PR tips for those doing the DIY approach

From launching three businesses myself and mentoring countless more on their marketing, I get asked all the time ‘how do I get PR’ and I always answer the same: Getting PR for your business can be done by you. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it should be done by you – at least in the first few years.
Before I start, let’s get one thing straight – I am not suggesting it is easy. It takes time, effort, and a lot of persistence which is why if money is to hand a PR agency is often a first extravagance when investment is secured. But there is simply no-one more suited to telling the story of your business in a passionate way than you, so here are my top tips for entrepreneurial business owners to go out there and spread the word about their business themselves.

1. Get your targeting right

Don’t get caught up in appearing on the BBC, or the Daily Mail. These would be great of course, but there are thousands of other smaller opportunities that are more likely to be interested in your story (at least in the early days) and being more niche they will probably be more suitable for reaching your target audience too.
So spend some time planning: Decide on the publications you will speak to based on what your target audience reads. Then do your research on these publications before you approach them – look at past and current publications, look at who is writing what, and look for key themes in what they write about.

2. Pull out your black book

Journalist don’t care if you are a high-end PR agency or celebrity entrepreneur, they are just interested in relevant and interesting content.  So you just need to create that content and approach the right journalists. Reach out to your network and ask for introductions, otherwise get to work on your press lists.
Press lists are not a dark art, you can collate press lists yourself through your research phase. Yes it takes time, when we launched our marketing-technology business Openr I spent three whole days (I’m not joking) on the websites of different publications cataloging names, details and content themes – but it was worth it. It’s also worth using social media to find and connect with journalists too – follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook or connect with them on LinkedIn; introduce yourself and initiate a conversation.

3. Craft your story and make it matter to them

Don’t waste your time writing an email to a journalist if you haven’t worked out your story and why it is specifically suitable for them (yes, specifically them – all your emails need to be very personalised). Start off by identifying what your hook is. Alas, you can’t just say you’re brilliant – you need to think about what news might be of interest to their readers. Is it a new product? A new feature? A new promotion? Create a compelling story, or link what you’re doing to a current trend or recent news story. If you’re not sure if you’ve got it yet – do the ‘so what?’ test. Is it really newsworthy? Will this be relevant to your target publication?
We all need to understand that journalists are in a performance-measured, high volume industry – so it’s your job to cut through, not their job to listen. Hence if you make their job easy and email them with something that is interesting, relevant and attention-grabbing then you’ll cut through the noise in their inbox.  The more writing and research you leave for a journalist, the less likely it is you get published, so include who, what, where and when in the opening paragraph, and keep it to less than 300 words.

4. Get everything ready for publication

Sticking to the theme of making life easy for our busy journalists, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find more information on you. The best way to do this is by creating a press section on your website. Include logos and concise biographies for your team and business, as well as high-resolution images. Any images other than profile photos of the team should be landscape images since the majority of publications are online and a PC screen is… landscape!
Never use PDF’s for press releases – journalists want to cut and paste – in fact it’s better to paste your announcement directly in to an email to save them the bother of opening an attachment. Be sure to include hyperlinks in the text with contact information at the end in case they want to get in touch.

5. Get selling

Once you’ve identify your favourite and most relevant journalists and bloggers it’s time to get in touch. If you’re doing a launch or an event give journalists warning. No-one will feature an event that happened yesterday. Instead give them a few days warning and invite them along.
Most journalists prefer to get an email first – but don’t sit back and wait for a reply. The next day you need to follow-up with a call. Be passionate about your story – passion is infectious – and ask questions to at least start a conversation. If they’re not interested, listen and take feedback on the chin – but make sure you close the call knowing what they’re looking for so you can go back with something improved or more relevant. It is never a one-hit wonder; see each call as the start of a relationship.

6. Offer to be a guest writer

If you can write, and are an expert in your field, then you probably have something valuable to say that will benefit others. Anyone putting on an event or publishing a magazine or blog needs interesting content, so you might just be surprised to find they’d love you to approach them!
The same rules apply though – do your research, find the best suited events or publications, then make a personal approach with a clear idea on where you can add value, and why you are qualified. Expanding this idea out, once you’ve built your own personal brand as an expert in your field, you can also consider providing comments to local press or niche publications.

7. Have all your ducks in a row

You never know when you might get a press enquiry (it isn’t always just when you send a release out!) and you want to be able to react quickly whenever and wherever you are. It is therefore worth having pre-prepared documents that are shared with those in your team outlining how you describe your company, what your story is, and what your points-of-view are. Keep this with all the collateral (such as images and biographies) so you’ve always got it to hand.
To avoid missing opportunities, it is wise to make sure everyone in your team knows who is authorised to provide comment to the press, and what the process and hierarchy is if someone is unavailable. The last thing you want is to find out is that the Times phoned for a quote while you were on holiday but the team didn’t want to disturb you.
Always remember that you cannot guarantee PR coverage, you have to earn it, and sometimes even the best sold-in stories can get knocked out if a huge news story hits – trust me I know, I did a major launch the day the royal baby was born! But follow-up and don’t give up… just one serious piece of coverage can make a huge difference to your business!