When I started my own business in the cosmetics space, I had no employees and no marketing budget. Yet, I was able to get my small (but mighty) company featured in prominent magazines like Glamour, Teen Vogue, and Seventeen. How? Some light stalking and a lot of persistence. (No, I’m not joking!) And, thanks, in part, to these scrappy PR efforts, my company turned cash-flow positive in less than a year. So, in this article, I’ll share my three steps for getting PR on any budget.
First, what exactly is PR and why does it matter?
Many folks think of Public Relations (PR) as crisis communication or responding to media when things go wrong (I’m sure you’re aware of United Airlines’ recent PR challenges). While crisis communication is part of PR, that’s not what I’m referring to here. Rather, think of PR as the strategy for getting a reporter to write about your business without paying for it.
Now, for a multi-tasking business owner, PR might not be the first place you invest your time. But a series (or even just one!) successful media placement can generate more than just buzz: it can actually boost your revenue. (It was a game-changer for my business.) So don’t underestimate the impact of pursuing PR; for most small businesses, it can be the most valuable marketing investment you can make.
Step 1: Think about what makes you different from everyone else
What makes your company stand out? You should have a compelling answer before ever approaching a reporter. Remember, a journalist’s job is to write about things that are timely, new, and different. So ask yourself: What is my company doing that is one-of-a-kind?
For example, I leaned heavily on the fact that my product was eco-friendly where other competitors in the space were not. Because there was a bigger trend around consumers wanting eco-friendly products, reporters were naturally interested in learning more about my company’s unique approach.
Another way to stand out is to offer something that no one else in town does. For example, Hi-Fi Donuts and Coffee, based in Portland, Maine, recently started putting beer in their donuts. Since this was a unique and undoubtedly delicious idea, they received a lot of local press about their innovative recipe.
If your business happens to be in a less exciting space, think about other things that make you different: Did you do something amazing for a customer? Did you invent a new way of getting something done? There are a million ways to standout—think about what is authentic for your business.
Step 2: Take to Twitter. Spoiler alert: light stalking is required!
Now that you know how you stand out, the next step is to pick the right reporters to reach out to. Start by doing a Google News search for your competitors and keywords related to your industry. Has anyone written about your competitors or your space in the past? If so, record the reporter’s name who wrote the article. Keep your list small. With limited time on your hands, I recommend picking no more than 5-10 reporters to start.
Next, create a spreadsheet that has the reporter’s name, their publication and Twitter handle, and take notes on what the reporter typically covers and how frequently they publish stories. You can usually find their email address by going to their reporter page on their publication’s website and on their Twitter handle. Be sure to save all this information in your spreadsheet.
Finally, spend some time getting to know them on Twitter and record any personal details in your spreadsheet. For example, I found out one beauty editor had a dog named Ruby. While these may be small details, it makes all the difference. Trust me, a subject line that says “Ruby is adorable!” is more likely to be opened than a generic subject line like “PR opportunity you might like.”
Step 3: Spring into action when the timing is right
Timing is everything. Don’t just pitch a reporter haphazardly; pick the right moment where you believe you can really stand out from the crowd.
One morning, after many months of wanting to connect with a certain beauty editor at a prestigious glossy magazine, she Tweeted that she wished she had cheese fries. When I saw the Tweet, I immediately sprang into action. I looked up a food delivery service in New York City, delivered cheese fries to her desk within the hour and emailed her with the subject line “Enjoying your cheese fries?”
From there, I shared our company’s latest product release and lo-and-behold, one month later our product ended up in a roundup of The Best New Beauty Products You Should Try.
Another way to stand out is to wait for moments during the calendar year where the reporter may already have a story planned. One of my favorite examples of this is a Baltimore radio station that generated press by putting up a Mother’s Day billboard for April Fool’s Day.
Is your company participating in a park cleanup for Earth Day? Do you let employees take dogs to work on National Dog Day? Let the local news know about it a week before—you’re bound to get press interest if you time your pitch just right.
Remember, persistence is the name of the game
Great PR isn’t built overnight, you need to be patient and stick with it. Sometimes you may go back and forth with a reporter for months before they decide to write about you. Don’t get discouraged. If you can time things well and build a personal connection with a reporter, good things will come in time—just don’t forget to nudge them every once in awhile!