Publicity. Securing public notice or attention. The act of getting people to talk about us.

We pursue publicity because it has an interesting ramification – increased sales. The more people know about you, the more likely they are to buy whatever you’re selling.

Publicity and its sibling, word-of-mouth, have more credibility than does, say, advertising, for a simple reason. What other people say about you is more believable than what you say about yourself.

Can you buy publicity? On occasion, yes. Usually, no.

But publicity is freely available to those who with unfettered imaginations are paying close attention to everything around them.

When you’re prepared, publicity opportunities are limitless.

Some of us only want notoriety.

CEO of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, indirectly draws attention to his airlines each time he makes another attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon. Very few people care if he actually sets a new record – the attempt itself is newsworthy. Branson has made four attempts so far.

Then there’s the publicity stunt.

One of P.T. Barnum’s homes was right next to the main line of the New York and New Haven Railroad. Barnum hired a man to pay close attention to the railroad timetable, and have an elephant pulling a plow each time a passenger train was due to pass by. Reporters from all of the New York papers wrote stories about Barnum’s elephant, which boosted attendance at his New York museum of curiosities.

Some of us are victims of exaggeration, gossip, or outright lies.

In a 1969 Toronto concert someone threw a live chicken on the stage where Alice Cooper was performing. Not realizing that chickens don’t fly, Cooper picked up the bird and threw it back into the orchestra pit, where it was inadvertently stomped to death by the audience. By the next morning the story had grown to front page status in the Toronto Star, where it was picked up by most other daily newspapers.

Frank Zappa called Cooper to ask if what he was reading was true – that Cooper had bit the head off the chicken and drank its blood. When Cooper denied the story, Zappa reportedly said “Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone it isn’t true.” Zappa considered any front page publicity priceless.

Some of us invent the stories being told about us.

When other managers might have issued a press release announcing their artist’s planned performance tour, Andrew Oldham called a press conference to to announce the Stone’s pending lawsuit against twelve U.S. hotels which had refused to book rooms to the Rolling Stones for their 1966 tour. Weeks later when reporters finally started asking which hotels were defendants, Oldham became unavailable for interviews.

When Mohammed Ali was still Cassius Clay, a free-lance magazine photographer was dispatched to Louisville to shoot some pictures of the champ working out. Ali asked which other magazines the photog worked for, and was told Life. He then asked the photographer’s hobbies. Learning underwater photography topped the list, he mentioned “I train under water,” and explained that the resistance of the water provided a superior workout. The resulting Life photo layout made Ali’s underwater training regimen legitimate, even though it was a story he’d invented on the spot.

And sometimes creating those stories backfires.

On November 23, 2007, Ingrid Marie Rivera, the reigning Miss Puerto Rico, claimed that someone had laced her clothing and her makeup with pepper spray in an attempt to force her out of the Miss Universe competition. By the end of the week the pageant organizers announced that forensic tests showed no traces of contaminants and were demanding an explanation.

Some of us see relationships.

Bossier City Jeweler, Todd Everett, deals with people’s valuables. He tapped into their collective visual memory and purchased an armored car to promote his store. People all over Shreveport and Bossier City know how to find T. Everett, Fine Jewelry Broker. He’s on Benton Road. Just look for the armored car.

Some of us just like being admired.

At the turn of the last century the ultra rich John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie made generous cash gifts to communities in which they wished to be well thought of.

Carnegie gave his money to libraries, schools, and universities throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. How many Carnegie Libraries are there?

Rockefeller used his fortune to create the modern concept of targeted philanthropy, supporting medicine, education, and medical and scientific research. In case the schools weren’t enough, the world’s richest man is remembered for passing out dimes to children everywhere he went for the last several years of his life.

Then there’s Vess Barnes.

When Wizard Academy founder Roy Williams was told by Amarallo, Texas jeweler Vess Barnes “You really need to pave this driveway” for the umpteenth time, Roy volunteered Ves to pay for it. Vess wrote the check, and didn’t get anything for his generosity other than a few mentions like this.

Publicity isn’t advertising.

It is marketing, however. Publicity is marketing in one of its most powerful forms. In terms of creating top-of-mind awareness it can be priceless.

What are your publicity opportunities? Will you have the courage to pursue them?

Do you have your own publicity triumphs? Hit the “comment” button and share with the rest of us.

Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who works with professional practices and owner operated businesses. Questions about using publicity to boost sales may be directed to