Everything You Need To Know About PR To Do It Yourself

Before you go shopping for someone to do the work for you, consider these public relations tips and start marketing yourself.

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:

What is PR?

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Some ground rules

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.

Be Your Own PR Agent

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.

Hi,

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
1) psychotherapists,
2) librarians, and
3) activists.

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/

Cheers,
XX

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.

A few cautionary notes if you decide to tackle this yourself

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.

[Image: Flickr user Joe Shlabotnik]

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13 Comments

  • Thank you for this article, I really like the sense of empowerment it provides. PR people can be scary and expensive, plus they have their own reputation and 'patches' to consider and just another corner cupcake store is not what they need. But the good news is with this DIY method, there is no embarrassment or expense for anyone, it just needs the business owner to have a go. From my experience, the system you outlined is perfect and again it just takes time and effort to do it, correct it, master it. Thanks for the empowerment! Brenda Addie.

  • Joan Stewart

    I love the Ellen example.

    But the pitch above sounds like a one-size-fits all cookie cutter pitch that the writer could have pasted from the clipboard into two dozen individual emails to reporters or bloggers. It can be improved two ways:

    --Personalize the pitch by using the recipient's name in the salutation. I get dozens of pitches a week. If a pitch does not include my name, my company name, my website URL or any other detail that's unique to me, I'm less interested.

    --Let the recipient know you know about their topic. If you're pitching a mom blogger, mention a blog post she wrote that ties into the topic of kids' names. Study the blog and find something---anything---that will let the blogger know you've taken the time to do your homework. If she writes about her kids, and you know her son's name, and you can tell her how common his name is according to you app, you've just hit it out of the park.

    This is time-consuming. But you'll see results. @PublicityHound

  • What you've outlined above is a description of a marketer. PR requires formal education and has a large research aspect that is often forgotten. I write this in a non-aggressive tone: Articles like this hold back the profession as a whole.

    Not everyone should do PR; the reason PR doesn't have an entrance barrier like fields that require accreditation is because of the Bill of Rights. While I understand that this was an article meant to encourage anyone to get their hands in there and save some money, my reaction reading this as a PR professional would be the same as a doctor reading an article called "Everything you need to know to do facial reconstruction yourself."

    I encourage anyone who wants to know more about the field to read a book like Effective Public Relations by San Diego State's Glenn Broom, among others. I'd be happy to share more with anyone interested in doing things properly, give me a tweet and I'll offer any advice I can or answer any questions. @Baldini1

  • I think it's a little irresponsible (and frankly insulting) to say anyone can do PR. Believe me -- not at all true.

  • Hi AJ,

    I agree - and disagree. I think that with a coaching everybody can do it.

    This piece is a good start, but it really doesn't accurately portray the primary objective or PR is - to build mutually beneficial relationships.

    The authors also fall in to the trap they talk about - tossing it around with different meanings. They use PR and publicity at will - and the two are very different things. PR is about relationships, marketing is about getting people to take action, and publicity is about awareness.

    The PR industry likes to make out that not everybody can do it - but in reality I know more non-PR people that can do PR than I do so-called professionals.

    Best wishes,

    Lyndon Founder, http://thinkdifferently.ca

  • Edward Smith

    Excellent advice. I coach small businesses how to do their own publicity and I can tell you that you are giving people good advice. Doing your own PR can be a rewarding experience on so many levels. No one knows the reasons why the business should get coverage better than the business owner. Pitching these reasons is almost second nature to them. Some of the best pitches I have seen were based on the "elevator pitch" the business owner uses every day. Usually the only thing holding a small business owner back from doing their own publicity is a belief that they have to be "wired in" or that on the "big guys" can get coverage. The truth is that the media needs fresh stories as much as the small business owner needs coverage. The media has space to fill everyday and their audiences get tired of seeing the same old material. I can't urge the small business owner strongly enough to take your advice and start doing their own PR. Thanks, Edward Smith.

  • Edward, great to hear somebody else is doing this. I agree that the best person to understand their business is the founder/team members... more entrepreneurs need to understand this.

    But PR and publicity are very different - do you focus on relationships or awareness?

    Best wishes,

    Lyndon

  • Excellent article for the small restaurants out there. Of course as a restaurant marketing expert I think they should do it right and hire me, but handling your own PR, advertising, marketing, etc can be DIY. It seems like it's easy, but they'll soon find out that it should be put in the hands of a pro, or pros. However, if they have the time and want to take the risk this sets them in the right direction.

  • I appreciate these tips for the small businesses out there. However, I would say the emphasis here is on "Traditional PR." This isn't holistic public relations - which when you think about the definition for PR that you used. If an individual is going to take own managing their own PR, it shouldn't start with an email to a reporter, it should start with a strategy, a budget, and most importantly with goals in mind.

    Now I agree, anyone can do their own PR, but I think it is an unrealistic claim that everyone can do their own PR well. For any businesses going down this road, ask questions from people who do this professionally - most will offer advice and tips that will really help you (most PR pros won't try and sell you on their offering if you're just starting out - they probably are more focused on going after businesses that are taking an existing PR strategy to the next level).

  • Hi Jason,

    Explain the difference between traditional PR and holistic PR to me? I agree that PR shouldn't start with an email to a reporter - but it doesn't have to require a huge budget either.

    I agree that asking questions is the starting point - but make sure that the answers are in the context of your business, rather than generic, non-specific advice. Helping entrepreneurs do their own PR is what we do and I find that with some coaching and a good strategy most can do a better job of their own PR than had they used a traditional agency.

    Best wishes,

    Lyndon Founder, http://thinkdifferently.ca