Be Controversial to Win Attention

By Kerry McDuling

13 April 2012 | 1 Comment

boxing gloves business peopleIt is no secret that the media loves controversy, simply because sensationalism sells!

It is therefore always a good idea to keep this in mind when generating your idea and composing your media release.

A controversial news item is by definition one that has the characteristics of a prolonged public debate, dispute or point of contention.

With this in mind, the type of news items that are controversial dispute something of common knowledge. They can also appeal to audience fear about a negative impact occurring if they fail to take a certain action or as the result of an unavoidable circumstance. For example, a controversial headline might be: ‘Most small businesses will not survive another Global Financial Crisis.’

Here are some tips that may be helpful when generating news items of a controversial nature:


As well as being controversial, your story also needs to be newsworthy. For example, you might be refuting an expert opinion or findings that has recently been or is commonly reported in the media (e.g., that chocolate is in fact healthy). Make sure you are able to back your statement up with clear facts or statistics from research you have undertaken.



Just because something is controversial, doesn’t mean it will be of interest to any readers, or have the desired outcome for you. So, if your business is an accountancy firm, contacting the media with a story about chocolate being healthy or cane toads being useful to gardeners wanting to grow frangipani trees is not relevant to a small-business audience. Your news needs to have an impact on your audience.


Controversial news items should also coincide with events. For example, a news item about chocolate around Easter, or small business failure around a worsening economy, or struggling home owners around an interest rate rise.

Offer a positive outcome


It is also important to offer a lifeline or positive outcome when presenting a negative or fear-based headline. For example, taking the small business angle presented earlier in this article, an accountant might provide the suggestion that small business owners ensure they have enough reserves or a back-up plan/exit plan in the case of a worsening economy, with some suggestions on how to do it. This also presents an opportunity to demonstrate expert knowledge and status.



The media view new research favourably, especially when refuting an item of common knowledge. If you have a good client database, create a short anonymous multiple choice survey with an incentive for completion. Remember to word the questions so that you can skew the results in favour of the result you would like to anticipate: e.g., Do you feel comfortable that your cash reserves are enough to tide you over in a lengthy downward economy?

Remember that you are not aiming to shock or create enemies – a little bit of controversy will go a long way.

Kerry McDuling


Kerry McDuling

Kerry McDuling

Kerry McDuling is the owner of McDuling PR and Stratosphere Me. Kerry, an experienced Journalist and PR Specialist, works effectively with business owners, teaching them how to powerfully brand themselves in the market and generate publicity and exposure as a result, that really works!

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