If you run a startup or small business, chances are you spend a good amount of time reading about other startups on websites like Inc. or TechCrunch. That’s a good thing – finding out how other companies are achieving success is a great strategy for moving your business forward. But what if instead of reading about other startups, you could read about your own?
That’s where PR comes in. While it’s easy to spend thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on a PR firm, there’s plenty you can do on your own to help raise your company’s profile and get some much-needed attention for your startup. The key is to do your research and present your company in a compelling, easy to understand the story to the right media professionals.
What Is PR?
PR, or public relations, is an overarching term that covers the art and science of how the public perceives, understands, and interacts with your business. Generally, this happens through news and media outlets – large, traditional news outlets like the NY Times, large culture sites like BuzzFeed or Mashable, and also smaller regional news sites or blogs. PR firms work to influence public opinion of a company by running campaigns attempting to garner attention and reporting from these sites, but you don’t need a PR firm to launch a PR campaign – all you need is a well-crafted pitch and a well-executed campaign.
Define Your Goals
Before investing time and money into generating PR for your business, you should understand why you’re doing it in the first place. Are you looking to generate leads, create business partnerships, or raise brand awareness? Are you trying to do this in a specific geographic market, or are you trying to reach a certain demographic? Do you want the people you engage with the campaign to take some specific action, such as clicking a link or making a purchase, or is it more about getting your name and story out there? Having answers to these questions and concrete goals for your PR campaign will help to inform what media outlets you target and how you run the PR campaign.
Build Your Media List
First thing’s first – if you want journalists to pay attention to you, you’ll need to start reaching out to them, and to do that, you’ll need to know which journalists to go after. An effective tool in directing your search is to build a “media list”: a list of the journalists and media outlets you’re going to target in your PR campaign.
To start building your media list, think about the news outlets you’d like to get featured in as well as which media outlets might be interested in your business. While it’s tempting to dream of a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal, in most cases, it’ll be more effective to go after smaller sites first – think about specific niche websites, local news journals, and specialty blogs that might be interested in your business and your story.
Come up with a few of these media outlets, then browse their websites. What kinds of stories do they usually cover? Have they done features on businesses before? What kinds of businesses do they feature, and what do those features look like?
If, based on this research, the site seems like it might be a good fit, start browsing for individual journalists. On most websites, the name of the author is listed on each article along with a link to their bio page. Read up on their bio and take a look at what other articles they’ve published. Based on their past history, do you think they’d be interested in covering your business? If so, add them to your media list.
When creating an entry in your media list for a journalist, try to add in as much useful detail as possible. Include previous stories they’ve done, what topics they tend to cover, and any interesting personal details you can glean from their bio. These will come in handy when you’re crafting your pitches.
While you’re at it, try to find a way to contact them and include that in your media list. Many authors list an email on their bio, and some even tell you how they prefer being pitched – but if you can’t find that, there may be other methods to get in contact with them that I’ll touch on later.
Make the Perfect Pitch
Once you’ve built out your media list, it’s time to get to the meat of your PR campaign: pitching journalists and bloggers. But that doesn’t just mean telling them who you are and what your business does.
To pitch well, you need to tell them a story. The most effective pitches aren’t just lists of dry facts like customer numbers or adoption rates, but colorful narratives that show how your startup has grown from a simple garage operation to a formidable force in the startup community, or how you saw a problem no one else did and you’re solving it with an innovative, effective business model. Think hard about what makes your business different and what makes your story compelling, then craft your pitch around that.
Your pitch shouldn’t just be about you or your company, though: it should really be about the journalist. Sure, it would help you if they did a story on your company, but what’s in it for them? If you can show them how covering your business would provide value to them or an interesting story to their readers, they’re more likely to cover you.
Another great tip is to add engaging content to your pitch. Consider making an infographic to tell your story or explain your product, as these are highly sticky and engaging ways of communicating information. If you don’t have strong graphic design skills, free infographic creation tools like Canva, Venngage, or Piktochart can come in handy – or, if you’d like to outsource the project, you could hire a designer for cheap on Fiverr.
Craft Custom Outreach Emails
Writing a generic pitch template is a good idea, but just sending boilerplate emails to journalists all day will get you nowhere. Even if it’s small, adding a personal, customized touch to each pitch – one that’s based on the specific journalist or media outlet you’re pitching to – is a must-have for effective outreach.
This is where that research on author bios and previous stories comes in handy. Have they recently done an article related to your business or industry? If so, this might be a great follow up the story for them. Do they list a quirk or interest in their bio? You can use that to create an engaging first line in your outreach email.
A Note On the Nuances of Gmail
While not everyone uses Gmail, it’s pretty widespread, and you can use the workings of Gmail’s user interface to your advantage. If you use Gmail or another email service that provides a text preview of the email contents, you might have noticed that next to the subject line of an email, there’s a snippet of the first bit of text for the body of the email. In Gmail, it looks like this:
You can use this to your advantage by writing compelling subject line & preview text combinations. Let’s look at two examples – the first isn’t optimized for subject line & preview text combination, and the second is.
See the difference? If you intentionally write the first line of the email to build off the subject line, you can create a more effective “hook” to get the journalist to open the email and pay attention to you. It’s a small tip, but if used effectively, it can help – and you can try A/B testing different subject line/preview text combinations to find out what works best for you.
Take Advantage of Tools
Even if you’re running a one-person operation, you don’t have to do this alone. While you can pay plenty of money for a PR firm to run a campaign for you, there are also free or inexpensive PR tools that can do wonders for your business. Consider these when planning out and executing your PR campaign:
- HARO: HARO, or Help A Reporter Out, reverses the PR process by letting journalists come to you. Signing up for their free email list puts a curated list of inquiries into your inbox three times a day, each one filled with reporters looking for quotes and stories from business experts. It takes an initiative to monitor the lists for relevant queries, but looking diligently can lead to some great connections and placements.
- Pressfarm: Pressfarm gives you the emails of over 250 journalists for just $9. This can be a huge help for getting in touch with journalists, but be careful – do some research on every journalist before your reach out to make sure they welcome unsolicited pitches, and customize your outreach emails carefully. Being a nuisance won’t help anyone.
- Muck Rack: You can think of Muck Rack like Pressfarm on steroids: it’s a more powerful, souped up journalist search tool that allows you to optimize the process of networking with journalists and building your PR network over the long term. It takes time to use effectively and the license isn’t cheap, so this may be a better option if you’ve got someone on your team who can dedicate themselves to the PR process.
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
While it should never be your only marketing channel, PR can do wonders for your startup, and in rare cases, it can catapult you into massive growth. You don’t have to spend every waking moment emailing journalists, but sending out a half hour’s worth of outreach, every day, can eventually yield big results. Although it’s rare for a company to get a high-value feature on a big news outlet out of the blue, working on simple, slow-growth PR is a great way to raise your company’s profile and grow your company’s profits easily, inexpensively, and sustainably.