Appearing in print and on online publications is often seen as the holy grail for many young startups, as it lends credibility, helps in attracting investment and raises awareness for both potential customers and top talent. It is also the lifeblood of established companies as good coverage helps ensure they continue to be seen as relevant, cutting edge, exciting and the top of people’s minds, not to mention to protect their brand from negative PR. To attain ‘good’ coverage, companies, NGOs, and governments of all shapes and sizes turn to PR agencies (often at a significant cost) to assist in achieving regular positive pieces in appropriate outlets. Agencies could charge a retainer depending on the size and scope of the undertaking (for a mid-sized agency the price would usually range between $6,000-13,000 per month, and larger more established agencies charging upwards of $20,000), or as a results-based fee, where the retainer would be small, but successful placement in desired publications would cost extra on a case by case basis.
So, what magic do PR agencies do place their clients mentioned in major international and micro-niche publications? Firstly, most agencies will have licenses to various media databases such as Cision or Gorkana – for the cost of their license fees, these lets the PR teams run searches across a variety of fields and obtain lists with relevant journalists, along with access to their phone numbers, email addresses, interests and latest articles. PR professionals will then send various pitches, Press Releases and invitations to comment on behalf of the company – often casting a wide net and hoping for narrow results. Journalists are bombarded with hundreds or even thousands of emails and calls every day, and getting a response is far from guaranteed. This is where the PR skill set really comes through – forming relationships, knowing what to pitch, when and how are vital to success. But, how can companies cut through the noise and get noticed, especially without paying the hefty cost of access to various media databases?
The following is a technique I’ve used with a number of clients, and takes around one hour of work per day, and has yielded significant results within three weeks.
Firstly, make a list of all relevant publications you would like to be featured in, this can be major top tier news outlets to very niche publications – this should be a ‘living’ document that evolves with the business, I’d advise creating it in Excel. Then, search Google for the publication name as well as your company’s field of interest, and add the name of the journalist who has regularly covered a relevant topic to your list – you can note down more than one, but I’d advise against doing so for over 4. At this point spend some time to search for their bio of they have one, their email address (if it is not easily available, there are some great tools such as Rapportive, or formulae lists such as this one), and most importantly, their social media handle on Twitter.
At this point, one member of the company – whoever is going to take on the hour a day undertaking – should go onto Twitter and Follow and ‘Turn on Mobile Notifications’ to every person on that list. This feature is found next to the follow button in the three-vertical-dot drop-down menu. This person will now get a notification every time this journalist tweets (there are workarounds to this, such as Twitter Archiver, but I’ve found them to be less effective). The goal with this new armada of notifications is simple – you are there to listen. When you listen carefully and understand the person who is speaking/Tweeting, you can respond appropriately – the aim is for the individual (or the company)’s Twitter handle to begin interacting with and adding value to as many relevant journalists as possible, by deploying empathy to understand what benefit you can provide each individual. The person should ask themselves – What is this journalist hoping for by tweeting this (exposure and amplification, answers and insights, humor, or something tangible)? Can we provide what they need? Can we help facilitate them getting what they need (e.g. retweeting ‘@BenJudah, did you see this article by @JTemperton? It’s what we spoke about yesterday – let’s discuss’, or replying ‘fantastic article @FrankRGardner – here @Company123 we found that…’)? Can we build a conversation or relationship off the back of this? (Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are relationships, take your time, and don’t try to close a story on the first interactions.) You should be aiming to add value around 5 times a week, which means interacting many more times – like, share and comment on all relevant articles, retweet where appropriate, let them know that you are a valued fan.
Finally, when a relevant opportunity arises, you will be able to go in with the direct ask – either pitch the journalist briefly over Twitter, or send a concise email including the subject matter you wish to discuss, and the fact that you’ve been following them on Twitter (include your handle for clarification). If you’ve managed to add value, build a relationship, and not be seen as ‘Spam’, you will have radically increased the chances of success. This doesn’t mean that every pitch you make will be a success, but it does give you a massive advantage over your competition. You will know your audience, you will know their interests, likes, and dislikes, you will know what stories they have covered and commented on, and often their upcoming areas of interest – you will not be pitching blindly.
To create real legacy value for your company, it is advisable to make a note on your list of all two-way conversations had with a journalist to limit double-pitching, and ensure that the no opportunities are lost due to human error. This list will be ever evolving and changing, it is worthwhile going taking some time every month to make sure it is up to date (that no journalists have moved publication or the topic they cover, or that there is a more appropriate contact).
This being said, it is worth noting that PR agencies are not pure pitch machines, their experience in knowing what to pitch (a small product update isn’t going to be exciting in 99% of cases), when to pitch, the style of writing that will be most appealing, and their expertise in thinking laterally to achieve your business objectives is invaluable. A good agency will do much more, including helping to keep a company out of the news for negative stories, handle crises situations, perform media training to optimize interview opportunities, arrange speaking arrangements, and bolster the status of company members as a key opinion leader in many subtle ways, just to mention a few ways.
So don’t go throwing ditching your PR agency just yet, but know that there is a way to get high-value coverage, own journalist relationships, and stay on top of the trends – for free.
Please do let me know your thoughts on this article – try out the technique and let me know your success stories @Benjudah.
Marketing and Communications Consultant