“Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.” – Richard Branson
Have you seen the power of a good public relations (PR) strategy?
Most businesses would love to have the associated visibility and access to new customers that PR can bring, but it’s not so easy actually getting that exposure. We live in an age of information where there is a lot of “noise” to cut through.
So, why consider PR as a potential channel for customer acquisition and how can you go about it? Let’s take a look at how PR is working today:
Why seek PR?
“If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spend it on PR.” – Bill Gates
Companies large and small seek ways to leverage PR; the bottom line is that it can provide them with excellent exposure. For any technology company company, getting a write-up in The Register or covered by the BBC gives you access to audiences running into the millions. One small PR piece can potentially reach a large number of people and create a huge boost in your leads.
Good PR is about leveraging the audiences that others already have. You can spend huge marketing dollars on growing your own audience or invest in a few well-placed PR initiatives that can bring the audience to you at a fraction of the cost.
If you think about the prestige associated with some of those larger publications, getting your own company into them can come with additional benefits to your reputation. Audiences may view you as a thought leader, someone who must be worth following because a major publication found you worth talking about.
Let’s look a bit deeper at that exposure though, because there is another huge benefit that can help to grow your visibility over time from that PR initiative: the impact on your SEO. When you get a PR story onto an authority site from a major media organisation, your own website gets a high value link back from the media website. Given backlinks to your site are still regarded as having the biggest impact on search engine rankings, PR is one of the best kept secrets within search engine optimisation (SEO) industry. Think about the possible social shares and links from others back to that article and you’ll see that just one story has the potential to create a web of backlinks for you.
One good PR piece can keep giving for long periods of time in terms of improving your SEO, so PR is more than just a short-term strategy for publicity.
“SEO and PR go together like peanut butter and jelly.” – Search Engine Land.
How PR is changing
What jumps to your mind when you think about PR? Most people still think of press releases getting picked up by major newspapers or stories being covered by big players such as the BBC (as in our examples above), but the world of PR is changing.
Oxford University presented research to answer where British people are getting their news from. Their findings show that traditional outlets are being outpaced by social media and other online sources. While there are generational differences in terms of specific preferences, online sources are well-represented in each generation.
Are people still going to the online sites of traditional media companies like the BBC? Yes, but increasingly, they’re going to “new media” sources, especially in the B2B space. These might include niche blogs, podcasts, content platforms, or social media platforms which publish content across a range of mediums. People listen to podcasts while on the run or read articles on Medium from their phones during their commute.
PR has changed.
“In 2016, anyone with an internet connection has the power of a journalist. Technology doesn’t just allow information to spread instantly; it allows anyone to spread it.” – Jessica E. Lessin
You might still seek “traditional” offline methods of PR, but increasingly, PR is about getting featured online too, often in those popular new media publications and websites. The power has shifted from being the domain of the big media outlets to including a vast array of new entrants, who have cultivated large audiences for themselves.
Mashable started as a humble blog, founded by a then nineteen-year-old Pete Cashmore, who lived at home with his parents. It has since grown to an audience of millions and is courted by companies wanting PR every day.
There are also plenty of other outlets which may not be quite as big, but have sizeable audiences within their niche. This makes them an ideal PR platform for businesses who fit with their niche.
Actually getting PR coverage is no easy task – if you’re still chasing those big traditional outlets, you’re probably wasting your time. For one thing, everyone tries to get their attention and secondly, there are more (possibly better) opportunities with the new platforms out there. Why not seek PR where you have a better chance of reaching your target audience? Essentially that’s what it’s all about – connecting with the right people.
How to get PR coverage
Getting PR coverage is not easy, but unfortunately this difficulty can be compounded as most companies aren’t doing a very good job of seeking it out. There are a couple of key mistakes that companies often make:
- They’re too boring or generic in their approach.
- They aren’t focusing on targeting the right places. They might send out the same pitch to a few big media outlets and just hope that someone gets back to them.
Let’s explore these points further. Most reporters are always on the lookout for stories that will be interesting, exciting and most importantly, relevant for their key audience. The key for your company in getting that desired PR coverage is to grab their attention effectively in the first place.
Many reporters are receiving hundreds of pitches in their inboxes every week. They have to find some way to sort through all the noise, so most will devise some kind of criteria that fast-tracks emails to the spam folder.
A common criteria is to toss emails which sound the same as everyone else.
According to interviews with journalists conducted by Buzzsumo, the following are common grievances they have with pitches:
- Use of too many buzzwords. Everyone thinks they’re “unique,” “disruptive” or “revolutionary.”
- Obscuring the pitch by filling it with those buzzwords and not explaining in plain English what the story is actually about.
