PR agencies are ridiculously expensive. Luckily, doing your own PR for your business isn’t that hard.
This year, either my business or myself personally have been featured in 3 separate local publications, 2 local TV news spots, a radio spot, and an insert in the nationally syndicated USA Today.
One of the spots in a local business publication was titled “Renowned social media expert offers class to local students”. Talk about some great PR!
Another was a personal interest piece related to advocacy and philanthropy work I do in early childhood education. You’ll notice it barely even mentioned my business. That’s important and we’ll talk about it below.
In addition, I’ve gotten clients featured as well as my daughter’s preschool. Total time and effort to do all of this? Less than 10 hours.
What Doesn’t Work
So here is what most budget PR firms do and I recommend that you not do:
- Have mass emailing lists of journalists and other media contacts. Mass emails are one of the quickest ways to get your PR article ignored.
- Use PR wires and other outdated techniques. These can cost $400 or more for a single wire. And guess what? Most of them syndicate to junk sites or sites where the story is only posted temporarily. These add little to no value to your business.
- They write multiple pieces per week and basically just spam the wires and their email lists of journalists. This will more or less blacklist you with anyone on the list.
Now, not every PR firm follows such generic protocols. But if they’re really running more tailored PR, their costs will reflect that and be out of reach of any but the largest clients.
So far this year, we’ve gotten every single piece of PR we pushed published by a respectable outlet. That’s right. Every single one.
So, how did we do it?
Don’t Promote Yourself
Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Isn’t the entire point of PR to promote you and your company?
Actually, no. Great PR simply gets you in front of people on topics of your choosing.
First and foremost, great PR is a story. The focus is not your company, it’s your story.
The worst PR pieces are those awful articles that simply state Company A was acquired by Company B. Or Company A has hired so and so. Nobody cares.
The only reason a piece like that would even see the light of day is if it’s a really large company like Microsoft and the publication 1) thinks it may get some traction and 2) they have some space to fill because they’ve got nothing else that week.
I always write interesting stories. When you look at your piece, think “Would I want to read this if I didn’t work for my company?” Since you can be more than a little biased, have someone else read it who doesn’t work for your company as well and get their feedback.
If it doesn’t peak your and their interest as a story, it’s not good enough to submit.
When you make the story the center of the piece, it’s extremely likely to get published. Especially if you’ve done your research and have written something related to other pieces that are regularly published by that outlet and journalist.
Know Your Publication & Do Your Research
What kind of stories does your publication like? Are they local interest stories, stories of business success, focused on innovative technologies?
Every time I submit an article, I peruse other articles both in that publication and by the journalist writing in the section of the paper I’d like to get into.
Then I match my article in style and focus to that template. Extremely important here is that I never mass email journalists. I tailor the submission of each piece to align with that publication or journalist’s focus.
And that’s easy. It usually requires less than 5 minutes of editing per submission.
Know Your Journalist
Most media outlets have online submission forms, but these are rarely the best way to go. It’s highly likely that the outlet also has a staff section where it’ll list all journalists, the area(s) they cover, and their contact information.
It’s always better to email the journalist directly and to then personalize that email.
If the outlet does not have contact information listed for individual journalists, then try to find them by just reviewing the articles and see who is usually attributed as the writer. You can still address a general submission to a specific person to make sure it gets forwarded on.
Finally, if all that fails, address it to the specific section of the outlet. For example, Dear Local Business Reporter. This again makes sure the article is forwarded immediately to the right person.
Whoever oversees the general submission inbox is often looking at hundreds of submissions a day, so you want to make their job easy by letting them know who to send it to without even having to peruse the submission.
Engage the Journalist
Never, never, never just submit with only the article attached. Always address the journalist by name and, in 1-2 sentences, explain why this piece is relevant and of value to them and the outlet they write for.
It’s also extremely helpful to build personal relationships. The easiest way to do this? Twitter!
Every journalist is on Twitter these days and they are encouraged to interact with readers. So this is a no-brainer in terms of getting to know someone.
This helps both because they already know you and should have positive feelings towards you, but you also get to know them and what kind of stories will interest them.
