How to Do Your Own PR (With a $0 Budget)
Good PR goes hand-in-hand with great marketing, and both are critical to taking your business to the next level.
At Single Grain, my digital marketing agency, we focus a lot on paid advertising and content marketing – it’s what we know best. But strong PR has also been crucial to our success and that of our clients’ for years.
Good PR helps attract new audiences to your business by leveraging other networks. It helps you build a positive, reputable brand image in the community and the industry. This benefit can even extend so far as to help you attract and retain top talent to work for you.
The best part is that, contrary to popular belief, quality PR can be incredibly cheap or even free! You just need to approach your business with the right mindset.
The Value-Add Mindset
Honestly, this mindset is half the battle. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist: you have a job to do, quotas and metrics to hit, editors to please, and a career to build. You’re not thinking (often) about how excited you are to help someone market their business; you’re thinking about how covering their business could help you achieve your goals.
So the next time you want to launch a new PR initiative, ask yourself:
“If I were a journalist, what would I want to see? What’s in this for me?”
Note, we’re talking about the individual journalist here. It’s not about what the audience wants, it’s not about what the publication wants, and it’s certainly not about what you want.
Of course, if you give a writer the chance to engage their audience or impress their editor, they’ll certainly jump on it. But the key is to get into the value-add mindset so you can better frame it.
Make It Easy to Write About You
If you want to get press coverage, this is the first place you should start. While the best journalists dig up stories that no one else will find, you shouldn’t expect them to do the heavy lifting. Remember, they have deadlines, bosses, and quotas.
So make it easy for journalists to cover you. Here are a few ways to achieve this:
1. Keep Your Press Page Updated
Make it easy for journalists to know what you’re up to by, well, keeping them updated. The easiest place to start is by making sure that your company press page is up to date on your site. Include a quick summary of what you’re working on and highlight any interesting projects that they might want to know about.
Once you have a relationship with any journalist or editor (we’ll get to this in a bit), be sure to keep in touch with them by e-mailing them whenever new products, services, events, etc., are happening at your company.
You should even forward any big industry news if you think it’s something that might be of interest. If the journalist knows and trusts you, they may solicit your opinion or a quote for a piece covering industry news, even if it’s not specifically about your brand.
The key here is not to be spammy. Only reach out if you have something that’s actually newsworthy. And unless you’re offering an interesting insider or niche angle, don’t forward them something from the Wall Street Journal. Being on top of breaking stories is their job.
2. Be a Good Source
Once you have a relationship established, a reporter might ask you for your thoughts and comments on breaking stories when they need sources or ideas. Treat this as a priority.
Remember to think about it from their perspective. You have three article deadlines and need some good quotes. Are you going to e-mail Kevin who usually responds in two days with giant paragraphs of text, or Emily who will provide you with three succinct quotes within a few hours?
Even if they’re not covering your business directly, you may get your and your company’s name cited as an expert source. You’ll also strengthen your relationship with that reporter and they’ll be more likely to respond to your requests in the future.
3. Do Newsworthy Things
Even with the tightest relationship, you’re not going to get covered every time you simply update your app.
To get consistent coverage, you need to be constantly doing newsworthy things. Release new, major features. Get involved with a charity. Take a strong, public stance on a controversial topic in your industry.
Think about what kind of articles you and your target customers would click on when scrolling through your news feed. Don’t just read it, do it.
4. Do the Writing Yourself
While most of your PR efforts may be focused on getting established journalists to cover you and your business, many industries have large blogs and publications that are for guest writers.
When you’re starting out, one great way to get your name on major websites is by offering to handle the actual writing for them. How could you make it any easier?
What should you write about? You could write for the opinion sections of a news publication or create some valuable reference material for an industry blog.
For instance, I contribute guest posts to many publications, including OpenView Labs, because I want to offer something of value – such as my industry knowledge or specialized content – to their audiences. And what I get in return (besides just feeling good!) is a mention of my name and company which allows me to get exposed to an entirely new audience.
5. Become a Thought Leader
Becoming a thought leader will also make it easier to write because your quotes and opinions will have more weight. And what you write will also give journalists volumes of reference material when they’re reporting on topics in your industry.
In addition, you’ll notice that the effort it takes to establish this expertise may start to generate some buzz all by itself. This can be extremely advantageous in PR.
If you reach the highest levels in your industry, you may even find that your PR funnel starts to flip, meaning that you’ll have to choose which journalist to respond to, rather than vying for their attention. As a business owner or executive of a company, this can be personally valuable by giving you name recognition that you can leverage in other projects outside of work.
6. Contribute to Your Company Blog
The first step to becoming a thought leader is usually to start writing. You can take the route mentioned above and focus primarily on guest posts, but if you’re serious about becoming a thought leader, it probably makes sense to keep a central repository for your thoughts. Most commonly, this is a company blog.