- Failing to cut to the chase. Remember, if a reporter is receiving a number of pitches every day, they want to be able to skim yours quickly.
- Not tailoring the pitch to the journalist. A “spray and pray” approach where you’ve BCC’ed dozens of people is obvious and ineffective.
You’ve got to be different to everyone else and make a real effort to stand out and acknowledge the unique needs of the reporter you’re pitching too. They’re genuinely interested in hearing from you if you’ve got something worthwhile to say.
As Paul Sawers put it:
“A key point to remember is that the relationship between a company and the media is a symbiotic one. On the one hand you want the public to read about your company in well-read publications, but also remember that we need you because you are what will ultimately give us good content.”
Have an interesting story
This is a key part of how you will be different to everyone else. You’ve got to be able to take a few risks and understand what will be newsworthy or provocative. What might a reporter consider to be an interesting story? Here are a few pointers:
- Genuine thought leadership. The story of how your idea came about and why no one else is doing it your way already.
- Offer an interview with the founders or CTO.
- Answer the question “why is this important today?”
- Offer clear value for the journalist – how will your story drive traffic to their article or resonate with their audience?
- Don’t leave the pitch half-baked or “give the reporter homework”. Include a clear description and call to action.
- Be relevant in the news cycle. Is there an important date, event or issue that your story ties in with?
- Personalise your pitch. Reporters strongly dislike pitches that have obviously been sent to a number of others. Show that you understand the beat they cover and why your story is relevant to their particular topics.
Above all, you’ve got to be compelling. If you take any product in any industry, there will always be at least a handful of similar, competing products. Reporters rarely see anything that is genuinely “unique”, hence they tend to have an aversion to pitches that use this word (maybe you are unique – find a better way to express that!).
Stop chasing the big names
If you’re lucky, you might eventually get picked up by someone like TechCrunch or The BBC, but the chances are this won’t happen unless you’re already a real stand-out. You can spend a lot of time pitching the big names, or you can take a focused approach and find other avenues which may be quicker ways to reach a targeted audience.
- Speaking engagements – Find relevant conferences where there will be large audiences who fit within your target market and try to book a speaking spot.
- Podcasts – There are now large numbers of popular or up-and-coming podcasts, many with thousands of monthly listeners. If you can get onto some of these podcasts, it’s a great way to literally be right in the ear of a large audience. Sometimes this can be more effective than press for PR.
- Content – Nearly every blog looks for guest posts now and quality content can be great PR. Create something original which demonstrates thought leadership for their readers.
- Find out who has written about your competitors – If there is any “shortcut” to figure out who you should be pitching, it’s to look for those who have written about your competitors. As long as you have a good pitch, they’ll probably be interested in writing about you too.
There are a couple of tools you can use to figure this out relatively quickly and build a list to reach out to. Use Moz’s Open Site Explorer to find all of the backlinks to your competitor’s blog, homepage or particular landing pages. Buzzsumo is great for finding influencers on a particular topic to add to your list.
Developing real relationships with journalists can go a long way. It helps to be able to personalise your communication and of course, if someone knows you your email is more likely to get opened!
Here’s a quick story from journalist, Alden Wicker as an example:
“I’ll tell you about the most positive PR experience I ever had. I received a formal invitation to a fashion week event. When I emailed back asking for more information, I got a personalized response with just the information I needed, plus a cell phone number so I could call the PR person when I got there. When I arrived, the PR person found me, remembered the name and focus of my blog, and escorted me to talk to the designer. Then, he followed up with an email inviting me to the afterparty, and took the time to treat me as a human being with interests other than his client. I will give his clients so much positive coverage always.”
Remember, you can develop relationships by offering value to the journalist. Alden makes an important point there about being treated “as a human being.”
Who should pitch for PR?
You’ve really got three options when it comes to building relationships with reporters and pitching for PR:
- Hire an in-house PR professional.
- Do it yourself.
Our preferred way is to hire an in-house professional, preferably someone who is already very well-connected. We like a “pay for performance” plan rather than retainers because we’ve found that there’s still a lot of antiquated thinking (which doesn’t necessarily get results) in PR.
Leverage tools and technology
The technology available today enables a number of low-investment activities that can help with your PR. You can use technology to help with the following:
- Monitor popular and relevant discussion threads. Joining the discussion can help boost your PR.
- Set up alerts for articles being published on topics you need to monitor or from authors you follow.
- Leverage online PR platforms such as HARO or Muckrack. You can be alerted when journalists are looking for stories or expertise within your niche.
- Monitor hashtags for requests such as #JournoRequest or #PRrequest.
- Use the Google News API to find reporters who are writing about your industry.
Where can you get started with your own PR strategy? Click here to access our PR Checklist and suggested tools.
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