These can also develop into real life relationships. Over time, I’ve gotten to know a couple journalists in my area, which definitely helps.
Remember the Basics
There are a couple PR standards when submitting an article as well. Story is important, but if that story doesn’t fit the proper formatting, it’ll still be rejected.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Written in API style for most publications these days. If you’re not sure what style they write in, you can double check this by looking at their current stories. A trick I use is to look at the title. If none of the beginnings of words after the first one in the title capitalized are capitalized, then you can be sure they use API style. An example for this article would be, “How to get great PR without spending a dime”.
- Include at least 1 quote from someone important or close to the story. This quote must be verifiable, so the best ones are from you yourself, as the journalist can be sure you’ve OKed the quote.
- Include pictures whenever possible. I always try to include 2-3 pictures and let the journalists choose the one they prefer.
- Make sure you’ve double and triple-checked grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Don’t just do this yourself. Always have a 2nd pair of eyes take a look.
The entire point of the above is to make it as little work as possible to publish your piece. Journalists are often extremely busy and under tight deadlines. If they see a piece come across their table that fits their area of oversight, they’re often extremely happy to publish for you.
It just makes their job easier and that’s exactly what you want to do. Because, the next time you send them something, they’ll remember you and think, “Great, this article will be on point and I won’t have to spend time editing, sourcing quotes, or finding a picture”.
On the flip side, if they see missing quotes or even one grammatical error, they may not even bother to read the piece in-depth because it’s too much work and they just don’t have time.
Plus, the next time you email them, they’ll have this preformed judgement and may not even bother to open it at all!
Put Yourself in the Right Place
OK, full disclosure here. The TV spot I got on? That had nothing to do with my company. I was simply at an event where we were doing a service project for homeless veterans.
However, I knew ahead of time that the local TV station would be there. Of course, I would have been there even if a TV crew wasn’t coming, but you get the point. Go where the stories are.
My daughter and I also appeared eating ice-cream on TV for a spot about revitalizing an older area of town. How did we get that spot? I have a great relationship with the person in charge of the revitalization project and she loves my daughter.
So when they were told they were getting a TV spot, they called us in to be included in the segment.
I’ve also been quoted in the paper by being in places where important events are happening. If you know who the journalists are that will be attending the event (again, Twitter is a great resource for this!), you can sit next to them.
They’ll always need a quote, so you can work to make sure you’re one of the people they ask. They may even take your picture to put next to the quote.
So you might be saying, “So what if I get featured in something not related to my business?” You’d be thinking wrong. These are the perfect pieces to amplify.
Amplify, Amplify, Amplify
The focus isn’t about your or your business, but they’re stories that people care about. We can take the video of me packing bags for homeless vets and push that out through our Facebook page as an ad. A simple headline like “Proud to see our CEO helping homeless vets in our area” or “We care for our community. Proud to see our CEO being so involved”.
These style of ads can get great traction. You can even include them in your newsletters to current and potential clients.
As strange as it may sound, amplifying stories about your business that aren’t actually related to your business can produce some great results.
Of course, you still want to amplify stories about your business just as much. It’s simply important to keep in mind that even seemingly unrelated PR can have a very positive effect on your business when amplified in the right way.
A Dollar a Day
If you know Dennis Yu, you’ll know about his fantastic dollar a day strategy. One great way to use this is to create a saved audience in Facebook of all journalists or employees at publications you’d like to be featured in.
For a dollar a day, you can keep getting in front of these journalists and you may see your story get picked up by more than one outlet. The media re-share great stories all the time. Again, it’s easy for them and they love it, especially if they know the story is already getting a lot of traction.
The point is, using digital marketing techniques, amplification of PR does not have to be expensive.
I don’t shoot off PR pieces all the time. I write and send them only when I know we have a story worth telling AND it matches with the focus of publications I want to be in.
In total, I’ve submitted 6 pieces of PR this year and all 6 got published. I also don’t send them to the same publications each time. I send them to the ones I think will really like the story.
If you follow these tips and strategies, I guarantee that you’ll see positive results and you can do it all without spending much time or money.
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