How To Get Free Press For Your Business Without a PR Firm

extra-extra-get-business-pressRecently, a few people have asked me, “Matt, I noticed on your homepage and on Saber Blast that you were published in all those reputable places (like Forbes, Inc, The Washington Post, Mashable, Techcrunch, and more).

How did you do that? How can I do the same thing for my business?”

If you have no experience speaking with journalists or you’ve never gotten press before, the question of how to get others to write about you may seem daunting–where do you even start?

For even the most seemingly “boring” businesses, this article will show you how to get press for your business easily. I’m going to spill all my best strategies and tactics for getting major media coverage–regardless of your past marketing experience or budget.

Let’s start by trying to understand the concept of “news.”

If you want to make news, first understand what it is.

At a most basic level “news” is simply the moment to moment stories of people doing stuff that’s worth talking about.

So, it follows that if you want to get media coverage, you need to have something to say that others will want to hear.

Take for example the wedding of Likeable Media founder, Dave Kerpen, and his fiance (who at the time were running an events business together). They brainstormed about the wedding of their dreams and when realized they couldn’t afford to pay for it, they decided to get creative.

94-Kerpe-HIDI-bkt_19625[1]

They asked famous brands to sponsor different parts of their wedding which was to be held at a Brooklyn Cyclones baseball stadium with an audience of 8,000 in attendance, plus lots of national and local press coverage since the idea was (and still is) quite novel.

The media wanted to cover this type of event because it lead to all sorts of questions that a broader audience cared about, like, is there something wrong with a sponsored wedding? Is this what people are forced to do these days because the price of a wedding is out of control?

In short, this example became newsworthy because it’s incredibly unique (an untraditional spin on the traditional event of marriage). It’s something that people will want to discuss.

Start to think about ways in which your story is unique:

  • What do you believe?
  • Why did you started the business or create the product? Was there some personal, painful experience you went through that inspired you to take action to solve the problem?
  • How is your product or service delivered that makes it stand out?
  • What popular issues are people talking about today that relate to your business and how you run it? The economy? Healthcare? Income? Relationships?

“What are the advantages of getting press over other forms of marketing?”

advantages-disadvantages-pros-cons

From an entrepreneur’s perspective what is press coverage? Why does everyone want it?

It’s free advertising, that’s why, and more than that it’s someone else with their own built up brand credibility talking about your business.

Here are the specific advantages of getting this free advertising via media coverage:

  • Exposure – People who haven’t heard about your business will hear about you
  • Increased recall – The more often a person hears about you, the more easily they can recall the name of your business in the future i.e. when talking with friends.
  • Temporary boost in website traffic, searches, social media shares – Temporary because what’s news today is pushed off the “front page” tomorrow.
  • Sales boost – Even if you get bad press, you can still see an increase in sales. I’ll talk more later about “bad” press…
  • More press – Getting published in one place often leads to interest from other journalists and bloggers. I call this a the “media echo effect.”
  • Boost in search rankings – If you’re published on one or more media websites with authority in the eyes of Google, your overall search rankings will increase.
  • Miscellaneous opportunities – Others in business will often reach out to you with partnership or joint marketing offers after they read about you.

“Ok, I want media coverage for my business, where do I start?”

the-starting-line

When I was a teenager starting my first business, PR was complete guess work.

I saw some startups at colleges getting covered in our campus newspaper so I decided that would be the best place to start. About a year later, we were featured on the front page in full feature article. Website traffic spiked and so did usage of the app. Almost everyone in the local community of roughly 20,000 knew the business now.

With the “media echo” working in our favor, this snowballed into press coverage in the town’s two local newspapers, an opportunity to pitch the same investors who funded Skype, and a small mention on Forbes.com.

After seeing how easy it was to get press attention, I was hooked and I wanted more.

What I learned later on was that you don’t have to start with your local papers though. Afterall, only a small percentage of people consume print media as opposed to digital. Plus, from a web marketing point of view, you stand to reap significantly less benefits in terms of traffic and SEO if you’re not covered online as opposed to just in a print version.

However, before you even begin to think about details like that, establish a strategy by deciding on what outcome you want to receive from executing your PR campaign:

  • Do you want to be able to list reputable 3rd party logos (e.g. The New York Times) on your website?
  • Do you want to grow sales and awareness?
  • Do you want to improve your traffic and search rankings?

Each of these goals requires a slightly different approach.

For example:

  1. If you just want the option to slap some “as seen in” logos on your website, you should go for just getting mentioned.
  2. For growing sales, you should seek to get a full write-up on your business.
  3. For improving traffic and search rankings guest blogging works well.

“How do I get mentioned in an article?”

nytimes-tech-press-mention

If you decide that getting mentioned will meet your PR marketing goals, the next question is, how do you do it?

