How to do media relations on your own

You don’t necessarily need a PR firm to do media relations for you, but going it alone is no walk in the park. Here’s what you should know before you get started.

I was recently strolling through Twitter when I saw a tweet from my new friend, Rebekah Iliff, that said: “Dear @Inc: You do a GRAVE disservice here.” The tweet linked to a story called “How to Do Your Own PR.”

I’m a big proponent of helping small business owners figure out how to do some PR themselves. After all, they typically can’t afford a firm or soloproneur, and journalists would much rather talk to the business owner than a PR professional.

But after I read the story, I agreed with Rebekah. The story not only does a grave disservice to the PR industry, but also to small business owners.

In the article, sales guru Geoffrey James says:

“I know people who are paying as much $10,000 a month to a PR firm and getting very little out of it. And that’s sad, because PR-getting positive media coverage-isn’t all that difficult. Here’s how it’s done.”

He then goes on to list the following:

  1. Devise a story worth writing about.
  2. Create nuggets to insert into the story.
  3. Offer yourself as a story source.
  4. Control the interview.

What is PR?

PR isn’t just about getting positive media coverage.

If you spend $10,000 a month and get very little out of it, a few things are going wrong:

1. Your PR firm is made up of publicists, and their only job is to secure media interviews.

2. You haven’t given it enough time. Publications have lead times. Even blogs have lead times. (My blog is more than a month out.)

3. Your firm hasn’t set the right expectations.

4. Your firm has set the right expectations, but you’re being unrealistic.

5. Your firm doesn’t know how to measure its effectiveness in terms of real business results. (It should check out Iris Public Relations Management to help it do so.)

6. Your firm doesn’t integrate communications into its publicity efforts. For $10,000 a month, you should get more than media relations.

If you are interviewing PR firms and they don’t talk about more than media relations, how to integrate paid, owned and shared media with earned media, and results, keep interviewing.

In some cases, the results will be increased brand awareness and credibility, which you can’t measure in terms of dollars and cents. But the firm should be upfront with you about how that work integrates with some of the things that are measurable to cash.

Not even PR pros get it right sometimes

The article James wrote starts out well. You do have to have a story. Having a new product, launching a new company or having a famous investor is not a story.

To figure out what’s interesting to the journalists and bloggers you’ll pitch, you have to read what they write.

For instance, the other morning I woke up to 23 email pitches from PR professionals. Of the 23, 21 of them were copied-and-pasted news releases. I deleted them all without reading a single one.

The last two were personalized pitches. One was to interview the author of a book on how to raise your kids, and the other was a franchise location opening somewhere in Mississippi.

I deleted both without response. I have a PR and marketing blog. We don’t write about how to raise your kids, nor do we write about restaurant openings.

So, while the pitches were personalized, it’s pretty clear the PR professionals did nothing more than a mail merge. They didn’t read the blog. If they did, they would have saved some time and aggravation.

How to do media relations

It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations well.

If you want to do it on your own (and I caution you that it’s sometimes far less expensive to hire a professional the first time around), here are some things to consider:

1. Read the publications, watch the programs and listen to the shows on which you want to appear.

It takes time, but it works because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer or host really cares about. Your story either fits or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t-no matter how badly you want a story in that publication-move on.

2. Personalize your pitch.

I love the story Rosemary O’Neill tells of how she pitched her company’s new unlimited paid time off policy in a two-sentence email and it became a top news story. She knew the blogger would love the story because she reads the blog and has commented there. All she had to do was send a quick email, and the blogger picked it up. Then the story grew legs, and larger publications picked it up.

3. Comment on blog posts and articles.

This is the best way for the journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the stuff he produces, you build a relationship. When you build a relationship, he is much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some, in fact, will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit.

4. Don’t send a long email.

We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever want to know about you, no one will read it. Take O’Neill’s approach and send a quick email that grabs attention. The details can come later.

5. Lose the idea of control.

Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions she expects to ask you. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say.

But you cannot control the interview. You can be sure to repeat your one or two messages, but you cannot control the interview.

This process takes time. The reason you hire a professional is not just because she has the relationships you need, but because, if she’s good, she’ll use this process every day.

You can do PR yourself if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

Topics: PR

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