Anyone with a limited budget, and even more limited time, will attest to feeling overwhelmed about launching public relations (PR) for their small business, start-up, or gig. This is likely because whenever they hear from PR professionals about how to land stories with the press — which is the backbone and ultimate point of many PR campaigns — the work is broadly explained amid a confusing tangle of buzzwords that mystify the process and purpose of PR.
Not only does this cause them to drop the prospect of hiring such PR people, even worse, it strips away their enthusiasm about executing their own PR like the self-starter they are. Meanwhile, they launch entire companies out of nothing, galvanize teams from thin air and create money-making machines while holding down full-time jobs — yet they cannot land a few press stories? Something doesn’t add up.
What started as a training manual for my staff turned into a compact book, “A Modern Guide to Public Relations: Unveiling the Mystery of PR,” which is both a love and hate letter to the industry. The book’s explanations on how to execute PR is my love letter for the work and the people who are trying to do it. While underneath the loving explanation lies the irritation that I have to explain what would otherwise be common knowledge if it weren’t for PR people spinning confusion due to their own misconceptions or to keep your hands off the work.
To that end, let’s settle some top PR myths that are further detailed in the book to warm up to the idea of embarking upon your own PR.
Myth #1: You must unpack your “story” first.
Going down the brainstorming path that most people go down here is dangerous. It can halt your progress before you even get started. Of course you might want to have somewhat of a plan, but even the best story will not get placed in the press if you are too busy perfecting it before pitching it.
Regardless, new companies don’t require fully developed stories because the newness of the company, product or service itself is the story. If the point of PR is to garner actual press coverage, and we remember that the news covers just that — the news — we are in much less danger of stalling within our brainstorming tendencies if we just release our news.
See The “Forget Your Story” video which highlights this concept, along with listing some news topics that will likely get picked up, which is also further explained in Chapter Two of my book.
Myth #2: You need a press kit before getting started.
Press kits — the fancy packets people used to put in folders and now grace many a website — are not for beginners. The act of compiling a press kit with multiple press releases, fact sheets, infographics and photo galleries is going to stall you from actually getting press coverage.
Just like your story, your press kit can evolve over time as different pieces are created for different purposes. Moreover, the high-profile coverage you gain from doing the actual work of PR — which entails reaching out to the press rather than designing a pretty press kit — can be included in your eventual press kit. That is, if you can find the time for this non-urgent project in between the press interviews you’re sure to receive if you spend your time accomplishing more important tasks.
This Press Kits & Virtual Press Rooms video in Chapter Three highlights my hatred for press kits.
Myth #3: You must only communicate through press releases and kits.
While press releases are more effective than press kits, they are not the end-all-be-all. Again, we simply must get started with our PR and if something like putting together a press release is going to stop you up from reaching out to the press with your news, then just forgo the press release. There are instances when you may want to consider completing a press release — because they could bring more in-depth, fully messaged pieces of coverage — however those instances are few and far between.
If press release-induced writer’s block has been putting off your press outreach, just open up a new email message, type your update or news in one concise paragraph, possibly with 3-5 bullet points to corral any supporting details, and hit send. It’s the media’s job to write the story anyway, so why are you doing all the work for them? You are a busy business owner, not a PR professional. If the press is interested, they can give you a call, gather more information in a scheduled interview and write the story on their own.
This Press Release video offers more insight into how and when to write press releases.
Myth #4: You need relationships with the press.
Just no. If you are ever interviewing any PR person and they go on and on about their press relationships, you might wonder if they do any actual PR work. Sure, having relationships makes our jobs easier because we know who to reach out to and our email addresses are recognized, and consequently opened, which is 75% of the battle. But our emails still need to provide substance, which is the actual work.
We can no longer expect press contacts to run our news simply because they are familiar with our names. Also, with the news industry such as it is these days, assignments and job titles often change, so we are constantly starting over and making new relationships anyways.
Do not fear if you do not have a media database that helps you track all the newsroom moves. Google is the only necessary tool for compiling your own robust media list. The “Google News” function, which is separate from the traditional Google search bar, is a fantastic way to discover media outlets in varying industries and markets.
How to Get Started on PR
In an effort to simplify the process for you, I have listed a bunch of no’s, telling you what not to do, rather than what to do. So, I don’t blame you for being confused, wondering how to get started. That’s why below I’ve detailed a checklist for getting started.
#1: Consider your news.
First, write down everything that could be considered new to your organization. This is your news, remember the press covers the news. New businesses would most definitely consider their recent launch to be their news. Or perhaps you have a new office location, a notable new hire, or gave back in a big way to your community.
Again, watch this video for news ideas.
#2: Build your press list.
Next, corral a list of where you’d like to see this news living. Consider your unique press audiences. Think beyond the New York Times. What are your potential customers consuming? This is where you want to be. Use Google News to compile a manageable list of press outlets. With your outlet list in-hand, review the mastheads (“about us” or “contact” section online) of each outlet to discover contacts covering your area of news. Add them to your burgeoning media list.
Towards the end of this video I broadly discuss how to Build a Media List without a media database.
#3: Create your pitch through research.
Familiarizing yourself with each press contact’s work is the beginning point to creating your pitch email. Your research could deliver an idea or a way to tweak your approach with that particular contact. Incorporate your new ideas and insights into a short email pitch that is written in the most simple and straightforward way. Don’t get cute. Then generalize portions of that email pitch for other press contacts, or continue tweaking your pitch as your press research brings inspiration.
#4: Follow up only once.
Follow up on the same email only one time. If you don’t get any traction from a particular contact, either drop it completely (be satisfied with the few stories you may have gained) or tweak your approach with this contact to match what is happening in the world or what they are covering, staying newsworthy and timely above all else.
Somewhere in this Media Etiquette video I discuss the concept of following up only once, however the entire video may provide additional knowledge to arm you with more confidence.
Overall, if you frequently consume the news of your targeted industries or markets, PR will move from being a chore to becoming top-of-mind. Before you know it, your hard work will have built strong press relationships, multiple pieces of collateral for a press kit, and a well-rounded “story” that has been garnering media attention and bottom-line results all along.
Amy Rosenberg also started her company, Veracity, as a side-gig and has slowly worked towards building it into a fully fledged business. Established in 2008, Veracity specializes in B2B, SEO and e-commerce related PR, along with spearheading corporate responsibility initiatives. Amy created her podcast, PR Talk, sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America (Oregon), in 2017 and has hosted more than 100 episodes so that PR people can better learn the craft. Her first book, “A Modern Guide to Public Relations,” was released in 2021 as a companion resource to the podcast, along with a video series that further explains the concepts outlined in the book.
Amazon link: https://amzn.to/3sSISyS