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Do It Yourself Media Relations: The 2 Things You Must Get Right

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For most new ventures -- and those who create and run them -- earning early public attention is essential and could be one of the deciding factors in whether the idea or product flourishes or falters.

It almost doesn’t matter whether your potential customers are moms or multinational corporations. Nobody can buy from you if they don’t know your company exists. Almost inevitably, entrepreneurs turn to the press for media coverage. 

And just like nearly everything you encounter in starting and running your business, you can hire professionals to do this. The variety in experience and niche skills is staggering. So is the variety in price.

But because startups can’t always afford to hire Rolodex-rich public relations firms or publicists who can escort their names and ideas to the head of the line, many entrepreneurs try to bootstrap their public relations. As much you may love the idea of hiring a public relations pro, sometimes doing it all yourself is the only option.

If that’s where you are (hatching and driving a media campaign on your own), here are the two most important things you can do before you make your first phone call or send your first email to a reporter.

Related: 5 Big Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Their PR Efforts

1. Be clear about your message.

Before you google a reporter's contact information, literally write down what you want to get out of your press coverage. These notes should include what you want to say or what you want said about yourself or your venture.

Chances are overwhelming that you’re not going to get all three of these things on your first, self-directed effort -- or even two.

But write down what you want to see in print.  

Once it’s written down, cut it in half and half again. Get it to a single sentence -- two at the most. Make sure you have one central idea that you aim to communicate and no more than one supporting reason or example to support it. Cut your message to its essence. If it hurts, you’re likely doing it correctly.

Here’s an example. “ABC Company's accounting software is the flatly the easiest for anyone to understand.” And “Even the CEO can be using it in 20 minutes, guaranteed.” This is one central idea and one example.

If your message starts with, “ABC Company was founded by so and so in whenever,” or “ABC is proud to launch,” you’re missing the point. Not only is that not likely the most important thing to say, you’ll really struggle to find a reporter to write about it. Try again.

Related: How to Connect With High-Profile Influencers

2. Be even clearer about your audience.  

If you could magically take the sentence you wrote and slide it in front of one person, who would that be? Whom do you want reading or seeing this message you’ve labored to produce?

Your approach and tactics will be different if you want urban, culturally aware 20-somethings to get your message or well-connected tech investors in Silicon Valley or chief financial officers in midsized companies.

Be precise. Pretend you only get one, small audience. In fact, that will be pretty close to true. So, reaching out to "everyone” isn’t an great answer here.

And if, when thinking about your audience, you find yourself revisiting and revising your message, that’s a good thing. Do it. Your audience should influence your message and vice versa.

The big companies do market research to find out what each different audience group needs to hear. As an entrepreneur, you don’t exactly have that luxury. But you should know who your most important audience is and you should know -- or at least sense -- what this audience needs to know.

And here’s the most important thing of all: If you’re unclear about who your key audience is or you have some hesitation about what you want to tell them, you’re not ready to approach the press.

Take some time and get the approach right. Introducing your company or product to the press and public is one of those things you rarely get a chance to do over.

Related: The 6 Worst Press-Release Topics That Startups Pitch