A decent bit of media coverage can transform the fortunes of a small business, but how can you go about getting some?
Sometimes the best way is to outsource your efforts to a PR firm. They can help you identify what the media might find interesting about your company, draft press releases and pitch to journalists they have a relationship with. But they don’t generally come cheap and the quality of services can vary a lot. They’re by no means essential and most journalists would sooner hear from a well-meaning founder than a PR agent paid to hammer the phones. If you’re going down the DIY route then here are some things to bear in mind.
1. Is PR what you’re really after?
Getting featured in the press is a great way of raising awareness of and building trust in your brand. The validation of an independent media outlet can give you credibility that’s difficult to create through advertising alone. But it can be a slow and risky process and the results aren’t always immediate. If your aim is simply to increase sales then pay-per-click ads could provide a better return on investment. And don’t forget social media either - it’s free, if challenging to make a success of.
2. What makes you interesting?
It’s crucial to understand that a journalist’s primary concern is their readers (or at least delivering enough readers to keep their advertisers happy). So you need to offer them something that their audience is likely to be interested in.
3. Have a story to tell
There’s no surefire way to get coverage and you’re unlikely to succeed on your first attempt. But your best bet is to have something newsworthy to tell them. This could be that you’ve landed a big injection of funding from investors, that your newly filed accounts show a huge leap in revenues or that you’re opening a new office that will create a load of new jobs in your area. A good acid test is to ask yourself the question, ‘Would I read that article if it was about somebody else’s business?’ If the answer is no then you’re definitely not on the right track.
4. Pick your targets
Most publicity is good publicity but some outlets are worth more than others. Having said that, you shouldn’t assume that getting featured in the national press is the most desirable of outcomes. If you’re providing a niche B2B service and you want potential clients to hear about it then a small feature in a respected trade magazine can be immeasurably more valuable than an article in The Daily Mail. Think about what your target audience is likely to be reading and go from there. And don’t forget local and regional press. Their reporters are often overstretched and in need of stories to fill a gap on a quiet day.
5. Do your research
Once you’ve identified the kinds of publications you want to appear in you need to put in the time to understand the kind of coverage they produce. If you pitch a product review to a website that doesn’t do product reviews or a news story to a magazine that only contains long, timeless features then you’re unlikely to pique any interest. Some outlets have regular slots that you can pitch for – MT’s How I Beat the Odds features successful entrepreneurs that have overcome tough times, for instance.
6. Have facts, figures and photography to hand
Think about the kinds of questions a journalist is likely to want to know the answer to. If it’s a business publication they might want to know what your company’s turnover is, how many customers you’ve got or how much investment you’ve attracted. If it’s a consumer magazine then you need to know your product inside out. And it might be worth commissioning some photographs too. Publications have lower art budgets than they used to so are unlikely to send a snapper to see you – especially if it’s just for a short article. Decent photos, ready to use might swing it in your favour.
7. How to get in touch
Most journalists say they prefer to receive pitches by email. In my experience it’s the easiest way to keep track of those I’ve responded to and what stage the discussion is at. You’ll usually be able to find a list of contact details somewhere on a publication’s website. Some journalists are happy to receive pitches via the telephone (and indeed you’re more likely to get an answer, even if it’s a no, if you can speak to them directly) and the same goes for social media.
8. Keep it brief and catch their attention
Journalists receive dozens of pitches every day so make it as easy as possible for them to understand what your business or product is all about and what you’re pitching to them. If your pitch is more than a couple of hundred words long then you’re probably doing it wrong. They’re unlikely to read to the end so cut to the chase and pack in as much detail as you can in the opening sentences.
9. Show, don’t tell
Anybody can say they have a ‘groundbreaking’ product or ‘revolutionary and disruptive’ business model. You need to demonstrate exactly why yours is worth writing about – what does it do that nobody else’s does? Hard numbers come in handy here; the fact that you’ve reached £1m in revenues in a couple of years or signed up 100,000 customers is more likely to impress than your insistence that you’ve created the next Facebook.
10. Don’t expect immediate results
There’s a fine line between being persistent and being a nuisance but don’t be afraid to follow up - it’s easy for a pitch to get lost in a journalist’s inbox. If you’ve not received a response after a day or two then send another email, but chasing up again and again and again is likely to get you consigned to the spam box. It’s always worth asking for feedback on why you’ve not been successful, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response. Time is precious.