How to Get Free Coverage for an Unknown Project on 70 Media Sites
In April 2019, we were contacted by the representatives of Melaka Straits City, a blockchain-enabled city under construction on the west coast of Malaysia.
The project needed to attract investments, so our objective was to create media awareness around it. We needed to get people talking about Melaka Straits City.
The key task was to get at least five publications in one week on websites with a cumulative number of monthly visitors of at least 125 million. We managed to deliver five times that number. Read on to find out how we did it.
The starting conditions
As of April 2019, Google offered nothing when searching for Melaka Straits City. Before contacting us, the project was presented at only two events. If we pictured those search results on a map, it would look blank.
- Project manager, who was responsible for communicating with the client and tracking progress.
- PR specialist, who prepared content and supervised publications.
- Editor, who created the press release itself.
Step 1: Preparation
Getting to know the project
We held a briefing session with the client and studied the materials they sent us, including the white paper and a pitch deck with a detailed description of Melaka Straits City.
Is there something else like it? We Googled the concept and found that there wasn’t anything similar in the works. This would make it easier to pitch the project to the media. The only similar piece of news had been published in 2018 when crypto millionaire Jeffrey Bernes announced his plans to build a “blockchain city.”
What to focus on?
We needed to formulate a USP that would pique the interest of the media and help us arrange free publications. Based on our analysis of the project and its target market, we decided to focus on the fact that Melaka Straits City was the first blockchain city to be built with the support of the Chinese government. Since Chinese authorities are notoriously conflicted about blockchain, any news touching on this topic can spread like wildfire in the media and even cause a 10% change in the price of Bitcoin.
Writing the press release
We prepared an article with a quote from the CEO, futuristic designs, and a catchy headline. Many large media resources use the releases they receive as a base to write their own texts, but they still make the decision based on the content you send them. So the gist must be immediately clear from the title and the first paragraph.
Once the text is ready, read it again, but from the point of view of a casual reader. Users flip from the newsfeed and keep asking the question “so what?” Will your piece seem interesting to them, and, therefore, to the journalist? If your honest answer is no, think of how you can make the text better. Come up with additional news-worthy topics if necessary.
Step 2: Pitching to the Media
The client already had a meeting scheduled with potential investors, so we had only one week to create hype around the project. The first of the articles was published on Hackernoon. We prepared it together with a seasoned contributor who had some authority in the field of blockchain and crypto.
The turning point came with a publication on Cointelegraph: it was reprinted by 55 other resources, including The Sun (118.3m users a month) and Express.co.uk (157.2 million users). The article worked well on Cointelegraph itself, too, receiving 11,261 views, compared to the average of 4,000 for the same contributor.
Four days passed from the moment we first contacted the Cointelegraph contributor and until the release was featured on the site. Since it was a free publication, the journalist had to wait for the editor’s approval.
Pitching a press release to journalists: some tips
Contact journalists directly, and not via the general email address of the platform. In our experience, Linkedin is the best pitching channel, it’s faster and more effective.
Introduce yourself in advance and not on the day when you need to publish the release. That’s why PR specialists work so hard on building a database of contacts, this way they know who to contact when the moment comes. Read the journalist’s posts, follow their news on Linkedin, comment, and write direct messages to express your thoughts about their content. In a word, try to become their friends. But don’t confuse honest appreciation with flattery: you’ll make a poor impression if you only show interest in their work when you need to pitch a press release.
Pick a journalist who covers the same subject. There’s no point trying to pitch news about a blockchain city to someone who writes a foodie blog. Even two journalists who both write about technology can be interested in different fields: say, one can focus on AI while the other on mobile apps. It’s crucial to know what the writer specializes in before you pitch your piece to them.
Tell them more about the project. Journalists operate with facts, they like statistics and figures. The success of your PR campaign partly depends on how clear and detailed you can be in your first message. However, don’t expect that the first author you contact will agree to publish your content. Most probably, you’ll have to write dozens of messages.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. It’s common for PR professionals to fist promise exclusive intel to a journalist, only to back off after consulting the project founders. In this case, your article probably won’t get published due to a lack of factual information, and your time will be wasted.
Be patient. Don’t keep asking when your article will finally get published. Even if the writer gets interested in your piece, they won’t start writing a final text until their editor approves the topic. Just ask them to keep you updated, and if the article is refused, don’t pester them with questions about why it happened.
Use additional services, for example, Muck Rack. It’s a site where you can search for writers by topic, article, and resource. Journalists’ profiles on such sites are like their business cards: they list the media they write for, with links to all their articles and contact details.
Since most writers work with multiple websites, Muck Rack is also a good tool to follow the work of specific authors.
Step 3: Monitoring
In parallel with pitching to the media, you need to track fresh publications daily to make sure they have the correct tone and don’t contain any factual errors.
Journalists don’t always inform clients when they start working on a piece. And they certainly won’t ask for your approval when they republish your article for free. A long string of reprints on different resources can garble the original meaning, so you need to check that each newly published piece is correct. For example, one of the re-posts of our release said that the city had already been built. It was our job to identify such errors asap and contact relevant contributors.
Google Alerts: it’s a Google widget that allows you to track all mentions of a project using selected key phrases. As soon as new content with the words “Melaka Straits City” appeared on the web, we got a link to it by email. This helped us react to all the articles in a timely manner, analyze them, and add them to our media plan.
In two weeks, we obtained free publications on 76 websites in 18 different countries, with the total outreach of 671.3 million monthly visitors.
Push the most salient details forward. The news about Melaka Straits City captured the media’s interest thanks to its rather grand title: “Chinese government to support the building of the first blockchain city in Malaysia.”
Of course, not every project can provide such a newsworthy event. Often our clients ask us to get coverage for their internal news, such as entering a new market, a change in the leadership, and so forth. If it’s a small project, then such news probably won’t interest the media. In such cases, you can try to explain how the event might influence the niche as a whole, presenting it in a global context. You might have to come up with additional newsworthy stories.
Read the platform’s guidelines and edit your story according to its requirements. This will give you better chances to get heard by your target website. Ideally, you should mention which section on the specific site your piece should fit in. This way, the journalist or editor will see that it’s not just an automatic mailing campaign. Time invested in personalization yields good results.
Sometimes you need to wait. If you know that your priority website only accept content, don’t offer your piece to other media, just wait. It’s normal for a resource to require five or six days to publish an article.