There are plenty of resources out there to help you decide whether you require the services of a professional public relations (PR) agency. However, whether you can afford the thousands of dollars in fees and six-month retainers or not, enterprises of all shapes and sizes should not jump into any agreement without first assessing whether they could manage their campaign in-house.
A number of do-it-yourself platforms are debunking the myth that PR agencies are the only way to get covered in leading publications, but even these services come at a price and require the client to do most of the hard work themselves. However, if you are willing to put in the work, a do-it-yourself PR campaign can be a great option.
However, choosing the do-it-yourself option should not be taken lightly. A half-hearted campaign that is not well-planned and structured is unlikely to be effective. There are lots of challenges to self-PR which go a lot deeper than being able to write a good press release and eye-catching pitch. In this article, I will outline danger areas for self-PR and ways to get around them.
1. A no-man is often better than a yes-man.
One of the most important parts of a PR process -- and the first step with any reputable agency, once your five-figure check has cleared -- is to strategically plan your campaign.
Outsourcing PR services enables you to receive the opinions of someone who is not personally invested in the success of your product or service. In theory, this means they provide unbiased and honest feedback about your announcement. However, this is not always the case, as PR agencies have been known to say yes to proposals just to rack up billable hours.
Whatever route you choose, getting objective, honest feedback is key. Overworked journalists receive hundreds of pitches each day. Before sending out pitches, you have to decide whether you have something newsworthy to contribute to the wider conversation. As a founder, you probably think everything your company does is newsworthy, which is why an outside perspective is so needed. If you cannot provide a strong reason as to why your company's story will make an impact on a publication’s readers, you shouldn't expect coverage.
With the do-it-yourself approach, you are not paying a firm to provide that feedback for you. Instead, lean on professional contacts and your local startup community for feedback. And if you know any journalists on a friendly basis, ask them for their opinion -- but do not also try to pitch them. You may get answers and opinions which you do not want to hear, but that’s not a bad thing.
2. Choose your announcement carefully.
If you decide to go down the press-release path, then you should take a step back and assess the strength of your announcement. Is it significant within your industry or only within your company or region? Certain announcements are stronger than others, and partnership announcements, change of location, new staff or funding announcements of less than $500,000 are unlikely to get picked up in a leading publication. Have you ever seen a TechCrunch article about a new office opening or two companies partnering that you don´t know? The answer is no.
In the world of startups, launch and funding announcements are the most likely to get covered, since they are major company milestones. Your company’s overall standing also counts. Doubling your users in the space of a year or reaching the million download mark sounds impressive, but if your announcement pales in significance to that of your competitors, then it might be better to take a different angle.
That said, a common mistake is to assume that because you don't have an obvious announcement that fits with a press release, that you don't have anything of value to share. If you can use your industry knowledge to further a topic which hasn't already been directly covered -- a quick Google search will clarify this-- then you could go down the guest article route. Look at your competitors and the coverage they are getting. If they aren't talking about a particular topic, then this could be an opportunity.
3. Pitch perfect: Plan the right way to get the word out there.
With the help of the internet, writing an effective press release and pitch shouldn't pose too many problems, but carefully planning an outreach campaign is an area in which many people drop the ball due to inexperience. Plan out your outreach campaign using a Google doc or calenda,r and make sure to handpick journalists and publications who specialize in your field.
Most professional PR agencies plan outreach in three stages:
- Offer exclusives to specific journalists from top-tier publications and give them a 24-hour grace period to reply before offering the story to someone else.
- Begin industry vertical outreach to industry specific websites and publications.
- Contact niche publications, local media and lower-tier publications such as blogs.
Following the rules of etiquette with journalists is vital. Journalists are like elephants -- they never forget. Always be polite and 100 percent honest with the information that you provide. And be sure to respect their deadlines and schedules as much as possible.Taking the easy route of spamming hundreds of journalists is extremely unlikely to result in coverage. This misconception can get you blocked from a reporter's email, and you can lose that connection for good. It is best to reach out to journalists individually, and personalize the subject line by using their name.
You can go even further and offer a journalist an exclusive on your story, meaning that you make a promise to not reach out to any other media outlet with the story while the journalist decides if they want to write the story. An exclusive adds the extra incentive that is important to every journalist: to be the first to break the story. Exclusives do not work with all announcements, so be careful how you use them.
4. Consider your audience.
Don't send every story pitch to the same publications. While it is a dream of many startups to be featured in a big publication, not all announcements will fit. If you have a less general, more industry-specific announcement like a product launch or a new feature, it might be best to target publications with your story that fit within your industry vertical.
You need to think of the reader when choosing the publication to reach out to. Would a partnership announcement between a data plan reseller and a telecom company interest the average tech enthusiast reading TechCrunch? Probably not. However, that same pitch would probably interest a site like Telecoms.com, and the readership of this publication is more likely to be someone who makes decisions within their company about what data plans to purchase.
5. Keep your cool.
Finally, if a journalist doesn't respond to your email, don't be offended, and certainly don't start bombarding them further emails or social media posts. This is called harassment. If no one has picked up your announcement after your first two rounds of outreach, you don't need to throw in the towel. Go back to the drawing board, change up your pitch, and select a new batch of journalists to share with.
The world of PR is unpredictable, and any agency who guarantees results should be viewed with suspicion. The likelihood of your announcement or article being picked up is entirely based on the strength of the story itself, not the channel by which it is announced. Nevertheless, in the same way that few people stop to listen to the someone ranting in a busy metro station regardless of how profound their ideas are, choosing your audience and expressing your ideas in a professional, clear and comprehensible manner is key.