The vast majority of everyday businesses don’t have huge investment rounds from major players, hire ex-execs from multinational corporates, and aren’t part of big merger and acquisition transactions. They are just ordinary businesses that are stable and growing. Yet, once your business is booming, or you have a huge piece of news to share, it can feel as if public relations is a distant dream.
I like to call this, “Lights over Broadway PR,” which is when a business wants to see their name in lights over Broadway, or in the case of the media, The New York Times, Forbes, and Entrepreneur. The funny part is that most of the time, customers aren’t reading these news outlets.
Mark Thompson from PayKickstart, a shopping cart platform, gave me the best answer for this type of addiction to Lights Over Broadway PR.
“It’s usually a waste of time for a small business that has never done PR to pitch huge and major publications to cover you,” he says. “In our case, all we care about is that we’re getting mentioned in the right publications, which might not be as popular but has mainly our target market reading them.”
Instead of waiting around for the right opportunity to pitch national news networks, I wanted to share some DIY PR ideas you can start with today. These tactics are not designed to be resource intensive, where you’d spend time and money; instead, they’ll ultimately provide you with small PR wins that can be used to drive your PR success further.
#1: Set a goal and purpose of the campaign
One of the worst mistakes you can do in PR is just blindly and randomly “do PR” and get featured in press. And, yet, I find that 90 percent of businesses doing PR outreach do exactly this: they don’t have a goal and just simply try to get mentions in the press.
Gaetano DiNardi from Nextiva, a small business VOIP service, used to do PR without a goal. Today, it’s a different story.
“PR, without having a concrete goal of why you’re doing it, is just a plain old HUGE waste of money and time,” says DiNardi. “Think about it, for all other marketing initiatives, you typically measure how it impacts the bottom line. In our case, these are revenues. Ads—outbound and inbound—have metrics, and track and measure impact on revenue. PR is one of those things that is very easy to forget about measuring since it’s not trivial to measure. We used to be very bad at goal setting.
In JustReachOut, our onboarding asks you to specify your goal and purpose for your PR campaign, and based on these and other answers, we recommend a specific strategy and tactics plan.
There are typically three main goals you should pick from:
- Authority and credibility
- Traffic and backlinks
- Raising awareness
There are typically four main purposes for your campaign:
- Product or company launch
- Increase general visibility
- Fundraising campaign
Your first order of business is to set your goal and purpose. This rings true, and even more so with smaller businesses that need to wear multiple hats. I also appreciate that for most small businesses, there’s not enough time in the day to test out PR as a branding exercise. This confirms that all the PR-related activities you conduct need to be focused and goal orientated so you can measure success that goes beyond sales metrics.
Gennady Batrakov, CEO and founder of StriveChat, a small business helping other small businesses with their website chat solution, says, “In my case, I’ve been running the business for a while and have recently launched a new tool. My goal used to be ‘raise awareness of our brand,’ but now, with this launch, it changed to ‘getting traffic.’ Knowing what my goal is helps me measure my PR effort and focus my PR outreach.”
#2: Decide on your story/message
PR requires more than pitching the bells and whistles of your product or service. Actually, journalists and reporters really don’t look for your sales pitch. They have a job and a specific beat they follow, so how will you make their next article stand out, as well as get lots of reads and shares?
“If you’re sitting next to a journalist at a conference, and you turn around and say hello, what will you say next?” says Marius Fermi of Prezly, a PR software company. “You will not blurt out what you do for a living and ask if they would be interested in covering you. So, please do not do so over an email pitch. Instead, study what that journalist is interested in by reviewing their past writing, and strike up a conversation with them based on something in common.”
Your job is to essentially look at the last three or four stories this journalist wrote and decide what the next headline will be that not only fits well with the previous articles, but also represents something very unique. To even consider getting earned media coverage, you really need to think of an angle around your product/service that will make it a good story. Let’s say you have product that is answering a big problem in your industry—here are some questions to ask:
- How big is this problem?
- Can you provide expert advice?
- Can you provide industry metrics and compare them to your in-house metrics?
To help you brainstorm here, take a look at queries journalists are submitting, looking for an expert to provide a quote in the articles they’re writing at the current moment. Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of queries journalists submit, looking for an expert to quote in their articles. This is a goldmine for getting featured, as well as getting a good idea of what you should be pitching.
Data, insights, or some sort of study provide valuable insight and are always a great way to start a conversation with a journalist. Create a discussion based on positive and negative sentiments—that’s why I will always recommend finding solid metrics to validate any story or message you choose.
