Anyone who’s launched a business knows what personal exposure it is.
Launching a business is like introducing your newborn baby to the world – you want to make a splash, you want it to be perfect, and you want the whole world to see it. You’re putting a piece of your heart and soul on display. And you know you have a great story.
So you decide to have a lunch party and invite the media… and….silence…
There’s nothing more demoralising than having the media ignore your launch party. Sadly, it’s becoming more likely with the changes in how the media operate.
Newsrooms are no longer stuffed full of keen reporters, advertising revenues have dropped, belts all round have tightened, and competition has become stiff with the ongoing economic crunch. (Don’t be too disheartened. I’ve discovered that journalists and editors still respond to breakfast invites. Not en masse, and not without some work on your part. But morning launches/events rather than evening ones seem to draw higher attendance. This may work purely for my clients, who are mainly in the tech and professional services fields, but it’s an example of an insight that comes to light when you start engaging with media relations work.)
The good and bad news
With communication platforms digitising, the spread of information has changed. The bad news is that it’s become tougher to be noticed by the big news agencies.
On the flipside, there is greater choice when it comes to how you do PR. There’s a broader menu with options that are cheaper than traditional methods. Audiences are no longer limited to their regular newspaper or magazine. The internet hosts a plethora of news outlets and your readers – customers – are found in all sorts of places.
Technology has made it possible to target your message carefully and you’re not limited to publishing through the regular press. From self-publishing and social media to maximising the use of search engines, the scope of PR and publicity is vast.
Hiring a PR agency or a freelancer is an option if you have the money. This could be money well spent since an agency or freelancer worth their salt would have established media relationships that can boost your startup’s profile quickly. Jason Lemkin’s post on PR will give you some good pointers on how to judge whether the agency or freelancer touting for your business is worth their fee.
But if you don’t, there are ways of doing your own PR.
It’s your business, your idea, and your dream. But it’s also a product or solution that you’ve come up with to solve a need. Articulate this carefully to come up with your own PR strategy and message.
Think about who your clients is. Mapping customer personas is as helpful a PR exercise as it is a sales one.
How would they talk about their requirements and the solution you could offer? Brainstorm the words and language they would use and the narrative that would ring true for them. It boils down to sales techniques and what you’re selling.
As a medical rep selling surgery instruments, you would have a different approach and message than if you were hosting a Tupperware party. Your vocabulary would be different, how you dress for meetings would be different. You would tailor these things to your audience. Consider it from your client’s perspective: what are they looking for in your product or service? Why do they need it?
If you’re going to target press, tread carefully and do your research. Find a suitable publication with readers that are in your target market. Journalists are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis. They’re quick on the delete button because they’re under more pressure than ever to find unique stories. Unless it’s exceptional, it will be callously filtered into the junk folder.
This is where it pays to research online. Find the reporters and journalists who cover the stories similar to yours (you’ll get more response than from editors), and read their work daily. You need to become “fluent” in their language.
There are media databases that help you build a list of relevant journalists, such as Roxhill, MuckRack and Cision. Or you can do some internet sleuthing between publisher mastheads (contact us pages in internet world) and Twitter. In fact, Twitter is one of the most helpful tools to you for PR even if you do buy access to a database.
2) Target and network
The biggest mistake you can make is to send your press release to every single journalist in every single publication in every single niche you can think of. The result will be ugly since you’ll most likely be blackballed by every journalist in town.
In the same way you’d target your Google ads, target your media – both the publication and the writer. And then, build a relationship. This post by Cision offers excellent tactics on how to do that.
Don’t assume that the bigger publications are the best ones to tackle. You might get a better response from a smaller publication. Trade publications are often overlooked by tech startups. This is an error. Not only could many of your customers be reading industry-specific content, but journalists for mainstream writers often keep tabs on trade media for stories they want to cover in their publications.
Bloggers have become influencers in their own right. For every niche, there’s at least one decent blogger (where decent = lots of followers). It’s worthwhile to make connections with bloggers in your sphere and see where collaboration is possible. You want to look for a good fit with your product or business, find a blogger whose readers fit your client demographics and speaks their language. Approach your audience as if they’re laymen in your field – they probably are. Simplify your language and cut the jargon.
Attend events, and if possible, book a speaker slot. This isn’t about punting your product or service, but about providing an interesting topic or angle. It creates credibility and a level of trust. It gets you out there, and often, journalists cover these events.
3) The message
Choose an angle and back it up with data. Do research. You can even do your own survey, depending on resources available. Give your audience something interesting and unique.
Of course you want to tell them you’re the best, but that’s what everyone says. How are you really different? What is it that makes what you’re doing different to the other players in your field? Why are you doing what you’re doing in the way that you’re doing it? Find that angle. Taylor that angle to your specific audience.
If you do send your press release to journalists, be careful to time it well. There are days in every publication that are busier than others – again, research this.
4) Internal communication
Remember to take how you communicate with your own staff seriously. It helps build morale and enthusiasm, which ultimately helps build the business in itself. Company culture development is another topic for another time, but keep it as a silver thread in the back of your mind. And don’t forget about employee advocacy. Once you get coverage, make sure it’s shared.
5) Keep your chin up
Finally, give this process time. There will be setbacks and disappointments. But each of these provides you with a learning experience to confront the problem in a different way and even refine it. Lexi Mills, a regular speaker at Learn Inbound events, gives many examples of how to do that in this video.