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What is publicity?

Publicity “is the activity of making certain that someone or something attracts a lot of interest or attention from many people, or the attention received as a result of this activity” (Cambridge Dictionary). It generally refers to generating coverage in the media. It could be the result of a proactive media relations campaign by an individual or an organisation. Or it could be an external event that has created publicity about a company, organisation or individual, which is unplanned.


Why is it relevant?

“There is no such thing as bad publicity”, is an old adage adhered to by old-school Hollywood starlets, through to reality TV stars of today and links to the idea that if you want to be well known, then it doesn’t matter if the attention that you receive is negative or positive – it all puts the spotlight on you and increases your profile (or notoriety). This may apply to you if you are a celebrity, but for organisations, especially NGOs/not-for-profits or voluntary organisations publicity (or media coverage) can be useful, but should be used judiciously and not at the cost of your reputation.


A moment in the spotlight

Publicity can be used to your benefit, in a similar way to promotion , in that it can help boost your profile, raise awareness of your organisation and can be part of a wider communications strategy to, for example: 

  • Raise awareness/drive change of an issue you are campaigning on
  • Call for volunteers
  • Drive donations/increase funding


How to approach publicity for your organisation/movement?

Publicity is generally the result of a wider media relations strategy and should not be undertaken in isolation. Some elements to consider before seeking to get publicity for your organisation/event/campaign:

  • Is it newsworthy?
  • Which media will be interested?
  • What tactics would work best to attract the media (for example, a protest/demonstration; press release; event; PR event; a study/research on a relevant topic etc)


Practical tips

  • Consider offering one media outlet an exclusive – meaning that they are the only outlet you are “offering” this news to.
  • Check out our article on “pitching” 
  • Do your research on the media before trying to get media coverage – find the right media outlets and the right journalists at those outlets. Actually read that magazine/newspaper and articles by the journalists you are considering approaching, this will help you to frame your story to make it more relevant for them and will help avoid contacting them about something that is not of interest.
  • Read more in our article on Media Relations


Bad publicity and avoiding it

As mentioned above, publicity should not be sought at any cost. Occasionally for most organisations, something happens that is unforeseen – for example, this could be an accident during an activity, or reports of inappropriate behaviour. The media may be tipped off about this and contact you for more information. You should have in place a Crisis Communications Plan, which means you will be prepared for difficult situations like these and know in advance, step-by-step, the protocol for your reaction and how to minimise negative media coverage and ensure that the organisation’s reputation is not unduly damaged.


Some crisis comms good practice:

  • Remain as open as possible with the journalist – never lie or hide the truth
  • Find out the facts as soon as possible
  • In the meantime, draft a “line to take” (a very short factual statement) for the media, which lays out the situation at present and what you, as an organisation, are doing about it, which might be for example “The situation is X. We are currently urgently establishing the facts and ensuring that the authorities / the families are informed. We cannot comment more at this time.” 


Photo of Sarah Farndale
Sarah Farndale

Sarah is a communications specialist with 15 years' experience working in-house for a wide range of organisations and institutions, from international NGOs to EU associations and institutions. More recently, she has been advising clients as a freelance communications consultant - based in Brussels - working with organisations on enhancing their communications.