For a lot of small business entrepreneurs it’s not always possible to hire an expert to fill a needed role within the company. A limited budget often forces many entrepreneurs to take a DIY approach in areas they don’t possess a lot of experience. So when forced to decide between the need to hire a PR expert or covering monthly expenses, you might find yourself pressed into wading through the unfamiliar waters of managing and soliciting media.
When forced into do-it-yourself PR, make sure to narrow your target audience and message. Then prior to calling local papers or sending out a press release, give these four tips a try.
Do Your Homework
Understanding your company’s target audience will help you narrow down the news outlets and reporters you should attempt to reach. Once you know the type of stories that will best resonate with your target audience, you can then begin to look for reporters and news outlets with a history of publishing those kind of stories.
To get a feel for a reporter’s style and story interest, read what a reporter has written about in his or her last five articles. This should give you a pretty clear idea of what they cover and how they write. You should also make a point to keep up on their Twitter feed to see what is capturing their interest at the moment.
While this may feel a little like stalking, the time you put in researching members of the media will prevent you from wasting time and the embarrassment of bugging the wrong type of reporter. It’s easy to alienate yourself and annoy a reporter by pitching story ideas they don’t cover. This just shows you haven’t done any research or read any of their previous work.
Tools such as MuckRack allow you to track reporters on Twitter, and even provides you with the option of sending brief story pitches. The site does require a subscription fee to use, but its low cost is more than worth it.
Develop a Plan
Once you’ve developed a clear understanding about your target audience and message and have decided on whom to approach in the media, it’s time to start developing a plan. Do you have any background information prepared in case a reporter calls asking for details? Are you prepared to go on record should a reporter want to interview you for a story?
You’d be surprised at how many small business owners overlook these simple details. When the phone finally does ring, make sure you’re prepared.
Create a Pitch
With a plan in place and targets picked, it’s time to create a pitch. Most pitches are delivered by email, so you’ll need to write one out. However, even if you decide to call a reporter, take the time to write down your primary talking points anyway. It will help keep you on track when talking to a reporter and prevent you from forgetting any important details.
Writing a catchy, humorous headline can help your press release stand out in an already overcrowded inbox. You can also include a reference to a recent story the reporter you’re contacting has written. This helps to show that you’ve been paying attention to his or her most recent work.
Try to avoid hyperbole and tired clichés whenever possible. Terms like “cutting edge” and “revolutionary” come across as more hackneyed than attention grabbing. Just stick to telling your story, and leave the hype to the one writing the story.
As the final step, you need to take what you’ve created and cut in half.
A good press release or story pitch should only be two or three short paragraphs in length. A reporter doesn’t need your company’s complete history or quotes from every person on your staff. Reporters receive dozens of press releases a day, and they won’t take the time to read through a short essay to find if it contains an interesting story idea. By doing your homework early on, you should gain a clear idea of what interests particular reporter, so make sure to state that information early on in your release.
Once you’ve refined your message and audience, determined the right reporters and news agencies to target, developed a plan of responses, and created and edited your pitch, you’re finally ready to start issuing press releases.
Make sure to double-check everything before hitting send – spelling and grammar errors are one of the easiest ways to lose credibility – and then wait. Whether you get an immediate response or it takes multiple rejections before finally capturing a reporter’s attention, take comfort in knowing that you’ve done all you can to give your self-marketing PR campaign a chance.