All Press is Good Press

Free publicity isn’t really free. Someone is out there generating story ideas, pitching journalists, pushing media outlets for air time and print coverage. This is typically the realm of well-paid public relations pros, who leverage connections and extensive media knowledge to get their clients featured across various media. It’s time-consuming, expensive work, but when done effectively, it can lead to a level of exposure that’s far more beneficial than any paid advertising.

Most small business owners don’t have a budget to hire a public relations firm, but that doesn’t mean they’re cut off from publicity opportunities and the business benefits they provide, according to Christina Daves. Daves is a publicity strategist and owner of the publicity training consultancy PR for Anyone. She’s been featured in more than 1,000 media outlets, having helped her clients generate more than $100 million in sales and over 1 billion views from free publicity, all by using simple strategies to engineer unpaid press coverage. And her strategy can be used by entrepreneurs for their own businesses, she says.

“With the resources we have available to us today, you can do this yourself in 10 minutes a day or less,” she says. “Once you understand how to do it, it’s not that difficult. And I don’t know of any other way to get so many people to see your business.”

THE PROCESS

Daves breaks down the process into three key components.

1. Be newsworthy. “One of the easiest ways to get free publicity is to jump on what the media’s already talking about,” says Daves. Pay attention to the hot topics being covered by the media and find your connection. For example, there might be an upcoming celebrity wedding that all the entertainment news outlets are buzzing over. If you’re a wedding photographer, consider contacting a few carefully selected entertainment journalists and offering your insights on wedding photography. Position yourself as an expert with a unique perspective and offer to share that knowledge to add some color commentary on the upcoming event.

You should also plan ahead. Look at the calendar and project what holidays or upcoming events might garner some media attention. Put everything in a spreadsheet and set up a schedule to contact journalists to follow up. For example, if you’re a pet photographer, you would note National Pet Day in April and then pitch some journalists a few weeks ahead of time to offer your unique expertise on a fun photography experience for pets.

2. Create great hooks. Every good story needs a hook, something to snag someone’s attention and reel them in. In most cases, your hook is going to be the subject line of an email. It’s what makes people want to open your email and read more.

Not sure how to write a great hook? Learn from the experts. Daves suggests looking at magazine covers. See how the editors structure their headlines. Study how they draw you in with bold statements and interesting questions, whatever it takes to entice you to pick up the magazine. “Plug your content into the formula these magazine editors have already established, and you’ll be much more successful,” advises Daves.

3. Find the right journalist. This is where you need to do a little legwork. Determine the media outlets you want to approach, then figure out who covers the topics you’re pitching. Start with some Google searches. You can also pick up your favorite publications and look in the masthead for their staff writers or visit the websites of news stations and morning shows. Find contact information for the people you want to reach, and add them to your list. Daves recommends building a small database of journalists—five to 10 contacts organized by the beats they cover and the ideas that might appeal to them.

Publicity strategist Christina Daves
THE PITCH

Start with an email explaining your story idea. Add a brief introduction about why you’re the right person to comment on this topic. Keep it brief and on point. Then follow up with a phone call. Yes, an actual phone call. If you’re lucky enough to get them on the phone, introduce yourself and explain your story idea. If you get their voicemail, leave a message reminding them about your pitch and promising to resend it. Then resend the pitch email.

Consistency and persistence are critical. Daves suggests pitching once a month with the same pattern: pitch, phone call follow up, resend the pitch. An exception to this pattern might be if something timely emerges in the news and you can present a unique take on the topic.

PROVIDE VALUE

Your goal should be to provide value to the audience—the reader, the listener, the viewer. You’re giving away your knowledge, and in exchange you’re positioning yourself as an expert in their eyes.

This is not an opportunity to make a sales pitch. Instead, let the journalists sell for you. They understand the value of publicity for your business, and if you can provide them with a good resource, they’ll be happy to share information about you and your business. Done correctly, it’s a win-win for the journalist and you.

RISE ABOVE THE NOISE

Journalists are busy and inundated by pitches. To rise above the noise, start by personalizing your communications. Do your homework. Show that you’ve read past articles or viewed their coverage on TV. Demonstrate that you’re crafting your pitch specifically for them.

Part of the value you provide may be offering additional resources. Think about connections you have that may be useful to a journalist. Even if you don’t land some coverage right away, you’ll engender yourself to a busy professional, who will think of you as a valuable asset.

Don’t forget to look for a connection. Did you go to the same college or high school? Maybe you grew up in the same area or know some of the same people. Share that connection with the journalist to put yourself on a more personal wavelength. It’s a warmer start than a pitch coming from a complete stranger.

Your goal should be to provide value to the audience—the reader, the listener, the viewer. You’re giving away your knowledge, and in exchange you’re positioning yourself as an expert in their eyes.

BE PREPARED

The process could take weeks or it could take months. Daves points to many examples of people she’s helped get publicity within 30 days. But it may take longer, so be patient and prepared.

That means being ready with well-organized thoughts on your topic. Daves recommends formulating sound bites in advance and practicing the best way to communicate them. If you’ve never been interviewed, practice in a mock interview setting.                        

Watch TV interviews, especially from your targeted journalists, and see how they interact with people. Then prepare as if you’re the interviewee, because that’s your goal.

Once you do land the publicity, you need to be ready to promote your appearance through your channels. “It’s up to you to tell the world that this happened,” says Daves. Put it on your website. Stream recordings of TV interviews. Post PDFs of magazine articles. (Before streaming or posting, be sure you obtain permission to do so since the broadcasts and articles are copyrighted material.) Share the news on social media and add mentions of “as seen on …” to your bio.

Finally, be prepared to enjoy your new status as a published, publicized expert in your field. Take a moment to appreciate your hard work, and then it’s on to the next pitch. 

Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.