For many things in business and in life, it makes sense to hire a professional instead of trying to do it yourself.
One service you might prefer to contract for is public and media relations -- the art and science of seeking media attention for your company. Unfortunately, that's just not an option for every company, especially a startup.
In the trade-off between, say, meeting payroll and bringing in a hired PR gun, most companies put off public relations. And some organizations do it themselves, pressing the CEO or the founder into the unfamiliar waters of soliciting and managing media.
When few options exist except for try-it-yourself PR, first narrow your message and audience. Then before sending out a press release or calling a reporter, do these four things:
Knowing your company's target audience will help you narrow down the number of reporters you will try to reach.
Read what these chosen reporters write and their last five articles. Become acquainted with what they cover and how they write.
Read their tweets so you know what they care about. Yes, it seems like stalking.
But an hour or two of researching media professionals will save you the embarrassment and wasted time of bugging the wrong person. Few things annoy reporters more than receiving a pitch on a subject they don’t cover or when it’s clear that the sender has not read their newspaper or magazine or watched their show.
Consider using a service such as MuckRack that lets you track journalists on Twitter and even send them short pitches. It’s a powerful tool and affordable.
Once you’re clear about your message and audience and have some media targets, do some planning. Do you have the background information you might be asked for? If a reporter calls, do you know who in your company can speak on the record? Is that individual prepared?
You'd be surprised by how many businesspeople overlook that detail. When the phone rings, no one is ready.
"It is important that any organization has PR leaders," Hank Ostholthoff, chief marketing officer of e-cigarette maker Vapor4Life tells me. "These leaders should be educated in most aspects of the business and will practice refining their statements to create a remarkable position that gains traction and adds value to the editorial and the business."
With targets and plans in place, draft a pitch. Since most pitches are done by email today, this means writing it out. But even if you’re calling a reporter, write out your message points anyway. The reporter will thank you for being clear.
Humor helps as does a catchy headline. Or if you can, include a reference to something the reporter has written recently. This shows you’re paying attention.
But whatever you do, avoid hype and hyperbole. Whatever you're pitching isn’t the awesome-ist thing in the history of all things ever. It's just not. Don't scream. Explain. Don't pull the fire alarm. Tell the story.
Now take what you've written and cut in half.
A good pitch is two or three short paragraphs and no more. A reporter doesn't need the entire company history or seven quotes from six people. He or she won't wade through 800 words to find out if there's something interesting. If you did your homework, you should know what’s interesting to that reporters, so say so up front.
If you've done all this (clarified your message and audience, researched the right reporters, planned responses, drafted and cut your pitch), you're ready.
Double-check everything, press send and wait. You have done all you can do on the front end of try-it-yourself public relations.