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Mar. 26 2009 - 11:26 am | 2 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

How Tom Szaky Manipulates the Press

In a previous blog, I mentioned Tom Szaky’s new book Revolution in a Bottle. Because Szaky, founder of TerraCycle, is such a maestro of publicity, I paid special attention to his chapter on “The Art of Public Relations.”  As a journalist, I can testify to the fact that he has a lot of good advice in there, stuff that many small businesses, especially those not using the services of a professional p.r.  firm, overlook.

For example, he targeted small local papers and the extremely over-worked, underpaid reporters who staff them.  So, whenever TerraCycle introduced a product at a store, someone would would send a press release to the local rag. When the company started a new recycling brigade at an elementary school,  they’d do the same thing, writing a press release about it,  including pictures of the kids and teachers.  Also, whatever the publication’s size,  they’d accompany releases with background research, names of industry analysts, photographs and so on.

His most notable point was advice about using attention-grabbing phrases.  That is, you can stir up a lot of attention by repeating the same punchy terms over and over. Right-wing politicians did the same thing when they started replacing “estate tax” with “death tax” and “tax cuts” with “tax relief”.  In Sazky’s case, he realized that the words “worm poop” would be a lot grabbier than “vermicompost”.  So, he trained his staff to use the catchier phrase.  And he did his best to cram those two little words as many times as possible into every interview he did.

Then there’s his blog strategy. He expects to be syndicated in over 30 blogs in the near future.  And, of course, the book will create more publicity. (I’m writing about it, aren’t I?)

As a journalist, I find it annoying to be played so effectively.  But, from the perspective of the entrepreneur, no denying that smart manipulation gets you press.


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    It's just in the past few years that I've become interested in not-only-for-profit startups and small businesses. In fact, I can remember a time when I thought the concept of "enlightened capitalism" was simply an oxymoron. Now, I see the possibilities. Plus, it combines my own political bent with my long-time coverage of small business for such places as the New York Times, Business Week, CNNMoney.com, Portfolio.com, Harvardbusinessonline, and Fortune. Otherwise, I live with my son, a soccer fanatic, my husband, a journalist and avid rower, in Pelham, NY. My daughter, a former varsity wrestler, is away at college, studying art. You can see more of my work at www.annefieldonline.com. Or follow me on Twitter@annearfannearf.

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