Getting mentioned in a publication (aka PR) has tons of benefits from referral traffic to branding to long-term organic traffic growth. It’s a lever that can provide marketing returns well beyond your investment.
But “getting press” can be daunting. And plenty of agencies will help re-inforce that feeling.
There’s a role for PR professionals. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money on an agency to get press. Creating a PR campaign is not easy. It’s difficult, but it’s not magic either. In fact, the formula is fairly straightforward.
- Write a pitch
- Send it to a writer
- They like your story & publish it
But in those simple steps bury some details. To run a successful DIY PR campaign, you’ll need to understand the process and create your own plan. That’s the goal with this post.
Let’s get started.
Step 1. Define Your Goal
A common misconception about building a PR plan is that the goal is to “get press”. Getting PR for PR’s sake is not a goal. It’s not a measurable outcome.
Instead, think of what you really want to achieve, and reverse engineer your PR strategy from there. For example –
Who do you want to get in front of?
If you want to reach a specific audience, you’ll need to focus on outlets that not only reach that audience, but also command high attention.
For example, young college-educated males who like hiking might browse Backpacker magazine every once in a while. But they might actually pay attention to Outside magazine or specific blogs like Andrew Skurka‘s.
Do you want broad awareness about your brand?
If so, you’ll need to pay attention to who reads & re-posts who. If you can get press in an outlet that other outlets re-publish, you’ll be much more successful at getting broad coverage.
Do you want to position your brand within the market?
If you get picked up by a general interest outlet, will that affect your boutique/elite branding? Does it fit with your target persona?
Are you looking to gain credibility?
If so, you’ll want to plan for the type of PR you want. For example, you’ll want to interviewed as an expert or have your original data cited.
Do you want to build links?
If so, you’ll need to prequalify your contacts to make sure their publication links out. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing hours and hours on outreach, follow-up, and interviewing to come away with no organic links.
Do you need to control your messaging?
If so, you might want to avoid outlets that have strict editorial standards. If a negative mention will be worse than no mention at all, you’ll need to keep that in mind.
All of these are PR goals, but they all have different methods in order to achieve them. Your goal defines everything. Without it, you can’t build a plan to begin with.
Step 2. Define Your Outlets & Writers
Once you have your goal, it’s time to nail down outlets and writers; specifically those that will accomplish your goal.
Start by figuring out the food chain of various outlets, or the type of content/stories they read and repeat. For example, if you’re targeting Upworthy, you know that positive and uplifting stories are their focus. Those are the stories that perform well for them and tend to get lots of shares.
The book, Trust Me I’m Lying, is an excellent resource on this approach.
You’ll also want to think about your outlets’ goals and how those align with your own. For an outlet like Upworthy, it’s going viral. They want to spread their story to as many people as possible. For others, it’s high engagement and exclusive rights.
Next, identify your outlets’ writers. These are the actual people who will write and publish the story.
What type of writer do you need? News, entertainment, financial? What type of content do these writers share? What’s the pecking order at the outlet? While the top writers may have more clout, those lower on the totem pole need to publish more stories. They’re more likely to run with a (good) story you supply.
Remember that their incentive is to get a topic approved by their editor – and get pageviews after publication.
For example, one of my best PR wins was identifying the junior staff writer at an outlet. She was responsible for the daily “fun & fluffy” type content. She was likely in constant need of fun, interesting & entertaining material.
My pitch made a lot of sense and got picked up immediately.
By identifying all of these things, you’ll start to formulate a hit list of the most relevant writers and outlets.
If you’re having trouble coming up with outlets on your own, try sorting through google news for the types of outlets/writers that relate to your story.
For example, if I want to garner awareness around my new sustainable dog bowls, I would search Google News for “sustainable dog products” to see the types of outlets and writers reporting on these topics and if they align with my product. If they do, I add them to my list of outlets and reports, which I keep in a spreadsheet.
You can use paid tools to find writers, but you can also learn to search more effectively on Google. For example, make good use of the inurl and/or intitle operators (e.g., “inurl:author”)
If you don’t want to do the heavy lifting yourself, check out the following tools:
- Pressfarm: Gives you the contact information of 250 prominent journalists who write about start-ups.
- Buzzsumo: Find the most popular articles on a certain topic, as well as prominent sharers (people who Tweeted the article).
- Ahrefs: Use this to find inbound links for your competitors. Reach out to those outlets, too! You can also look for specific authors (and what content performs for them). I wrote a guide to Ahrefs here.
- Alltop: Gives you the top ranking blogs for a specific topic. Remember to be very narrow in your search.
