An early-stage business can sink without a trace if no one ever finds out about it. Many firms shell out for a PR agency, but It’s also worth noting there are other ways to get your business off the ground when it comes to media relations – and they don’t all cost a fortune.
Don’t be afraid to go it alone
Jim Wilson is the founder of online retailer Born Gifted and has worked without the help of any agencies since he launched it in 2002. ‘I originally obtained some quotes from PR agencies which turned out to be prohibitively high,’ he says. ‘I know my product range better than any third party so I can respond more quickly and effectively to journalist requests.’ Of course the right agencies have extensive contact lists, but it’s not always worth the cost.
Build your own contacts
‘I think any start-up could manage its own PR effectively in-house, particularly with the abundance of online media relations tools available now like Response Source,’ Wilson adds. Using these tools can be a great route to building your own contacts within the media. Offering comment on topical issues can soon build up your company profile.
A scattergun approach wastes everyone's time
It’s worth doing your research to prepare a target list. ‘Many companies – particularly start-ups – see any coverage as good coverage,’ says Chris Holder, a partner at Brand X PR. ‘It’s not necessarily helping the business achieve its goals. I know of a cafe that had a piece in the local paper and the next day they were mobbed, but that’s not going to work if you’re selling something that is very technical or only relevant to a particular market.’
What’s your story?
Julie Thompson Dredge, founder of Frame PR, suggests starting with the stories you already have. ‘The founder’s story – a human story about how you came to be, with some frank admissions about failures along the way can be gold-dust for media,’ she explains. ‘Particularly the business media, which is read by the investment community who you may want to interest.’ And bring out the facts and figures – how much has your turnover increased, have you branched out internationally? But don’t rush to the press with every little story. Claire Moran, who runs The Forge PR, has a classic example. ‘The fact that you are moving offices is unlikely to be very interesting to the press.’ Ask yourself 'If I was a reader, would this interest me?'
Offer the whole package
An easily neglected area is good photos. You can’t underestimate the value of quirky shots in making a story. Thompson Dredge agrees. ‘A PA photographer once told me that he can get great photos into the FT, even when the story itself is not that strong!’
Similarly, a press or media relations page on your site can be a godsend for journalists. Keep bios, fact sheets and downloadable high res images (of key members of the team, the product if you have one etc.) on it.
Good research pays off
Research itself can be a great way to get your company involved in a wider discussion. And make sure you have a decent sample size. ‘It’s important to keep on top of the current trends and conversations in your own particular business area,’ Wilson says. He noticed much debate about toy gender stereotypes, created a survey to gauge his customers’ views about it and distributed it via newsletters. The research secured him a spot on BBC Radio.
Make a deadline in good time
Moran thinks it’s a cardinal sin to offer something to a journalist you later can’t follow through with. ‘If you promise something to a journalist, always deliver,’ she warns. And be selective. ‘They can blacklist companies who send them a lot of irrelevant information.’
Exclusives can be a draw
Tim Ludlow runs Beds on Board with his brother, a company allowing people to sleep on a boat instead of in a hotel. It launched in 2015 and the duo currently cover all PR. ‘We knew we wanted to be the voice of the brand,’ he says. Early on Ludlow offered one journalist ‘an exclusive launch story rather than taking the traditional route of writing a press release’.
At the same time, they compiled quotes, images and links in anticipation of follow-up enquiries. Often journalists will get in contact if they’ve seen your story somewhere for their own take – make it easy for them with contact information in a prominent place on your site.
Streamlining who you approach and keeping initial emails short and sweet will be more likely to get you into the press’s good books, and trying to predict what information they’ll need ahead of time can save much frantic rushing around to meet a journalist’s deadline. PR isn't rocket science and as a small bsuiness you can do your own.