It’s something every entrepreneur hopes to get for their business, but also something many find elusive.
Having worked on numerous B2B and consumer tech accounts in various stages – from startup to Fortune 500 – I’ve learned that for many businesses, PR is still a mystery. You see competitors in the press and you can’t figure out the magic formula to make it happen for you.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. For most entrepreneurs, PR is a work in progress. Unless you’re working on a big launch, which are not regular occurrences, it’s about building a long-term relationship with media outlets and the appropriate reporters.
Below are six strategies to keep in mind when looking to get your name in the press, and five tools to help you make it happen.
1. Know Who You’re Pitching
I’ve never believed in the spray and pray method. That is, sending a pitch out to more than 50 reporters with the assumption that one or two are bound to bite.
From what I can tell, most reporters can smell a generic, blasted out pitch by the time they reach the second sentence. It’s not realistic to assume that even five reporters cover the exact same beat and have the exact same writing style, much less all 50 of them.
Make sure you research each reporter you’re reaching out to individually. Read past coverage, follow them on Twitter and see what kinds of articles they’re sharing and retweeting, read their bio, etc. Tailor each email you send.
Going that extra mile will yield greater results. You’ll send fewer emails, but your response rate will increase dramatically. Even if it’s a, “Sorry, I’m not interested.” Hey, you learn from those responses, too, right?
2. Have the Story Already Written in Your Head
Before you pitch a journalist, you need to formulate and understand your story, and be able to communicate what is newsworthy about it.
It’s just like coming up with a unique selling proposition or value proposition.
Imagine the headline and have the outline of the article laid out. Remember, you’re selling the reporter the story, so you can’t expect them to come up with all of the ideas. Reporters are busy people and the more you can spoon feed them, the better.
Plus, having the story ready helps create a win-win situation. Ask yourself what your pitch is doing for the reporter.
It’s always best to be short and concise in your pitch. Again, they’re busy people. Efficiently communicate the who, what, when, where and why (they should care).
3. Offer an Exclusive
Reporters, like everyone else, love a competitive advantage. If you’re looking to garner coverage in a tier one business publication, like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, going the exclusive route may be the best strategy.
By offering an exclusive, that specific reporter has the first right of refusal. An exclusive also guarantees that they will break the story ahead of any other outlet. You just have to make good on this deal, otherwise you’ll likely burn this bridge and any future opportunities with the publication / reporter.
Again, this creates a win-win scenario. You won’t get anywhere by making your pitch all about you and your company.
Once the exclusive goes live, you can issue the press release across the wire and cast a wider net, reaching out to other reporters who would be interested in covering the news. Be sure to do this quickly because no one wants to chase a story 12 hours later.
4. Throw an Event
Everyone loves free food and drinks, right? Reporters are no different. Whether it’s a store opening, a launch of a new product line or a pop-up shop, throwing an event and inviting a few local journalists to attend is a small investment that can result in a big ROI.
Now, the event doesn’t have to be a grandiose affair (like Kylie’s), but should be closed off from the general public. And when the reporters arrive, there needs to be a greeter who can show them around, make introductions, etc.
If the reporter has a great time, they’ll be more likely to write a positive review, take meetings in the future and attend more events. Also remember that swag bags never hurt.
Be prepared for photo opportunities as media will often come to an event with a photographer. Smile, images help liven up a story.
And, of course, if you’re launching a new product, make sure to have product samples tastefully displayed and available for people to touch and feel.
When holding an event, it’s often helpful to create a media advisory that clearly illustrates the who, what, where and why of the event. You can then submit the media advisory to local news desks.
5. Focus on Relationship Building
A healthy relationship works both ways. It can’t always be about you and your company and your story. Get to know the reporter, what they’re interested in and what they’re currently working on.
It doesn’t always have to be something big. For example, if you receive an out of office and notice that a reporter is out on vacation, when you do reach them, ask them about it. Or, if you notice on their Twitter that they’ve admitted to having a weakness for a certain cookie brand, send them a box with a handwritten note.
Having said that, make sure to be tactful when using this approach as you don’t want to come across as sending a “bribe”. Be careful to avoid making the relationship feel transactional.
Just take a genuine interest in them and consider how writing about your company will benefit them. Can they tap into a new keyword? A new demographic that’s up-and-coming for their publication?
Reporters are evaluated based on eyeballs on the site, social shares, comments, reach, etc. Keep that in mind.
6. Piggyback on a Trend
Most reporters aren’t looking to a feature story on one company as it will seem too much like an advertisement. Instead, journalists are mostly looking to write larger trend pieces, so it is best to figure out how your story can fit into a larger theme.
Arguably, Poo-Pourri started the trend, but here they are mentioned in New York Magazine as part of a trends piece:
See if there is a hole in the market and consider how your company is filling that hole. For example, Beardbrand, an ecommerce company that sells beard-related products for men, was able to get themselves included in a New York Times article about the barbershop renaissance.
5 Tools for Getting PR
In order to pitch the right journalists, you first need to find them. Here are some tools to help you discover publications and reporters that cover your industry. And, you know, connect with them.
Followerwonk is a tool from the folks at Moz that lets you search Twitter bios (among other things).
For example, if you wanted to get covered by TechCrunch, you could search for “techcrunch” and then browse all Twitter accounts that contain that keyword in the bio section, sorted by number of followers.
Once you have a list, you then want to find which reporters have written about your industry or your competitors in the past, as they will be most likely to cover your story.
Price: $0-79 / mo.
2. Muck Rack
Muck Rack is an easy way to connect with journalists. You can find the right person to pitch by searching keywords, company names, competitors, beats, outlets, media types and more.
It also allows you to receive email notifications when journalists tweet or link to articles matching your search terms.
Price: It depends; need to request a quote.
Cision is a media database of 1.6 million contacts that provides information on reporters, including: location, email, phone number, areas of focus, etc.
You can easily generate lists based on reporter beats, helping you to find the most appropriate targets.
Price: It depends; need to request a quote.
ProfNet connects journalists to sources and vice versa.
When a journalist is writing a story and needs an expert source, they submit their inquiry to ProfNet and it then gets distributed to a list of subscribers.
It’s a great way to stay informed on current stories that reporters are writing as well.
Price: It depends; need to request a quote.
5. HARO (Help a Reporter Out)
HARO is a service reporters can use to request information for a story. It’s similar to ProfNet, but since the basic subscription service is free, many reporters get inundated with pitches.
Again, it’s a great way to stay current on any stories that reporters are writing, but due to the volume of responses they receive, it is crucial that the pitch provides exactly what they requested.
Price: $0-149 / mo.
In the end, PR isn’t a science. It’s more about relationship building and really understanding who you’re pitching and the demographic you’re trying to reach.
No matter what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s selling clothes online, trying to get investors for your startup or simply earning media coverage for your business, providing a personal touch and catering to your audience will help you achieve your goal.
Press coverage doesn’t have to be elusive. Just stop relying on the spray and pray approach. It’s time to get purposeful.