Do-It-Yourself PR for the Startup and Small Business Owner
It’s harder than ever for startups and small businesses to secure funding, and public relations agencies can be really expensive. How can you get the word out about your business without paying a consultant?
I’m just a junk man who stumbled upon the benefits of earned media early and the impact on each of my businesses has been huge. These are my best tips for a DIY approach to getting free press.
Tip 1: You know your story best
Early on, we invested in hiring storytellers — sales people who knew how to pick up the phone and tell our story to reporters. I realize now that this is a critical move for any growing startup: hiring people who understand your company and what makes it special , and leveraging their sales skills into top tier media opportunities.
Keeping things in-house can also amount to considerable savings. A good PR agency will charge up to $5,000 a month if you’re a small company with limited needs and up to $50,000 or more if you’re a big company that wants to own the ink in your industry.
Tip 2: Make your pitch count
Even if you think your company has a great story, how do you contact the media? It can be as easy as a phone call — but you’ve got to be prepared. Before you reach out, focus on your angle: Why are you different, special or interesting? Why should people care about your company? Answering those questions is essential to a successful pitch.
When I landed my first story, it was because the reporter got hooked on the ‘high school dropout’ angle. If I hadn’t found a way to stick out from the crowd, he probably would have sent me to the advertising department.
Knowing the style and favorite subjects of the reporter you’re approaching is also paramount. If you read an article in The Wall Street Journal that catches your eye contact that writer. He or she might just be interested in what you have to say, too.
Once you’ve got those two things nailed down, pick up the phone. Sending an email is easier (and less scary), but a phone call brings enthusiasm and energy to a story that might otherwise be lost in a journalist’s jam-packed inbox. Make a real connection and tell them why your story should be their next assignment.
Expert tip: If a journalist shuts you down on the phone, ask, “What would turn this into a story?” They might just give you the feedback you need to make your next pitch a success.
Tip 3: Make yourself part of the conversation
Getting an interview or profile in the paper or on the evening news isn’t the only way to get media coverage. Sometimes you’ve got to get a little more creative. Figure out what everybody’s talking about, and insert yourself in the conversation. It’s about creating a timely connection between your brand and the world around you. Read the newspaper looking for ways to capitalize on trends and other breaking news.
Our best examples of this happened during a Vancouver Canucks NHL playoff run one year. The media was hungry for stories about the series and fan culture, so we pulled up in front of the stadium with a junk truck filled with 1,000 blue wigs. Soon, everybody was wearing them and the media had to know why.
Tip 4: Never underestimate relationships
The best way to ensure continued coverage of your brand is to cultivate real relationships with people in media. Pick up the phone, knock on doors and start building real connections with the professionals who determine what gets covered (and what gets ignored).
Even if a phone call doesn’t pay off now, getting your name in the mix can be valuable later. That’s how I wound up on Oprah more than ten years ago. We pitched her production company on and off for years without success. Then, one day they needed a source and we were top-of-mind. The moment I got to go on air with O herself helped us enter an exciting phase of hyper-growth.
At the end of the day, effective PR starts with you. To get coverage, you have to make the first move, whether that’s contacting a journalist or finding a creative way to work yourself into a news trend. Yes, there are outside professionals who can do all of this for you. But they don’t come cheap, and they won’t be able to replicate the passion and energy that makes you and your story awesome.