We all wish we could hire the infamous movie character, Jerry Maguire, of “Show Me the Money!” fame to handle our PR. However, in these difficult economic times, when many small businesses are facing financial challenges, hiring a professional public relations firm is probably not in the budget. It’s a task that is being brought in-house by many companies either with someone on staff or even the business owner handling it themselves. Unfortunately, I was put in this position when I went over budget in manufacturing and made a bad business hire. By the time my product was ready for market, I had no money left in the budget for PR, so I was forced to do it myself.
The big question is whether or not you can do your own PR for your business and be as effective as a public relations firm. While a PR firm has contacts in the industry, I’m living proof that anyone can learn the basics of Do-It-Yourself PR, develop a personal plan and get great results! So put on your PR hat and get ready for some strategies that will allow you to become a DIY-PR expert!
There are several reporter services in existence, but my personal favorite is Help A Reporter Out at www. helpareporterout.com (HARO). This is a completely free service comprised of journalists looking for experts or people who can comment on topics about which they are writing. During the week, three times a day (approximately 6:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. EST), via e-mail, HARO sends out queries from reporters who are looking for experts, quotes, and information on stories about which they are writing. Just go to the website, sign up, and open the door to no-cost PR.
I have received countless FREE media exposure from HARO and am credited as one of their biggest success stories. I responded to a vague query about taking a product to the next level, and it ultimately resulted in an appearance on the nationally syndicated Steve Harvey Show in which I won an Inventor’s Competition and $20,000. I have been on countless television programs, radio shows (Internet and syndicated), magazines (print and online) and blog posts as a result of HARO.
The amount of time you will need to spend on HARO will largely depend on whether or not there are relevant topics in which you have the expertise or willingness to respond. Personally, I spend anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes a day on responses to queries.
When you do find a query that peaks your interest, the #1 key to attracting attention is to be timely in your responses. HARO has a huge database, so a reporter could be getting 100s of responses to one query. In addition to being timely, it is also important that your responses are on-topic and concise. Do not respond off-topic if the media outlet is one in which you are trying to reach. This is against HARO’s policies and these reporters are usually on deadlines, so it is a waste of their resources to read responses not pertinent to their query. Be respectful of the reporter’s time.
A time-saving tip that I use is to save specific responses and categorize them. For example, I have sample response e-mails for product pitches, business expert, “mompreneur,” start-ups, radio guest, television guest, etc., that I make minor edits to so that I can quickly respond to queries with the appropriate topic. This allows me to be much more efficient with my time when responding to HARO queries.
2. Know Who To Pitch To
Are you an expert in your field? Can you provide relevant content on various topics? The media always needs resources they can go to—so why not become that person in your field? It is critical to know whom the right contact person is at every media outlet pertaining to your subject matter. If your expertise is finance, don’t pitch to the beauty editor. Find the person who writes articles or is the editor of a section in which you could help with your expertise.
Finding the right person will take a little bit of research. I have had success online using Google, as well as spending time in the local library looking at the mastheads of newspapers and magazines to find contacts’ names and how to get in touch with them. There is also a website, www.mastheadsonline. blogspot.com, that lists several magazines and their contact information. However, double-check any contacts named, as some have not been updated since September 2012. A quick phone call can verify if the person listed is still with the magazine. Many of the more mainstream magazines are part of a larger umbrella publishing company such as Time, Hearst, Meredith, or Conde Naste.
Most large organizations have a common e-mail thread, so if you can find one person in the organization (this is very easy with Google), you will likely be able to figure out your contact’s e-mail address. For example, all employees at Hearst Publications have an e-mail of firstname.lastname@example.org. I have surveyed many journalists and the method of choice for pitching is e-mail.
If television is where you’d like to focus, watch the program you would like to be on and become very aware of its format so your pitch is on target. You can often find individual producer information at the end of the show in the credits. Another way to find out this information is to simply Google the segment name and topic, and look for the name of the producer via your search. Keep in mind that television talk shows have multiple producers, so if one does not respond, try another.
Do not give up if you don’t hear back on your first try! PR is a lesson of patience and perseverance. Prepare yourself for a “no,” but don’t let it deter you. Keep trying different contacts and angles—remember to always stay professional and on-topic—eventually, you will get that “yes” and the rewards will be outstanding!
3. Know What To Pitch
The best pitches come in the form of lists and tips and always have a unique “hook”. Think of a magazine cover that has “teases” about what’s inside like, “See How this College Student Decorated Her Dorm Room for Under $50” or, when the news goes to commercial break, “Coming Up… 5 Tips on How to Eat Fast Food and Still Lose Weight”. These “hooks” make you want to hear or read more. Keep a pitch short and concise. The media are inundated with requests and you need to grab them with a catchy title and then make it easy for them to read with short sentences, bullets, and/or bolding relevant terms. Visuals are always good so if you can include a picture or two, that will help. Always edit your pitches and make sure there are no grammatical or typographical errors. Remember: you are pitching to writers!
4. Know When To Pitch
In general, the first quarter of the year is geared toward New Year’s resolutions. Many stories/articles are about weight loss and fitness to reach those goals. The second quarter is geared towards summer: travel, fashion, summer fun. The third quarter is a very slow news time and many reporters are very accessible. This is a great time to pitch a new product or service. Also, if you have anything pertinent for back-to-school, this is the time to pitch it. The end of the year is the biggest news time with everyone reflecting back on the year, so it’s very difficult to get coverage this time of year. If you have a good gift product or service, this is the time all of the gift guides are published.
Every magazine has an editorial calendar that lists what will be featured in future editions for that year. It is usually located on the website under “media kit.” It is really designed for potential advertisers, but, for a publicist, it is a great tool to use to help plan which month to pitch your product or service. Magazines have closing dates for content that usually run four to six months prior to the issue date, so plan your pitches accordingly. Don’t pitch something for the March issue in January. You can also find the publication’s advertising deadlines on the editorial calendar, which can help you plan when and how early you will need to pitch that particular magazine. Know the editorial calendars and plan your pitches for the most success!
5. Keep Pitching
Just because you haven’t gotten a response from someone to whom you are pitching, don’t give up! Remember, they are getting 100s of pitches every day! If you are pitching relevant, timely information, continue to do so. You never know when reporters or producers are going to need that information or want to do a story on that topic. Your goal is to be the one they think of when they are looking for timely and quality information on a particular topic. I have a contact at a major morning show to whom I sent periodic pitches for an entire year before she responded to one that she thought was a good idea.
Don’t forget, when someone does respond to your pitch, you now have a relationship with that media contact and you should foster that. Make sure to stay connected with the person and continue to build the relationship.
With focus and persistence, DIY-PR can be accomplished just as effectively on your own as with a professional firm. Remember to keep ideas on-topic, be brief and concise and keep providing timely, quality information. Following these simple guidelines will allow you to build a PR portfolio, media contacts and success in the industry. Good luck and please feel free to share your success stories with me!