There's a lot of misinformation surrounding public relations: Yes, it can be expensive, time-consuming, and it can all go horribly wrong if you're not smart about it. But, if you do it right, more people will learn about your company, and those folks are more likely to buy your products or services.
PR is something anyone can do; you just have to keep your head on straight and use your common sense. If you have news to tell, there's no reason you can't tell it yourself.
Here’s everything you need to know about PR to do the basics yourself:
Public relations is a term that gets tossed around often with different assumed meanings, so let's take a second to clarify what we mean by PR. To us, PR is the active maintenance of the perception and relationship between your company and the public.
To further clarify what we mean, here are some examples of when a business should use PR as a strategy:
- You have recently opened a cute, fancy cupcake place and you want to get the word out. You could pass out some flyers and hope for a few good Yelp reviews, or you could invite a reporter for the Sunday lifestyle section of your local paper to drop by for a tour and a tasting. Or, even better, you can wrangle a local news crew to film a local business story at your mediagenic shop.
- You have a software company and your product is finally ready for launch. You want publicity so that you can get some users to download what you’ve worked so hard on.
- A competitor opens up next door and they’re getting all the attention. You need to make sure that any mention of them includes a mention of you as well.
If you want to get press for the sake of getting press, you’re going to have a hard time. Reporters need news. Why? Because that’s what their readers need.
First rule: Have news.
Second rule: Don’t assume you’re going to get an article a week. Reporters are busy, no matter what publication they write for. They will write about you if you have a good story and if it supports their area of focus, but many won’t—or can’t—actually write about you every time you want them to.
Pick your best feature and pick the best timing. Your grand opening, company milestones, a huge customer win, funding, and launches are all good news hooks, but you need to be able to follow each of those up with a full narrative. You’re opening a gym? Great! Why? Is there a positive impact on the community? Do you have a great flab-to-fit story? Use it, love it, and own it.
Third rule: PR means potentially opening yourself up to attention and opinions you have no control over, and you need to know that you're ready for that.
There are plenty more rules to consider like spell checking your emails and press releases, scoping out your network for people who know people in media, and being respectful of everyone’s time. But if you keep the previous three in mind, you will be off to a good start. And you can always default to the golden rule: put yourself in the reporters' shoes and things will go more smoothly.
If DIY is your destiny, here’s what to do:
First, consider what the news is. Write down, very simply, what your news is and a very short (three to five bullets) list of the specific points you want to communicate to support your news.
This list should include:
- Why the news matters to anyone reading a story about your business
- What makes you the best option
- Why anyone should care
The hidden purpose of this short list is to be your guide through a conversation with a reporter. You don't get to write the articles yourself or choose the quotes that will be used, and this is all done through the ears and mind of another person, so you'll only have a few opportunities to get your talking points and quotes to stick in their mind.
Next, use your list to write your pitch. Don't put all the information in it, just enough to tease the reporter to take an interview with you. And don’t market to the media—they hate that.
Here's one of the best pitches I've ever seen from the entrepreneur standpoint. It has all the best qualities in a pitch: it's humble, accessible, to the point, and, most importantly, it's informative.
I'm a new dad / independent app developer living in Seattle and thought you might be interested in taking a look at or maybe even posting about a baby name research app I recently launched to Apple's App Store. It's got some really cool features (in my view) that I haven't seen anywhere else.
For example, it turns out that Ellen is a disproportionately common name for
2) librarians, and
Ellens also overwhelmingly lean toward the Democrat party and have tended to be most popular in the northeastern part of the U.S.
It's got info for thousands of names, all pulled from public records. Pretty fascinating stuff even if you're not a parent or parent-to-be.
Anyway, I hope you get a chance to check it out—please let me know if there's anything more I can tell you!
Here it is in the app store (or search for "Nametrix"): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nametrix/id583827076?mt=8
I've written a post on it in my dinky little blog in case you're interested in some background: http://www.hodgebodge.com/nametrix-1-4-released/
To summarize, your pitch should be informative, concise, and relevant. And again, spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck.
Once you have your pitch, you need to figure out who the relevant journalists are and then get their contact info. Finding out who is relevant is actually easy, but it does take some time and effort. Read, read, read, and then read some more. After a while, you'll see who the major players are in the conversation—those are your reporters.
Now you need their contact info, and you can find this in a couple of ways. First, you can check the online masthead for contact info or call the main number to see if they will provide an email address. Special note: don’t call the desk of the reporter unless you are supremely gifted in gab and love risk. Second, find a friend in PR and ask them if they have contact info. Or, third, check Google or LinkedIn.
Finally, send out your pitch. Chances are you’ll need to follow up. The best way is to reply to the original pitch with added detail or insight—essentially, another valuable piece of information that might pique the reporter’s interest. It’s a delicate juggle of being persistent and polite, but not pushy.
Always assume you are on the record, even if someone says this is off the record. Never, ever say something with a journalist in the room that you would not want written in print. This is a simple rule of thumb that will serve you well.
If you tend to choke in situations when asked direct or difficult questions or you just don't perform well in front of the camera, consider having another person in the company who performs better take the interview, or pay someone specifically for media training for yourself.
Finally, be interesting and be engaged. Let your excitement about your own business flow through and be palpably felt by the journalist. No need to jump on couches or anything—keep your energy at the same level as you would if you were talking to a customer.
Lastly, maintain your relationship with whatever reporters you talk to, whether they write about you or not. Don't be annoying, but forward them relevant and interesting information in your space so they know that they can call you if they need a quote. Coverage tends to turn into more coverage if you do this properly.
—Dave Llorens is a co-founder and CEO of 60-Day MBA, an online boot-camp that teaches everyday folks how to start a small business.
—Ashley Seashore is a director at Nectar Communications.