I am very likely dating myself here but…remember Peter Brady of the TV show The Brady Bunch? There was at least one episode where he was following his family around, badgering them for a good story, playing ace reporter “Scoop.”
Whenever I talk about public relations and small businesses, I always try to summon up the image of “Scoop.”
Because one thing a lot of owners forget is that a public relations flow of information is symbiotic. It’s a two way street. They need fodder for their stories and content just as badly as you need PR. Maybe even more so!
PR is invaluable. Not only is reading your business’ name in the context of an article more compelling and trustworthy for your brand – it’s free!
Unlike the dollars and cents required to push advertising out there, a good PR push doesn’t cost anything.
Well, I say that, but it does cost something. It costs time. Much like the “free-ness” of social media, leveraging PR is something that takes time to set up correctly.
Let me walk you through the basics of getting your PR engine started up, even if you’re a beginner. Especially if you’re a beginner!
Stuff Your Blog
You wouldn’t walk up to a reporter and try to convince them to write about you if you didn’t even have a business card to hand them, would you? How can you possibly be trusted as a viable, smart industry leader that deserved to be quoted?
Well, if you try to pitch yourself online as a thought leader before you have a real, robust online presence, you’re going to get yourself ignored.
Before you begin to reach out and convince folks to write about you, you need to ‘prove yourself’ via a few (I say at least ten) thoughtful, interesting blog posts.
Basically, if you put a lot of effort into reaching out and getting the attention of a potentially influential writer, expect them to check out your URL first.
If it’s a barren wasteland of content, they might doubt that you’re the “world class” expert you claimed to be. And they might just leave and never come back.
But if you give them something more to read and like on your site, it can do the heavy lifting for you! A great blog can really help convince them that you’re a source worth at least quoting. Do it right and they may even feature you!
List Your Credentials
Somewhere on your site you also need to list any awards, certifications, press mentions and badges of distinction. Again, these are trust signals that the media is going to sniff out before they even think of covering you.
How you list these out depends mainly on how many awards and certifications you have to brag about! If you’ve been featured in trade magazines and have won a bunch of awards, you might want to put them on your own separate “Press & Awards” page.
However, if you’re a relative newbie to the scene and you don’t yet have all that…don’t worry. You can and should still list anything you can think of on your About Us page.
Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, official certifications you may hold. Basically, any simple reassurance that you are a true blue professional in this space.
Get to Know the Pub
Now that you have beefed up your blog and posted all your reassuring certifications, it must be time to start tapping the shoulders of reporters. Right?
Wrong. Before you ever reach out and try to pitch a particular outlet, you need to know a lot about them. This means taking the time to read. Actually read.
Go back and get a sense of what they have covered in the last few weeks or last few months. Make note of what topics they cover and when. This is their editorial calendar and it is priceless.
By knowing their editorial calendar, not only will you know when to pitch certain stories but you’ll avoid pitching the wrong kinds of topics to them. This is something most reporters find insulting and if you do it once, you might not ever get a second chance with them.
So really familiarize yourself with the kind of content that publication is likely going to cover.
Stalk Their Current Beat
Okay, so now is it time to pitch the reporter? Almost…but not quite. Now that you have familiarized yourself with the publication itself it’s time to ‘stalk’ a writer or two.
Of course I don’t mean literally. But I do mean online. Find out if there’s a theme in what kind of topics they cover. Usually it’s pretty easy to do this. Just check out their byline. Many times it’s clickable.
Click on it and everything that writer has written before should be pulled up. Take the time to read their work. This accomplishes three things.
First of all, you will know what they are – and aren’t – likely to be interested in writing about.
Secondly, you will be able to flatter them when you reach out by telling them you loved their recent piece on XYZ.
Throw in a few details so they know you really read it and didn’t just skim it.
And finally, by immersing yourself in their work, you will get to know the tone and rhythm of how they write.
This is invaluable because that can help you choose the tone and rhythm of your pitch! Writers write the way they do because that’s the kind of tone they themselves like to read. Or at least they respect that kind of writing.
Mirror this in your pitch and you are upping your chances of catching their eye even more.
Follow Them on Twitter
We’re almost there. Almost to the “reach out and touch someone” part. One more step.
Follow your ideal reporters on Twitter. Again, you’ll get a great sense of who they are and what is important to them.
Better still, very often a reporter will tweet out a request for sources for a story! Be there when they do! If you follow the right reporters – and enough of them – your Twitter feed could be chock full of great PR opportunities that you get first crack at!
Here’s a great site called MuckRack that will help you find and follow your faves.
Pitch a Specific Story – Not A Press Release
By now, you should be an absolute expert in what that specific reporter, that publication, likes.
So why on earth would you send a boilerplate, boring press release? Instead, zero in on a specific story angle and pitch that. Press releases are usually so dry, so old school that they get tossed in the virtual trash.
Who wants to slog through all that copy and rack their brains for how to turn it into a viable, interesting story for their readers. No one.
So do the work for them! Put together a list of potential headlines and angles for them. Make them interesting and again, write them in the same tone as the writer usually uses.
You’ll greatly increase your chances of getting “picked up” if you can help that writer visualize how it will look once it’s written.
One warning: don’t try to do too much for them. If you pre-write the whole story and pitch it completed to them, a lot of journalists will be offended.
They will think you are trying to get them to plagiarize your work or they simply will be put off by something that leaves them no room to ‘put their mark’ on it.
So stick to a headline and a one or two sentence summary of that that proposed article could be about. Give them a few options so they feel involved in the process.
Load Them Up
Again, in the spirit of making it as easy as possible for them to cover you, consider sending them everything they need to make a great story.
If they like your pitch but then need to source images, etc. to support it, they may consider it too much trouble and simply pass.
However, if you accompany your pitch with a .zip file of useful assets: video clips, low and high res photos, pre-signed photo releases, you have given them everything they need to put together that story.
All the puzzle pieces are ready to go, without them having to chase it down.
Pro Tip: Readers love infographics and writers know this. If it’s in your budget, hire an infographic artist to create a related infographic to send along with your pitch. It could be that one extra push to have a writer reply to you and ask permission to reprint it.
Do you have a PR plan? Is it working? What difficulties have you found ‘breaking through’? If you’ve successfully garnered some PR before, how did you do it? Any tricks to share in the comments below?
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