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Free Publicity

I just hate it when my natural skepticism and sarcasm get thwarted.

How am I supposed to make a living if I can't make fun of things?

Yes, that's a rhetorical question. There's always something stupid going on. I will never go hungry or not feel superior to someone.

Still, every now and then I get excited by something that seems completely ridiculous or an obvious scam/publicity stunt and it turns out that it may be legitimate.

Or is it?

I thought I had a good one last week. Then to my great disappointment, I thought I didn't. And now, upon second thought, maybe I did.

I don't know, but at the very least, there is a marketing lesson to be learned here.

The item last week was a news story that got national coverage. By that I mean, The Associated Press picked it up and news outlets around the country copied it verbatim and without question.

I, however, with my Spidey sense tingling, questioned it immediately.

The story was about a dentist in New Mexico offering to buy Halloween candy collected by kids for $1 a pound.

Many of the news stories began like this: "ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - An Albuquerque, New Mexico, dentist is hoping to get ahead in the fight against post-Halloween cavities with cash."

"Ha!" I laughed to myself (and probably out loud while people around me pretended not to notice). "This can't possibly be true."

What self-respecting child is going to give up hard-earned Halloween candy? Do you walk for hours in costume just to make a buck? Have you tried taking a Snickers bar away from a child?

Of course not! This is obviously a publicity stunt to promote this dental practice. There will be no mass release of chocolate from custody.

What happened, I thought, was that a dentist managed to get a huge amount of publicity - nationally! - for doing nothing except putting out a press release.

This is genius.

Then I read the rest of the story and was told that the dentist collected more than 1,000 pounds of candy last year and donated it to a troops-support group.


Have I become too cynical?

Maybe this is an honest effort to do something good - saving the teeth of small children while rotting the teeth and expanding the waistlines of our soldiers (who yet again place themselves in harm's way to protect our country).

Yet somehow the Spidey sense was still tingling. Why?

I did what any writer too lazy to do real research would do: I Googled this tale.

Sure enough, lots of media picked up the dentist's offer.

But as far as I could tell, there were no stories of a similar offer - or a 1,000-pound candy haul - last year.

You'd think someone might have noticed.

I should note here that the dentist's Facebook page does mention the candy buyback last year - and supposedly it's been happening for nine years now (which makes it weird that it's a news story now). But there's no boast of a 1,000-pound haul.

So maybe this tale is true and maybe it isn't. What matters, though, is what we can learn from this.

True or not, this is an inspired low-cost marketing technique that you can use for your practice.

Do something that sounds like a great public service that costs you practically nothing, and reap the publicity rewards.

How can law firms emulate this?

Offer free wills to dying children.

Send out associates to volunteer at nursing homes. (See, for example, "Better Call Saul.")

Give away free bags of groceries in exchange for bags of drugs.

National publicity is there for the taking.

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