PRontheGO interview with PR expert Sherry Alpert
Sherry Alpert, Principal of Sherry Alpert Corporate Communications, LLC, in Canton, Massachusetts, has been working in public relations since 1979, following five years as a journalist.
Sherry has executed PR for nearly every type of business and startup, including: technology, healthcare, medical devices, dentistry, banking, women’s health, fitness, branding, food safety, law, hospitality, transportation, e-commerce, retail, workplace safety, drug education, business books, documentary film, trade organizations, product design, architecture, interior design, real estate and competitive intelligence.
Because she spends so much time in the entrepreneurial world, Sherry has met many angel investors. As a result, she has helped startups get funded by making connections between the founders and the angels who believe in them.
For PRontheGO, Sherry reveals her best PR tips.
What is your best PR tip for creative entrepreneurs who have just founded their own company?
In order to secure investor funds, the entrepreneur must first write a well edited, succinct Executive Summary of 1–2 pages and create a Pitch Deck (PowerPoint presentation) of no more than 12 slides. I’ve done extensive writing and editing in these areas in order to best prepare the entrepreneur to meet with angel investors and obtain the needed funds to launch their company. In two cases, I reduced a pitch deck from 50-plus slides to 12. These tools make your first impression.
A second tip is not to launch PR until the investor funds are secured and the product or service is readily available. Trying to start “buzz” ahead of a launch rarely works (unless you’re Apple), and entrepreneurs typically don’t have a PR budget until the investor funds are secured and allocated (typically within the marketing budget).
Which opportunities in online marketing do creative entrepreneurs often miss out on?
It is often not a good use of time to write and maintain a blog, or to delegate the PR person to ghostwrite blogs for the client and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get readers. This can become a full-time job in itself, and its value it highly overrated. Developing a targeted email list, and using it no more than twice a month to send news requires far less time to prepare and reaches your potential customer.
Regarding blogs, I find it effective to pitch appropriate bloggers to write about my client’s product, service or related issue. These bloggers can be independent or tied to a newspaper, magazine or TV station. I convinced a web site editor, with a large, relevant following for my client, to publish such an article. I ghostwrote it for the client, got his approval on the final draft, and the editor featured it on the web site with my client’s byline and boilerplate. Next, I sent the link to that article with a pitch to a USA Today reporter, who then interviewed the client for a story, which ABC Nightly News saw and, subsequently featured the client and his technology in a story. That was considerable bang for the buck from a ghostwritten article.
What’s your best advice to find and reach out to one’s target audience?
In interviewing entrepreneurs, I immediately see multiple types of media, including verticals, to which I would target their message. They often tell me that they hadn’t considered a couple of those markets, because they were narrowly focused on the initial market that drove the creation of their startup. Once I have begun the PR campaign, I customize the pitch to the desired media, i.e. business, consumer news, tech/gadget, perhaps three different verticals. It’s always difficult to predict which pitch will gain the most traction, but you go with the flow.
What’s your top productivity tool?
My top productivity tool is Cision (which merged with Vocus, the most prominent media database used by PR firms). By spending the time to assemble exactly the media list you want, you can send a personalized email blast to a few thousand media contacts simultaneously. That was how I got one startup’s product (ThinkBoard) on the Today Show and another startup’s technology (StopLift) on Good Morning America. Your client need never know how many media you pitched in order to get a great result.
Please reveal your best journalist pitch tip!
Research Cision to find the desired journalist at the desired media (assuming you do not want to target multiple media). Then go to that media’s web site to search for the person’s byline to see what and how recently he/she has written about the topic relevant to your client. If you don’t see a recent byline, search for the topic and see who is currently writing about it. If you are targeting a producer on TV or radio, use Cision to check what topics of interest are listed for that producer. Sometimes their interests are not listed, and you have to pitch multiple producers.
Proofread your email pitch for grammatical and editing errors as well as length, and be sure to have a compelling, succinct subject line in your email. In fact, the compelling, succinct subject line is the most important part of this process, or the journalist/editor/producer will not open it. Their inboxes are bombarded with emails.
Be active on all social media channels or only on selected ones — What’s your advice for creative entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs typically work long days and have no time to be active on social media. Writing blogs and tweeting require resources to find readers and followers, respectively. If the entrepreneurs have a PR budget, the PR person can assist with social media, but it could be at the expense of more traditional media that would yield bigger dividends.
An entrepreneur must be careful about what is posted on Facebook or Twitter, e.g. trade shows or speaking engagements; it can tip off the competition to use the same marketing strategy. What is effective is posting media stories (headlines, summaries and links) on Facebook and the company web site in a designated “News” section. That gives the entrepreneur credibility with potential clients, and is not time-consuming. Links on Facebook will boost your Google rank.
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