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  • Making the News
    by Rich Smith

    Want to read about yourself in the paper? Here's how.

    Any florist would be thrilled to get this kind of publicity: a generous splash of ink in the local daily's Sunday edition. Sure enough, traffic in Flowers by Adrian went up dramatically after the Everett, Wash., Herald ran a story on the shop, smack on the first page of the local news section.

    "The paper did a terrific job," says Paula Adrian. "The story talked about how the parents of my husband, Bob, started the shop and how things have changed over the years, how our children have been involved with it. It was a really nice portrayal that gave people a warm feeling about our shop and its place in Everett history."

    So how did the Adrians get so lucky? Simple. They made it happen. With the 45th anniversary of the shop fast approaching, Paula Adrian decided to contact the Herald and propose a story about that milestone event. The value of the story to the shop was incalculable. The cost: 15 cents for the phone call.

    Of course, getting "free" publicity (as opposed to paid advertising) isn't always that easy. And it's almost never actually free. For example, it cost Citti's Florist in Santa Clara, Calif., a pretty penny to execute a publicity stunt in which 30,000 roses were given away in a single day.

    However, according to Citti's vice president Chris Citti, the value of the free coverage that the five-location mini-chain received before and after the event more than made up for the cost of materials. "We passed out three roses to everybody who came into our shops and asked for them," says Citti. "Our local TV station sent a camera crew over and ran the story four times that evening."

    A Tale Worth Telling

    The impact of publicity is frequently immediate and dramatic, experts say. The downside is that publicity is always a hit-or-miss proposition. Unlike paid advertising, you have little or no control over what ultimately will be written or aired about you. Also, you can't dictate when your news will hit the street, if ever.

    Adrian learned this the hard way. She had made other attempts at getting publicity for Flowers by Adrian prior to her successful pitch for the anniversary story. Once, for instance, she proposed a story at Christmas time regarding her shop's festive décor. The editor's politely said no.

    Undeterred, Adrian attempted to orchestrate the appearance of a groundswell of interest by having friends call the newspaper to praise the impact made by the shop's appearance. The editors, however, saw through the ruse.

    Perhaps more important, however, her story proposal bombed because, unlike the anniversary story, it lacked genuine human interest — a key ingredient to making editors go weak in the knees. Concerned both to keep readers hooked and to avoid the appearance of being inside anyone's hip pocket, media decision makers tend to shun patently self-serving stories. They much prefer stories that show a for-profit business as a force for community good — which is precisely why florist Hans Wilz is a publicity star in his town of Ottuma, Iowa.

    Wilz, who owns Edd the Florist and Hickory House gift shop, some time ago was looking to volunteer his talents and energies to helping people in need. His search led him to an organization called the Crisis Center and Women's Shelter, which needed cash to buy toys as Christmas presents for the children living under its roof.

    Wilz came up with the idea of conducting a silent auction to raise funds for the center. Among the items he donated for the event was a collection of Beanie Babies — the cuddly, stuffed playthings that had already gained their own media profile as the holiday season's hard-to-come-by fad.

    Word of the florist's generosity went out to local news reporters. In no time flat, Wilz found himself encountering a forest of cameras, microphones and note pads. "The publicity took on a life of its own — it just snowballed," he says.

    Hiring a Pro

    While publicity can sometimes ignite with little fanning, more often it entails much hard labor. So hard, in fact, that some florists prefer to employ professional publicists to do the work for them.

    Names of publicity practitioners for hire can be found in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory. You can also contact the local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (listed in the White Pages) and ask for a referral.

    When shopping for an agency, be prepared for sticker shock. Publicity specialists charge anywhere from $50 to $150 an hour. Chris Citti, whose family-owned enterprise first cranked up its in-house publicity mill some 35 years back but now uses an outside publicist, reports that several agencies he interviewed for the job quoted fees ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 for a year's retainer. "We saved a bundle by hiring an agency on a project-by-project basis instead," he says.

    Professional publicists are useful because they know what works and with whom. But with a little effort, retail florists can also develop their own expertise at public relations.



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