Jr. leveraged its brash brand personality to earn scads of media coverage, including a live segment on the Today show, on the introduction of its belly-busting "barbecue in a bun" burger.

The value of earned media is to tell your story inside the news hole, not in the boundaries of advertising space. There is no better example of effective earned media than the promotion this week of Carl's Jr. Thickburger.

Brash is part of the band personality for Carl's Jr. Playing off that brash image, it introduced what it calls an entire barbecue in a bun – an oversized burger, accessorized with tomato, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, cheese, hot dog and potato chips. This puppy weighs in at 1,030 calories and 64 grams of fat.

Since the earned media opportunity was spun out, news outlets have stumbled over themselves to report this belly-busting burger. Stories with pictures of the plump burger appeared in USA Today, the Huffington Post and major daily newspapers.

The anchor team on NBC's Today show did a segment where four cast members talked about, then took a sloppy bite from the burger, which the PR team from Carl's Jr. just happened to provide. The value of this kind of exposure is, let's just say, worth a whole lot more than the $5.79 price tag for the Thickburger.

Anyone who has seen a Carl's Jr. TV ad knows they are outrageous-bordering-on-gross. People chomp into a large burger, dripping sauce all over themselves. The Thickburger earned media campaign employs the same outrageousness. That's what makes it "news."

Come out with a hamburger with bacon and you will get a yawn from news editors and producers. Slap on a hot dog and there is instant interest. The hot dog may taste sort of like bacon, but it's a hot dog. You know, at barbecues, you get a choice between a hamburger and a hot dog. Now, you don't have to choose.

You also don't have to worry about where on your plate to juggle your potato chips. They are in the bun, too.

When many fast food restaurants are wrestling with how to offer healthier fare, Carl's Jr. goes for the jugular – or a coronary artery. There is no hemming and hawing about calories or fat. Carl's Jr. puts it out there proudly, not defensively. And the chain calls the Thickburger "all American."

The outrageous doesn't always work for brands or idea merchants that initiate earned media campaigns. The lesson isn't about outrage; it's about breaking through the noise barrier with something that is different, catchy or unexpected. It's also about "news" that can have an extended life through social media, the stuff people read and share.

The unusual and the outrageous can earn media you don't have to pay for from your advertising budget. But don't avoid earned media just because your product, service or idea isn't unusual or outrageous. You can create an appealing news hook by finding what's truly different and building your earned media pitch around it.

Make Your Story Pitch Clickable

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

Effective story pitching today still requires a local angle and a good hook, but it also demands content that is clickable and shareable.

To get noticed, story pitches to the news media still need a local angle and a good hook, but now they also need to be shareable online.

A pitch containing useful, relevant information or an inspirational story has a good prospect of earning clicks and shares from readers. Shareability makes your story pitch more irresistible. 

News reporters and editors have always cared about the readability of stories, which they reflected in where they placed stories in newspapers or on radio and TV. But the digital era has added the new dimension of clickability to the equation of determining the value of a story pitch.

As more of the news and news viewers migrate online, there is more pressure in newsrooms to zero in on stories that have online appeal. Some news organizations use pay incentives to encourage reporters to find and write stories that are clickable. Online analytics take a lot of the guesswork out of what's being shared and what isn't. 

Shareability represents a whole new line of engagement between marketers and the news media. Companies such as Uber have employed sophisticated media relations strategies to burst into markets – even when they are operating outside municipal regulations ­– using stories that area highly shareable. 

The old rules of story pitching largely still apply. Your pitches need to be timely, newsworthy, locally relevant and basically interesting. Discovering that the dwarf planet Pluto has water droplets in its atmosphere probably wouldn't make the cut at the local news desk.

The new rules encourage story-pitching innovation with a clever hook, viewer interactivity or tools such as videos, photo galleries, infographics and charts – anything that can elevate a good story to a "you gotta see this" story.

You enhance your ability to get stories placed if you intentionally imbue them with shareable qualities. It is another way for you and reporters to get on the same online page.