If you’re too busy to dedicate time to crafting high-quality content, you can consider hiring a ghostwriter. That is a professional writer who will create content under your name. While they aren’t free (if you find any quality writers who work for free, shoot me an e-mail!), they can be very affordable and let you focus on other important work.
If you want to establish yourself as an industry expert, start with a company blog and then try to secure yourself some guest posts on major industry sites to establish credibility.
7. Participate in Industry Events
If becoming a thought leader is a priority, you should try to participate in as many industry events as you can find – primarily speaking engagements and panels.
It’s one thing to have a booth at a tradeshow, but it’s an entirely different thing to be invited as a speaker so that you can share your expertise with everyone. Even if people aren’t able to attend your talk, they’ll see your name attached to these well-known events.
If you’re not ready to present your own ideas on stage just yet, consider hosting a panel discussion where you can moderate a conversation between current thought leaders. Not only will this cause people to associate you with these experts, but it will give you a chance to network with people who can really make a big impact on your goals and career.
How to Pitch Your Own Stories
Now that we’ve covered the mindset and some background, I’ll walk you through a simple 6-step process to participate in your own PR by effectively reaching out to journalists.
1. Outline the Pitch
Before anything, create a quick summary of the news and why it’s important. I recommend that you stick to 3-5 bullet points. This should be the most important part of your pitch. Make sure to include:
- The main point(s) you’d like to get across
- Why it matters to your target audience (i.e. what makes it newsworthy)
- What qualifies you to talk about it (if you don’t have an established authority with the audience)
In addition, referring to this outline throughout the writing process will help keep your article on track.
2. Write the Pitch
This is where you’ll flesh out the story. Don’t give the journalist every single detail, but do give them enough info that they recognize the value that your story offers and are excited to read more.
Tell a narrative that the journalist can see themselves re-telling. Explain how the news item came to be, why you’re doing this newsworthy thing, and why it’s relevant and of interest to the readers. Making sure to work in all your key points from above.
3. Find a Journalist
This part isn’t particularly difficult, but it can be time-consuming at first. To find the right journalist, you need to read a lot.
Read the top industry publications to see who’s covering stories like yours. Figure out who gets referenced and linked to frequently. Which reporters get premium placement? Whose tone and voice best matches you and your brand?
You’ll then need to get their contact information.
First, check their website for contact info (most journalists include their e-mail, Twitter or LinkedIn handle). If it’s not there, call the publication to ask for a reporter’s e-mail address and tell them it’s related to a story. This is where being a thought leader in the industry may give you an in.
If that doesn’t work out, try using a service like Hunter, which finds e-mail addresses based on just the website domain. You can also test different combinations of a reporter’s first and last name plus publication domain with a free address testing tool or more sophisticated software.
Pro tip: don’t call a reporter directly. You risk interrupting them or being caught off guard by questions. Remember, once you say something to a reporter (even “off the record”), you can never unsay it.
4. Send the Pitch
Once you have your pitch written (and proofread!), the appropriate journalist identified, and his or her contact info, it’s time to send the e-mail. But don’t just blast it out to everyone. Many journalists get hundreds of pitches every month.
It’s fine if the bulk of your pitch is copy and pasted – your story won’t change from publication to publication, after all – but you should customize it in a way that makes sense.
Using the journalist’s name (as opposed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Reporter”) goes without saying, and then you should include a more personal introduction.
If it’s your first time reaching out, reference a particular article of theirs and how it impacted you. Tell them why you’ve singled them out to cover your story.
It may also make sense to tweak certain parts of the pitch (like why their audience would be interested) for different publications with different target markets.
5. Follow Up
This is where a lot of people mess up. Journalists are super busy people, often planning their schedules last minute as they chase down the latest story. If you haven’t heard back from someone within three days, it’s safe to send a quick follow up.
The best way to follow up is to provide some additional information that builds on your pitch. Just one or two sentences. After that, you can follow up one or two more times, about 3-5 days apart. If they still don’t respond, you should probably move on and stop pestering them.
6. Thank the Journalist
Even people who get step five right often forget this one.
Once your story has been published, follow up with the reporter to let them know you appreciated their effort. Unless anything was misrepresented, compliment the work and cite specific examples.
Don’t be pushy or offer anything else right off the bat. Just be genuinely grateful to the person who spent time promoting your brand.
A few weeks after that, follow up with interesting industry news with 2-3 sentences of commentary from an industry insider (you!) or another pitch for a story you’ll write. This is how you double down on your success and turn a single press placement into a PR machine.
If you follow these principles and steps, focus on being reliable, and build a great brand, your PR efforts should bear ripe fruit. Not bad for $0 investment!