Start by making a list of your target publications or venues. Your list might look something like this:

  1. Wall St. Journal
  2. Washington Times
  3. NY Times
  4. Venture Beat
  5. Mashable
  6. Fox Business News

The reason I use national outlets like these is are because it fits the profile of many mass market B2B service companies. Your company might be different though. The key is to aim for publications or blogs that are well known to your target customer.

For instance, look at my previous startup’s website, Blue Sky Local. BSL was a niche product aimed at helping US restaurants. For this reason when I decided to go out hunting for press, I targeted publications with a restaurant audience, like QSR Magazine and Nightclub & Bar.

niche-restuarant-press-logos

There were a few factors in our favor that made getting press easy.

  • First, we were fairly niche in our approach (“This marketing software that will help restaurants make more money.”)
  • Second, our product was very unique (“No one else is doing this, BSL helps restaurants automagically send out discount offers and coupons to local customers to turn a slow sales day, like when it’s raining or on a Monday, into a packed house.”)
  • Third, to position ourselves as even more unique, we decided to create our own category (“This is the world first Slow Sales Response solution, or SSR for short, solution”). And the writers would explicitly mention that in their articles.
  • Finally, we backed up our claims that the software solved a real problem, by citing data from research survey we took which showed restaurants were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

But let’s assume you’re not in as fortunate a position as this. Let’s assume, for instance, that you’re a service business, a local plumber in fact. How do you differentiate and pitch that to a journalist?

Remember, our strategy here is to get mentions, not to get a full write-up or anything like that. So that affects the tactical approach.

The easiest way is to begin by networking with bloggers and journalists.

The way that you do this is you take the list of target publications you listed in the step above (again, they should be relevant and/or respected by your target customer) and begin searching out articles, on Google and on the actual publication’s website.

Look for anything that is relevant to your business. What do I mean by relevant? Do a quick keyword brainstorm on words that are related to [your] a plumber’s business:

  1. Local business
  2. Local economy
  3. Plumbing tips
  4. Lower your home costs

That list right there took me less than 30 seconds to think of. Surely you can think of more for your own company.

The next step after that is to look up who the author of the article is. Hypothetically, assume the article is titled “Frozen Pipes? Tips to Fatten your Wallet an Lower Your Water Costs,” and it’s written by David Smith.

Often, a writer’s email address will be directly on the publisher’s website, on the article, on past articles, or you can find it on his or her personal website.

I wholly recommend against contacting someone via Twitter or Facebook, but especially Twitter. I have no clue why some “gurus” recommend following and tweeting to journalists.

“Hey @DavidSmith I run this business locally and I think I can be a relevant resource to you on a future article about the #local–” and you’re cut off at the 140 character limit.

Beyond the obvious Google search, do you want to know the best way to find and verify almost anyone’s email address in case it’s not easily found online? Enter your email below and I’ll tell you a quick “hack”:

Fill out my online form.

The final ingredient is the will to reach out to a journalist and make your case for why you can be a resource to them on an upcoming or future article. And yes, that’s the exact approach you need to take–it’s not about you when you reach out, it’s about helping them.

Here’s what a sample outreach email might look like:

Hey David,

My name is [name] and I’m emailing you because I recently enjoyed reading your article here on some innovative ways consumers can lower their water bill in the winter months.

[link to article — putting the link on it’s own dedicated line makes it easier to click on if they’re reading your message on a mobile phone]

Here’s one other tip that I think could work well in a future article or if you decide to update this: [ value added tip that positions you as an authority ]

I’ve been running a growing plumbing business in Brooklyn NY for the last X years, in which we’ve helped Y hundred household consumers — I would love to serve as a resource to you for any future articles since my expertise is in:

plumbing, water bill economics, and small / local business formation and development

My direct number is below or you can email me back anytime you want a fresh perspective from someone with direct experience.

Thanks,

[name]

[number / signature line]

You can tweak and reword that template to fit your business but in my experience sending short, personal, valued-added messages like that helps to position you as an authority. And since many journalists never receive any direct email responses to their articles, they appreciate the effort and will respond.

I recommend sending at least 3 of these types of messages at a time for good measure since some percentage will not yield a response.

In closing, some other easy ways to get press mentions are to join a networking group like the YEC (Young Entrepreneurs Council), your local chamber of commerce, or another established group of individuals from your industry.

Journalists frequently will reach out the leadership of these organizations, asking for referrals to people who can talk on a certain subject or answer a specific question.

“How do I get featured in a press article?”

entrepreneur-richard-branson-cover

Some companies try to blur the lines between the words “mention” and “featured” but if you’re going to be intellectually honest, being featured in an article is a much bigger deal because that usually means the focus of the article is you and your business.