Adam Legas, founder of Nanohydr8, a fitness drinks company, has an amazing example of how he pitches data and insights, and uses the subject line of his pitch to journalists to tell if the pitch will be a success.
“I love pitching data and insights,” says Legas. “I also like to test my pitches with a subject line. If my subject line is good, and seven out of 10 emails I send out get opens, then I know I have something they’re interested in and wrote a subject line they can use as a potential headline. I then start working on the pitch itself. I typically start by just testing the subject line to see if I have a good story idea.”
Reporters and journalists love metrics, even more so when they are in a pretty visual format and clearly explained.
Another example could be the corporate social responsibility campaign you are embarking on. Again, this is a fantastic story with plenty of visuals to share of your actions and progress across multiple channels, not just PR.
Crafting a story and message that resonates with a reporter or publication takes time, so don’t get disheartened if there are no results straight away. Instead, focus on refining your message. It gets easier once you have an understanding of your corporate mission.
#3: Owned and paid media
PR has three forms of media reach: earned, owned, and paid. Earned (the type we talked about in #2) is tricky and takes time to succeed. Let’s explore owned and paid media.
Paid media. Paid media is exposure that you pay for. Think of the sponsored social media posts that appear in your timeline. Based on targeting, a business created a piece of content and paid for it to be placed in front.
Sounds like the perfect plan, right? Remember that paid media can become a money pit with no results because you never had a goal beyond getting more people to the website. Or, the story you are sharing is weak and doesn’t entice your target audience to click through.
What makes paid media great is that you can run multiple tests and get actionable metrics in return.
“It’s useful to sometimes test what you’re pitching to press,” says Alden Tseng of Wayfindr, a software company focused on streamlining the job application process. “You can just use your industry expertise to create some blog posts that you think will resonate with your audience. Once you publish the blog post, you can boost it on social media by targeting your demographic and seeing how well it performs—if people clicking over actually stick around and read the article you wrote and/or leave comments. If it does well and people read it and leave comments, perhaps it’s a topic you should pitch to the press!”
Another idea would be to take any earned media coverage you get and just boost the post to a wider audience, with the correct demographic set for your target market. This type of campaign works well for a setting of everyone who visited your website in the last 180 days, for example. This increases the reach of the article, which, in turn, increases the reach of your brand.
This approach allows you to test your story ideas before pitching to journalist.
Some additional paid media examples include:
- Banner ads
- Sponsored blog posts
- Event sponsorships
- Paid search
- Social media ads
Owned media. Owned media includes all the media properties you own and control. This includes:
- Your website
- Social media profiles
- Your blog, as well as any content you create
- White papers
- Slide decks
- Infographics and (online) press releases also count as owned media
Owned media can be a difficult sell for basically everyone. Most of the owned media that you “own” is geared toward sales and marketing, so generally speaking, there’s little attraction to being sold to all the time.
Your owned media efforts need to focus on quality content that doesn’t ask for anything in return. This is hard, I know, especially if you are bootstrapped or a one-person business, but aside from the SEO benefits, having quality owned media gives you a chance to reference insights directly to your website.
If you happen to have a great piece of owned media that converts well or draws a lot of traffic, then maybe you can use paid media to increase your reach. Again, the purpose here is to fast track getting your brand in front of people and increasing awareness.
#4: Become an industry expert
We touched upon this earlier in #2 above. A great way to get into the PR sphere, and grow media relations and industry awareness, is to simply comment on key news in your industry. I say simply because Help a Reporter Out, JournoRequests, and other services make finding press opportunities incredibly easy. All you need is to block out an hour or less per day to review any opportunities and craft some responses.
Going this route is ideal for businesses that struggle with their story or messaging, but understand the benefits of PR. With industry expertise, you provide commentary on events and news, which means that you will, inevitably, be in contact with key reporters in this industry—and consistently, too.
Honestly, this is really not a bad way to start getting to grips with the PR world because you are providing nothing but insight and knowledge, while helping build relations with the media. This is the recipe for long-term PR success. Ultimately, once you have a story to tell and have PR goals, you can engage with your media contacts and pitch them your story.
The pitching will be simple, as long as you have a story to tell, or you may receive actionable feedback for improvements. Either way, being an industry expert is a great way to start because it requires minimal resources to take action today.
Spend just one hour each day
Small businesses rarely have the luxury of spending resources on PR, but you probably have an understanding of the potential benefits. The purpose of these DIY PR tactics is to give you the chance to test the waters without jumping into the deep end.
By spending just an hour a day on one of the tactics above, you can start increasing brand awareness. By building media relations and testing paid media, you can gather insights and metrics that will help with awareness and sales.