From sandwich boards to skydiving
8 secrets of a professional spotlight grabber
Peter Shankman was downsized out of a job in 1998, he was nearly
out of money.
But what his former employer couldn't take from
him when they stripped away his ID card and e-mail address was a
knowledge of how media works and how to use it to build and promote
As a result, Peter's company, The
Geek Factory, a public relations and marketing agency, expects
to gross more than $1 million in revenue in its second year of operation.
While Shankman has made a career out of having
chutzpah to spare, you don't have to have his audacity to use some
of his techniques to grab media attention.
Here are some publicity stunts that worked for
Shankman -- and the underlying rules behind them, because the same
basic idea can get media attention for any business.
Word of mouth is the best publicity, so give people something to
When Shankman first launched his high-tech consulting business,
he donned a sandwich board and stood on the corner of 51st Street
and Park Avenue in New York. He handed out resumes and fliers, which
cost him $20 to have printed at a copy shop.
Two hours of effort during a busy lunch hour
netted him 189 phone calls, 74 interviews and 37 offers of work.
He took on several opportunities, including the one that appealed
most to him -- helping the New Jersey Devils hockey team build a
Reporters like stories that have a sense of immediacy, so look for
ways to link your company's message to the big story of the day.
Shankman didn't have enough money to buy the computer equipment
he needed to get his new consulting business up and running. The
hottest news and entertainment story of the day was the popularity
of the hit movie Titanic.
Shankman took his last $1,800 and bought 500
T-shirts on which he had imprinted a picture of the ship and the
words "It Sank -- Get Over It."
He took the T-shirts to New York's Central Park
and set up shop, selling them for $10 each. Two hours later, he'd
sold all 500, making a tidy profit of $3,750.
Toot your own horn.
If you don't tell the media what you've done, they'll never
know. So prepare press releases and get on the phone to the people
you most want to hear your story.
Shankman, a regular reader of USA Today,
suspected that the writer/editor of his favorite column might be
interested in his story, so he gave her a call.
Timing is everything.
Shankman called on a slow Sunday, the slowest day of the news
week. The USA Today editor was thrilled to hear from Shankman
because it's hard to write a column when there's not much news.
A bright, enterprising story like Shankman's made the reporter/editor's
Don't be old news.
No media wants to report on events that have passed. Offering
news about things while they are happening will not only get you
valuable attention, but also sell more products.
The first question the reporter/editor asked
Shankman was whether he was going to continue selling the shirts
because she didn't want to write about something that was no longer
Shankman assured her he'd be selling the shirts.
She asked where -- on his Web site? Shankman didn't have a Web site,
but he didn't let that stop him. "Yes," he said, "I'm selling them
on my Web site."
Then he went home and built a Web site.
Be prepared for the impact of your promotional efforts.
Have the goods ready to sell and the systems in place to make
The next morning, the Internet Service Provider
hosting Shankman's site woke him up. The 35,000 responses to his
site in three hours that resulted from the USA Today article
had crashed four of the company's six servers, and they wanted to
know if this was going to continue.
Don't stop now.
Keep those press releases coming. While you can't always expect
a published follow-up report, media outlets always like to know
when they've had an impact, so share your success.
In all, Shankman sold 8,000 T-shirts at $15
a piece and, after paying his upfront expenses, pocketed about $80,000
toward his business startup costs. The ink from USA Today
got picked up and published in such far-flung publications as the
San Diego Union Tribune, the New York Daily News and
U.S. News and World Report.
Be nice. Say thank you. Media people are customers too.
After Shankman got his business off the ground and grew it in
less than a year to eight employees, he decided to hold a picnic
and invite people who had helped him out along the way. It ballooned
into a skydiving party to which 75 media people and clients were
invited. Among the guests who ultimately wrote about their experience
were reporters from Forbes magazine and Business Week.
Shankman is modest about his successes and offers
only one piece of advice. "Don't be afraid to do something stupid,"
he says. "The worst that can happen is that it doesn't work."
Jennie L. Phipps
is a contributing editor based in Michigan
--Posted: Oct. 5, 2000