- JustReachOut.io: A tool for DIYers to manage & quickly contact reporters.
Keep in mind that when you’re doing outreach to achieve your PR goals, you could go the traditional spam — er… I mean, high volume pitch/PR wire route. Or, you could use the plethora of tools are your disposal to really learn about your outlets and writers, what they cover, and how to contact them.
In other words, you can send 100 templated emails hoping for a 1% conversion rate. Or you could send spend the time researching to send 10 emails with a 10% conversion rate.
Don’t forget something as simple as looking at their social media profiles. You can learn a ton about a writer based on what they share and comment on. Add notes to your spreadsheet so you can use this info to craft the perfect pitch.
Speaking of pitch…
Step 3. Define (or Refine) Your Story & Pitch
Here’s the thing: usually, people pitch the story they want to tell.
Nobody cares about your story BUT everybody cares about stories that educate, entertain or make their life better.
You need to create a story that will interest your target writer’s readers. This means doing your research and customizing your story to fit your target writer.
Distilled suggests looking at these different criteria to measure if your story will resonate with your target writer:
- Timeliness: Is your story topical?
- Impact: Does your story speak to a lot of people?
- Prominence: Does your story feature a prominent person or issue?
- Proximity: Are you targeting local news outlets for a local story?
- Bizarreness: Is your story weird, or just plain out there? Will it get people talking?
- Conflict: Are you standing up for something? Or conflicting a unpopular opinion?
- Uniqueness: Are you doing something others haven’t?
- Human Interest: Can you find someone to talk about your issue and put it into human terms?
Step 4. Define Your Pitch Process
Once you have your pitch, it’s time to figure out your pitch process. Arguably, this can be as important as the pitch itself, since writer’s have specific pitch preferences.
First and foremost: stick to email. According to OkDork, 81% of writers prefer this method for pitches. Some other important stats they mention? 88% of writers prefer emails that are 200 words or less, so keep it short and sweet.
Now, in order to stick to email, you need the correct email address. If it seems obvious, that’s because it is! But it bears repeating. When you research your writers and outlets, pay special mind to email information. Use tools like Voila Norbert, Find That Email or good ‘ole manual research to find the right email address.
When forming your pitch process, you’ll want to decide on what emails to send and when you send them. Okdork notes 69% of journalists prefer to be pitched in the morning. You can also check out when they’re active on social media, because chances are once that starts to happen, they’ve already checked their email at least once.
Now while most PR pitches include a short, templated email and a link, I’ve found the two step pitch works far better. The first step consists of sending a short email explaining what the story is and why they’d be interested. It does not include the link to view the piece of content. Instead, let them know that if they’re interested, you’ll pass it along.
If the writer is interested, send your piece along. You can also offer to create a custom intro to support your story if needed. If they don’t respond, follow up after 3-7 business days.
Keep in mind that with this approach, you need to be sure you have your story and supplementary material ready to go (such as media kit, references, bio, imagery, etc.). Make sure all of this is finalized before you start pitching, so you can have a quick turnaround for reporters who are interested in your story.
Step 5. Send Your Pitch
It’s time to send your pitch! You’ve already determined the proper times to send your email, but make sure you’re keeping your own availability in mind. Send your messages when you can be available to respond. Also send and look for feedback from writer’s. If they’re not interested in the story, is there a specific reason they can point to? Is there a better time or way to communicate with them?
You’ll also want to customize your follow-up. If you sent a lot of emails, feel free to use a template. However, make sure the template can be tweaked to match the writer you’re sending it to.
If they send a fast, short response – then you should send a short, fast response.
Think through next steps in your follow-up. Anticipate additional questions. Try to concisely answer them to speed the process and make the writer’s job easier.
Step 6. Measure Success or Failure, Optimize
At the end of the day, all of this comes down to your goal (remember the first section at the beginning of this piece?).
As such, you’ll want to be sure you’re measuring success or failure in terms of that goal. If your goal was brand awareness, look at metrics such as unique visitors to your website or a specific product page you were promoting. If you wanted to get in front of a specific audience, look at how your story performed and who is engaging with it. Do they match your audience?
Use this information to make changes and start on your next campaign!
Now that you know what goes into creating your own PR plan, it’s time to decide if PR is the right channel to work on right now. Here are a few next steps:
- Decide if PR is right for you. Do you have a story to tell?
- Break down your goals. You can’t build a plan without them.
- Start with the press’ needs, not your own. Then, reverse engineer success from there.
You might also find my marketing plans for ecommerce & for local businesses useful. You’d also like my newsletter where I send 4 useful links every week where you can learn to do better marketing.