It’s something every entrepreneur hopes to get for his or her business but also something many find difficult to achieve.
Before moving to my in-house PR position at Shopify, I spent my career at a handful of PR and IR (investor relations) agencies in Toronto and New York. Having worked on numerous B2B and consumer tech accounts in various stages—from startups to Fortune 500 companies such as IBM and Oracle—I’ve learned that for many businesses, PR is a mystery. They see competitors in the press, and they can’t figure out the magic formula to make it happen for themselves.
For most small-business owners and online entrepreneurs, PR is a work in progress. Unless you’re working on a big launch, which is usually not a regular occurrence, it’s about building a relationship with media outlets and the appropriate reporters.
Below are six strategies that you should keep in mind when looking to get your name in the press, as well as five tools to help you make it happen.
1. Know whom you’re pitching
I’ve never believed in the numbers method—that is, sending a pitch out to more than 50 reporters in the hope that one or two are bound to bite. From what I can tell, most reporters can smell a generic, blasted out pitch by the time they reach the second sentence. It’s not realistic to assume that even five reporters cover the exact same beat and have the same writing style, much less all 50.
Make sure you research each reporter you’re contacting. Read previous stories, view their Twitter accounts to see what kinds of articles they’re tweeting and retweeting, read their bio, and tailor each email.
Going that extra mile will yield greater results, and even though your success rate may not be 100 percent, a targeted and tailored pitch is more likely to garner a response—even if it’s, “Sorry, I’m not interested.”
[FREE GUIDE: 10 ways to improve your writing today]
2. Have the story already written in your head
Before you pitch a journalist, you must formulate and understand your story and be able to communicate what is newsworthy about it.
Imagine the headline, and have the framework of the article laid out. Remember, you’re selling the reporter the story, so you can’t expect them to come up with the idea. Reporters are busy people, and the more you can spoon-feed them, the better.
It’s always best to be concise in your pitch, as most reporters say they don’t read past the third sentence. Efficiently communicate the who, the what, and why they should care.
3. Offer an exclusive
Reporters, like everyone else, love to have their egos stroked. If you’re looking to garner coverage in a tier one business publication like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, going the exclusive route might be the best strategy.
By offering an exclusive, that specific reporter has the first right of refusal. An exclusive also guarantees that they will break the story ahead of any other outlet. You just have to make good on the deal, otherwise you’ll burn that bridge and any future opportunities with them.
Once the exclusive goes live, you can issue the press release across the wire and cast a wider net, reaching out to other reporters who would be interested in covering the news, which will result in more coverage.
4. Throw an event
Everyone loves free food and drinks, and reporters are no different. Whether it’s a store opening, a launch of a new product line, or a pop-up shop, throwing an event and inviting a few local journalists to attend is a small investment that can result in big ROI.
The event doesn’t have to be a grandiose affair but should be closed to the general public. When the reporters arrive, have a greeter show them around, provide introductions, and cater to their needs.
If the reporter has a great time, she’ll be more likely to write a positive review, take meetings in the future, and attend other events. Also, swag bags never hurt, and be prepared for photo opportunities as journalists will often come to an event with a photographer as images help liven up a story.
Of course, if you’re a launching a product, make sure to have samples tastefully displayed and available for people to touch and feel.
When holding an event, it’s often helpful to create a media advisory that clearly illustrates the “who, what, where, and why” of the event. You can then submit the media advisory to local news desks who will often add it to their internal calendars.
5. Relationship building
A healthy relationship works both ways. It can’t always be about you and your company and your story. Get to know the reporter and what they’re interested in, as well as what they’re currently working on.
As the saying goes, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Putting in a little effort goes a long way. It doesn’t always have to be something big. For example, if you receive an out of office reply saying that a reporter is on vacation, when you do reach her, ask about it. If you notice on his Twitter that he’s admitted a weakness for a certain cookie brand, send him a box with a handwritten note.
Make sure to be tactful when using this approach, though, as you don’t want to come across as sending a “bribe” or making the relationship feel transactional.
6. Piggyback on a trend
Most reporters aren’t looking to a feature story on one company, as it will seem too much like an advertisement. Instead, most journalists write trend pieces, so it is best to figure out how your story can fit into a larger theme or event.
See whether there is a hole in the market and how your company is filling that gap. For example, Beardbrand, an ecommerce company that sells beard related products for men, was included in a New York Times article about the current barbershop renaissance.
Tools for getting PR
In order to pitch the right journalists, you first have to find them. Here are some tools to help you discover journalists who cover your industry and connect with them.
Followerwonk is a tool from the folks at Moz that lets you search people’s Twitter bio’s (among other things).
For example, if you wanted to get covered by TechCrunch, you could search for “techcrunch” and then browse all Twitter accounts that contain that keyword in the bio section, sorted by number of followers. Once you have a list, you then want to find which reporters have written about your industry or your competitors, as they will be most likely to cover your story.
Muck Rack is an easy way to connect with journalists. You can find the right person to pitch by searching keywords, company names, competitors, beats, outlets, media types, and more. It also enables you to receive email notifications when journalists tweet or link to articles matching your search terms.
Cision is a media database that provides information on reporters including: location, email, phone numbers, social media profiles, and areas of focus. You can easily generate lists based on reporter beats, helping you to find the most appropriate targets.
ProfNet connects journalists to sources and vice versa. When reporters need an expert source, they submit their inquiry to ProfNet and it then gets distributed to a list of subscribers. It’s a great way to stay informed on stories that reporters are writing and to be introduced to new targets.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out)
HARO is a service reporters can use to request information for a story. It’s similar to ProfNet, but because the basic subscription service is free, many reporters get inundated with pitches based on their inquiries. Again, it’s a great way to stay current on any stories that reporters are writing, but due to the volume of responses they receive, it is crucial that the pitch provides exactly what they requested.