Many of the same key factors used for getting mentioned also apply for getting featured:

  • Uniqueness
  • Story
  • Niche-ness (yes I just invented this word)
  • Create a new category, or in a relatively new category created by someone else (think Living Social in the “Group Deal” space which started by Groupon)

However, because the end-goal is completely different this affects the specific tactics you should use.

The main difference is that in order for it to be justifiable for anyone to write-up a full article on you, you have to be “news” which means you have to be saying or doing something new.

Here’s a quick story of how good timing and a lunch at Panera Bread resulted in a successful launch for AutoGrow’s new product, Saber Blast, last year.

saberblast-on-techcrunch

First off, let me emphasize that I have friends who’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to PR firms to get featured like this on Techcrunch on launch day.

Second, I believe that pretty much anyone with something new and compelling to say can replicate the process I used here.

In early 2013, with absolutely zero name recognition or reputation with anyone at Techcrunch, I fired off an email to a journalist who had written an article on something to do with social media marketing in the recent past.

This was the email I wrote, short and sweet:

Subject: Hey Rip – In NYC? [Rip was his name]

Message:

Hey Rip,

I saw your post on LocalVox.

I’m the founder of SaberBlast.com, launching in the next 2 months.

Are you in NYC? Want to grab a cup of coffee or lunch?

If you are in NY, I hope you survived the storm ok 🙂  [reference to hurricane Katrina]

Matt

He responded the same day saying that he lived in San Francisco, but recommended I reach out to some of their NYC writers, one in particular.

So I reached out to her and said Rip had referred me, and I made sure to include the rest of the email thread where Rip and I had conversed. Did she want to grab coffee and chat?

“Ya, I’d absolutely love to grab coffee. I’m out of town until Saturday. How about next week? What day works?” she responded.

Could it really have been that easy? No, I told myself, I would have to make a good solid pitch and she’d probably turn it down or maybe I’d have to come back to her several months later when we were in growth mode or something…

To my surprise though, when we met it was casual and friendly. I explained the concept of the product to her, the problem it solved, and why it was unique (which it was, nothing else like it existed and still doesn’t).

At the end of our lunch, she told me “All right well I like it. Just let me know when you’re going to launch and I’ll write about.”

I was blown away. Could it really have been that easy?…

When we did in fact launch, traffic blew up on the website, a new person was signing up and buying the product every hour, we were written up in two other publication shortly after as a direct result, and we were even attacked on Reddit (but it was the good kind of “bad” press in my opinion).

traffic-spike

Looking back now, it really wasn’t that easy. Although that version of the product wasn’t ultimately successful (in 2014 we pivoted the product to be email marketing software), the reason I was able to get this type of media coverage for it was because it was new and unique — and that, combined with the fact that I met the journalist in person, graciously bought her lunch, and then proceed to just be myself (no begging, no canned pitches, just showing the product and talking from the heart about why I thought it mattered).

Plus, the word “easy” doesn’t even enter into the equation when you consider that in the month after I met with her, I had to buckle down and finish coding all the app’s key features.

The key takeaway from this story is, if you want to get a full featured write-up, the kind that gets you sales and awareness, do or say something new and unique, and then reach out journalists via their “least crowded” means of communication: ideally, in-person. Video chat is the second best option.

There’s still more that can be said here about how to get rich, indepth media coverage, and Marc Eckō, creator of the billion dollar clothing line eckō unltd, is my go-to expert. 

marc-ecko

Marc is known for creative publicity stunts like using graffiti to tag Air Force One (it wasn’t really Air Force one, but the video is still pretty cool, see below).

In a recent interview on the Inc. Magazine Founders Forum, he was asked about his method for getting press attention. What he said is profoundly instructive on the subject of attaining full featured press:

“The greatest currency you can exchange with someone is that currency of giving a f*ck … That’s “french” for caring.” … [I like to say] ideas, not dollars. Ideas that create an emotional transaction is what you want to work on.”

Right now, maybe you’re thinking you want coverage similar to what Saber Blast got on Techcrunch on launch day.

But if that’s not possible, you might want to rethink the idea behind your press efforts.

Specifically, what is the key idea or ideas you care about that relate to this business or product? How can you do something creative as, Marc advises, to show it that will get the press’s attention?

“How do I get free press by writing educational articles or by guest blogging?”

And how is this different from getting press mentions?

I put this question to PR expert and co-founder of Influence and Co. Kelsey Meyer:

Kelsey-meyer

“The two strategies are honestly completely different.

With trying to get press mentions what you’re really trying to do is convince a journalist that there is something unique about your business that they should care about. It’s sometimes described as ‘trying to put lipstick on a pig’ you’re trying to spice up something you’re doing to make it interesting to a journalist.

When you’re trying to get an article written that is coming from you as the expert you’re not reaching out to a journalist you’re reaching out to an editor.

