For smaller companies that don’t always have the budget for advertising or building their own content team, focusing on public relations offers the biggest bang for your buck.
Even when teams do have the resources to produce original content, PR provides a type of third-party validation that no other form of marketing can.
Advertising is only becoming more and more expensive. Native advertising and editorials do work but the savvier the customer is, the less effective they are. People are just getting better at distinguishing between an ad and a real story.
For larger teams that can produce original content scale and place advertisements, PR complements the overall marketing effort by validating your message. Whether it’s an interview or an opinion piece or a guest post on a popular blog, having other people talk about your product always hold more weight and credibility than investing in ads or promoting yourself.
What PR Is and Isn’t#
One of the biggest misconceptions is that PR is about advertising. People think you create ads and work with the media outlets. That’s advertising. PR is earned media.
Earned media is working with reporters to pitch stories so that they either write about you or interview you. That interview on TV, a PR person probably pitched that and set the whole thing up. The articles you read in newspapers are the result of PR efforts, not advertising.
Another misconception is that PR people can guarantee results. You can always guarantee that you’ll put in the work, but you can’t control when the results show up or how big they’ll be. If anyone guarantees that stuff, then you probably shouldn’t hire them as your PR person.
A good PR effort is about coming in and figuring out your messaging, understanding who your target audiences are, working out what the right messages for each audience are, and putting the two together.
There are no special rules for talking to the press and getting great stories out there. There’s no fiddling around with email subject lines or blasting lists of reporters with story ideas. PR is about developing relationships with people and creating a fair exchange of value.
Define Your Audience#
When it comes to your public messaging, your message needs to be laser-focused on a target audience. Robust messaging is always tightly focused on a specific segment. Unless you have a product like Coca-Cola where everybody is your potential audience, speaking in very broad terms is not a good sign.
Once you have figured out who your target audience is then you can work backwards and ask:
- How do we reach those people?
- What are they reading?
- What are they watching?
- Where are they interacting?
Your PR effort is about making connections and figuring out how to get placements in those areas so that you can get your messages out through those mediums and reach that audience.
The most important thing is to generate news. News is timely. It’s the stuff that makes more sense to talk about today than tomorrow. It’s what reporters want. Product launches, new features, product milestones, huge sales, significant deals or customers, and fundraising achievements all count.
Sometimes things will resonate, other times they don’t. When a story doesn’t get traction, you move. This happens a lot in marketing, and it certainly happens in PR. If something isn’t working and the messaging doesn’t resonate, you get to work on the next story.
Rely On Warm Introductions#
When pitching reporters, always do your research. Who are you pitching? What have they been writing about? How have they been covering it? Follow them on Twitter, comment on their stories, focus on building a relationship with them first.
Reporters want to talk to CEOs and co-founders–not PR people. As an early-stage founder, you should be building relationships with reporters and making pitches.
The best way to meet a reporter is through a warm introduction. If a reporter you want to meet has written about someone you know, have them introduce you.
In your intro, you should be able to describe your news in one sentence. Let the reporter know you’re offering them an exclusive. Always offer your story as an exclusive because your audience usually all exists in just a few outlets. The goal is a twenty-minute phone call.
When you get the reporter on the phone, be ready with three to five clear reasons why your news and company is important. At the end of your call, offer your notes and helpful collateral like screenshots, graphs, logos, pictures, etc.
Measuring The Impact#
Measuring results with PR is complicated. If I get you on TV a few times, people start to see you, they start buying your stuff and that’s good PR. But you can’t say that because you were on TV three times that translates into $100K worth of sales.
There is a correlation, but you can’t always trace it. With the trend towards digital, there are more analytics to work with. You can track mentions, you can track sentiment, you can see where people are coming from and how many people click through to your website.
However, “We got a story in the New York Times, and one in the L.A. Times,” does magic for your image even if there are no backlinks involved. It’s the quality of the mention, the quality of the article that matters, and that stuff is harder to quantify.
A front-page story might cost tens of thousands of dollars if you’re advertising but it doesn’t cost a PR agency anything. That’s not to say it’s free. It’s just that the value is in the relationships and understanding how and when to pitch stories.
The benefits of PR are hard to measure but they do exist. To see real PR results you’re better off getting one story every month versus one huge story every year. Don’t combine all of your news into one story, the idea is to spread it out over time.
After about six to twelve months of sharing real news, you should be relatively friendly with two to five reporters. In other words, they’ve written about your company enough that you’ve probably met them in person and certainly they’ll reply to most of your emails.
- I got accepted to CXL institutes’ growth marketing mini-degree scholarship. The program runs online and covers 112 hours of content over 12 weeks. As part of the scholarship, I have to write an essay about what I learn each week.
- Everything I learned in this post came from a CXL course by Ray Young called Messaging strategy in public relations and a Y-Combinator post on getting press for your startup.
- This is post 2 in a series. The rest of the posts are listed here.
- If you’d like to get more updates on growth marketing you can follow me on Twitter @joshpitzalis.