There’s nothing like the feeling you get seeing your new business in print for the first time, but PR is often seen as one of the great mysteries to startups, so here is a quick demystifying guide to how to get the best results.
1. Take your time building your story
Go back to basics, What’s your story? Why are you different from other businesses in your marketplace? Your press release should not read like self-promotion, that’s just not the kind of story any journalist worth his/her salt will want to write about. There has to be a hook. Think about the context of your business and your story. How is your business capitalising on current trends, how is it relevant as a side story to other topical, newsworthy events? For example, Localism is a strong current trend, are you offering or working with your local community in a unique way – or could you? Don’t be afraid to tweak aspects of your business to fit in with a trend to build your story – this could well give your business a great competitive edge anyway!
2. Images Images Images
When you’ve built a strong story, transpose this into brilliant, vibrant, high production quality images that represent it. This will enable the journalist / editor to understand your story more quickly, and it saves them time as they don’t have to search for images or commission a photographer.
3. Put yourself in the journalist’s or blogger’s shoes
Journalists have a job to do like the rest of us. They are very approachable human beings most of the time IF you are providing them with something useful and not just a sales pitch. Would you want to write a story about another sandwich shop opening on the high street? I don’t think so. But, what if that sandwich shop made all their own bread, grew their own food in a garden out the back (that you can eat in too) were totally carbon neutral and generated their own power from a variety of renewable energy sources. Oh, and next weekend they’re having a pop-up-shop at the local food festival where you can bake your own bread in an outdoor oven. What if the coffee shop was actually a co-operative for the community where everyone was volunteers and the profits are put back into the business, or to local community projects? What if you could watch the coffee being harvested on a live webcam? There are a few stories worth writing about there already, you just need to get creative.
4. Pick your targets carefully and work on them
Select a handful of publications, blogs & journalists who, if they wrote about your company, would make a huge impact. Be realistic here with your targets and make sure they are actually achievable. Research the journalists and publications, work out what section your story would best fit into, and tailor your release to fit in with the style of the publication. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from the journalist or editor once you’ve got in touch with them, they’re the best people to ask how you should pitch your story, and I have always found them very helpful. While you’re at it, find out how they like to receive information. Do they want the whole release in a text file with images, or are images handled by the photo editor, do they take all their own pictures? A lot of journalists like to be contacted on twitter in the first instance rather than email these days, so if you contact them, make sure you can send them a link, either to your website if it’s good enough, or an online version of your press release. Persevere until you get a response. Journalists are busy people and you might have reached them when they are on a deadline so haven’t got time to listen. Ask them when the best time to contact them is. Once you get one of your main targets, the rest will follow, the first is the hardest!
5. Go local to get National
Don’t underestimate the power of a local story. Firstly, this might be the most relevant place to promote your business anyway, but secondly, good local stories can filter into the national if there is enough mileage in them. Think about where your journalists get their information from and make sure you’re watching the same places too.
6. Never say no
Never say no to a press opportunity and bend over backwards to deliver what the journalist needs, whoever they are. People are always moving and the press community talks like every other one does, yesterday’s features editor on the local rag could move to a national and become your prime target. It’s a bit of a numbers game too, the more press you have out there, the more you’ll get incoming enquiries, and your SEO will be much improved too.
7. Keep writing new stories
Getting good PR is a bit like chasing an ever-moving target. Get to know the forward features list so you know what subject areas will be covered, then think about building a story that involves your company that can add an interesting angle. Keep adapting your stories, as the world is changing very fast, what might have made a good story last month might not be interesting anymore, so you need to twist your story to fit into what’s happening now. For example, can your story provide a new perspective on a topic in relationship to the Olympics?
8. Should I hire a PR agency?
PR for startups relies on passion, creativity and adaptability. Your brand won’t get you anywhere to start with, and many PR agencies are dealing with large corporates where a brand name gives you a big leg up. However, large companies have establishes structures that don’t allow much flexibility. The agency’s remit will have as much to do with event & crisis management as it will with securing print features. The market is flooded with less than stellar agencies, so it can be a bit of a minefield choosing a reliable one. As press for startups needs to be flexible to be successful, often the larger agencies aren’t best positioned to maximise this, as it’s just not something they’re used to being able to do with large clients that are very controlling. The best ideas usually come from inside the company, from those who are living and breathing the idea every day, it’s hard for any external agency to ever be able to do this as they are inevitably always on the outside.
If you do want to outsource this work, go for a small agency who already services small but interesting businesses, and listen to how they would go about getting you into your target publications. If all they come up with is “we have tons of contacts” forget it, this won’t work for you.
My advice? PR can be expensive and daunting. I know startups that have hired top agencies at great expense that have delivered virtually nothing, because really, it’s not where their greatest skills lie (and you’re probably their lowest paying customer).
The best results I’ve seen are when a smart, passionate person is hired to handle the press internally. If your company culture is strong enough, they’ll bust a gut to get your story in print. At d3o we were achieving an average of 360 press and blog citations and 12 TV appearances a year on average internally. If you do hire an internal person though, make sure they read this first so they don’t have to spend time going up a steep learning curve!
9. Press updates
When you have a good contact list, create a regular weekly or monthly email with all your latest news. If appropriate have a different email for each group, e.g. business press, technology blogs etc. Make sure you are sending relevant and useful content and you give them the option to opt out.
10. Send real stuff
Think of a way you can embody your company physically. As more and more of our world has become digital, we are even more intrigued by real things (and I don’t mean a USB stick with your name on it) – be creative! What can you send that will get the newsdesk talking? Maybe that eco café could send an apple with a label on it saying “grown at 27 High St in our back garden at eco café, served in our salads, made with love.” Or perhaps an invite along with a free bread roll to that pop-up shop at the weekend, with a hand written account of why they love doing what they do so much? If you go to a trade show or event, make sure you take a batch of press packs with you. These can include anything from a print out of your press release, a digital version with images and a video, product samples, anything that you can think of that will be useful and inspiring. At trade shows there will usually be a press office where you can leave your press packs for journalists to pick up, but keep some on your stand for when they pass by.
11. Be brave, open-minded and creative
Last lesson of all, and probably the most important: You will achieve the greatest success if you are brave, open-minded and creative. To be interesting and stand out, your story has to be the most outrageous it can be without bending the truth. If the person you have hired to handle the press comes to you with an off-the-wall idea, listen and consider it, don’t chastise them for coming up with something crazy. There may be a good angle in it. Most importantly, creativity, constant adaptation and perspiration is what will get you results, the last thing you want to do is de-motivate the person you’ve put in charge of it.
Good luck, and have fun!