And you’re speaking with the editor about why you are uniquely qualified to write about something that is within your expertise and is of interest to their audience.

In this instance the tactic is more about your knowledge base than the flashiness of your product/service.

The editor doesn’t care what you do, they care if you can add value to their readership – so you should focus on pitching an article that is educational not promotional, and truly understand their readership and the types of articles they publish before reaching out to an editor.

All of Kelsey’s points are exactly right. When you’re offering to guest blog for someone it’s all about the value you can bring to their audience. It’s not about you, it’s about how you can educate their readers on some topic that you’re an expert in.

Here are some tactical ways for you to land a guest blog post opportunity:

  1. If you’re looking for guest article or blogging opportunities, the tip I gave earlier about joining networking organizations applies here as well. The leadership can help you to pitch media outlets as a guest contributor and maybe even make direct introductions to publishers within the group who would be open to featuring your content.
  2. Another option is to use Google and simply search for keyword phrases like “guest blog post opportunities,” “guest post,” “guest blogger,” etc.
  3. Cold email blogger editors and owners (make sure you have a title idea in mind and 1 recent, high quality article to show them).
  4. Organic, inbound guest blogging opportunities occur if you regularly write your own blog.

Again, guest posting works well if your goal is to build authority within your niche, improve overall SEO, or build traffic slowly over time (in the bio section where most websites allow you to link back to your website, you should be linking directly to a landing page for your newsletter).

“What are some recommended tools and resources to help me get started?”

  • HARO (Help a Reporter Out) – The lazy man’s way of finding free press opportunities since questions from reporters will be emailed in to you daily. Many people claim it as a great resource which is the only reason I’m listing it here. I’ve used it many times in the past but without any luck I suspect it might be a very crowded channel at this point, but people still continue to talk about it.
  • Guide to Finding Guest Post Opportunities
  • PRlog.org – Great for distributing press releases, and it’s good for your SEO as well.
  • Launch.It – A friend of mine is the co-founder of this company. It’s like PR Log for launches, and which a lot more features and benefits.
  • ToutApp – I have friends who use Tout App to check if people are opening their emails. It’s useful if you’re planning a PR outreach campaign.
  • Drafting Technique – This technique was coined, I believe, by David Meerman Scott, but Derek Halpern packaged it up and took it to another level here. It’s useful to be aware of this factor when reaching out to journalists.
  • Getting International Press Coverage – A buddy of mine, Scott Britton, recently wrote a killer blog post on this subject based on first hand experience.
  • Getting press for your band – Even if you’re not a musician, I find it’s always useful to look at a variety of ideas from a variety of industries since it often inspires new ideas that other’s have overlooked.

A word about content marketing and creating your own press

kid-press-reporter

The best kind of press is the kind where you control the distribution channel and the medium. For example, a website blog combined with a newsletter.

Many of the smartest brands today are investing the time and resources to nurture a community of loyal, engaged subscribers around their web presence using content marketing (you can see some examples of this from last week’s article on authentic marketing).

My strategy is no different here on the AutoGrow blog, and the reason I do it is it’s like creating my own free press coverage each and every week.

Plus, it’s gradually starting to snowball into other media coverage opportunities. For example, I was recently invited to guest post on CrazyEgg.com — a site I’ve referenced here several times in the past.

Running a “PR campaign” shouldn’t be a one time thing. A one time Techcrunch spike in traffic will not “make” your business.

Generating press should be an ongoing marketing habit that you use to steadily build awareness, exposure, and authority over time. Bottom-line sales growth will follow, usually as long term indirect result.

Conclusion

Everyone wants press because they hope it’s a quick, “sexy,” and inexpensive route to getting their brand famous and making more money.

And while it can be that (though it’s usually a lot less quick in reality), most people never are able to take the first step to get coverage, or when they do, they fall flat because they don’t understand what news really is.

  • At it’s core, generating newsworthy material is about the ability to tell a timely, relevant story or idea.
  • To be practical you should set a desired goal (Do you want more sales, awareness, better SEO, or just the ability to put some “as seen in” logos on your website?).
  • Based on that, choose a strategy that makes sense and is in line with that goal: getting press mentioned, full-featured media coverage, guest articles, or even generating your own press via content marketing.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to PR, except the principles of adding value to people’s lives, doing something interesting, or just telling a damn-good story.

What’s your PR strategy? What tactics have been successful for you in the past?

 

 

 

Image Credits
http://www.laviaz.com/advantages
http://www.mi9.com/the-starting-line_34237.html
http://www.inc.com/uploaded_files/image/336×336/94-Kerpe-HIDI-bkt_19625.jpg
http://blog.mocavo.com/category/michael-leclercs-genealogy-news/page/16
http://www.thecannon.ca/news/story/focus_on_nature_volunteer_training_starts_monday_september_26th
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