10 Tried and True PR Tips to Grow Your Small Business

Sevans StrategyIf you’re a small business, you likely struggle with finding time to tell your own story on a regular, or even consistent, basis. It’s one thing to create content for social media and engage with customers online and it’s another thing to have someone else talk about you and offer third-party credibility.

Media coverage is essential for your business, but it’s hard to know exactly how to get their attention.

Below I’ll share my tried and true PR tips for small businesses who want to start taking the steps towards a strong media relations strategy.

Establish your Reach

First, identify the scope in which your story is best told: local, state, national or global. This determines the type of media you will research, contact and pitch. You can determine your reach by where your product is used. In some cases, you may need to reach both local and national or local and global.

For example, if your small business has impacted your local community in any way or wins a big industry award, your community or industry-specific news outlets may want to celebrate it. In addition, if you have a large scale announcement that impacts an entire industry the media may be interested, too.

Create your Media List

This is an active list that will change and evolve over time. Take into consideration that  Journalists may change jobs, you may have multiple stories to pitch and segments of media you want to pitch to at different times.

I use a spreadsheet to manage this and segment it by:

  • Name
  • Outlet
  • Location (important if doing national or global outreach)
  • Email
  • Phone (if applicable)
  • Focus and Interests
  • Social handles
  • Notes from previous interactions

My pro-tip is to add a column to show when you’ve pitched to each outlet and what was the outcome. If you’re doing lots of media outreach it’s easy to forget who you’ve contacted and what you’ve contacted them about. If you receive a response, even if they don’t run the story, I typically put their feedback in an “other” or “feedback” column.

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Identify your Story and Key Moments in Time

First off, you need to know what your story is and make sure it’s newsworthy. This will influence your PR strategy and determine which outlets you’ll target. I recommend creating a quarterly editorial calendar with potential ideas, topics, holidays, pop culture events, etc. You can also look inward to identify stories. This means looking for internal story ideas that would be great public-facing content or leveraging key moments in time where your company fits. Other opportunities for stories can be things you facilitate, like studies, research, events or good-deed stories.

Make it a goal to pitch one story idea a month and, if bandwidth permits, increase it, as needed.

If you’re having trouble identifying a story, use this list of questions as a starting point:

  • Are you the first, best or biggest at something?
  • Why will the media outlets readers care?
  • Do you have strong visuals, research or numbers to make an impact?
  • Should you offer an exclusive, feature, mention?
  • Are you media ready?

Don’t underestimate the power of local television news stations. Reach out to producers of morning and afternoon shows with a fully thought out pitch.

If you secure the segment you now have high-quality footage you can leverage elsewhere.

Build your Media List

Which media outlets should you reach out to?

One of the worst things you can do is spray and pray–meaning BCC’ing every journalist and just sending a blanket email. For small businesses especially, it’s hard to get placements so it’s very important that you customize your pitch according to its recipient.

If you’re local, make a list of every news outlet in your area, according to medium (e.g. print, radio, web, etc.). Then narrow down your list to journalists, writers, producers, and bookers.

For example, if you’re pitching a local television segment, identify the show’s executive producer and reach out to get coverage. When you pitch for TV you need to think in terms of visuals and the benefits you can provide to their viewers. If you see that you don’t have a strong enough story angle, you can always look for paid advertising opportunities.

On a larger scale, I use tools like Muck Rack to help identify appropriate journalists, bloggers, and influencers (yes, I segment my lists into these three categories, because they all have different needs and require separate pitches).

Other ways to identify media sources to target:

  • Research who has written about your topic before (a simple Google search).
  • Follow industry hashtags and see if reporters use them.
  • Utilize Linkedin (a great place to connect, too).
  • Monitor keywords Google Alerts.

Connect before Pitching

Once I have my list built (and I typically build a new list for each story), I connect with the reporters, when possible. Whether it’s following them on social networks or commenting on a previous story they’ve written, I want to engage and try to understand what stories resonate with them.

As a small business owner, you can start by searching for your local news’ reporters and editors. Reaching out to them even if you don’t pitch a story, and connecting with them on a personal level can be very helpful when you have a story to share with them later on. Today, both Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever to connect and engage with reporters online.

Research is your most powerful tool and will change the way you conduct outreach. It is something that evolves over time, so give yourself time to implement best practices.

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Identify Opportunities to Connect in Real Life

Go where your target media go. You can do this before, or after you research your media list (as you may not know who to connect with prior to research).

For example, if you work in the tech space, attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and hosting a private lunch or dinner becomes an opportunity to network and build relationships. The takeaway here is to identify industry events where the media will be in attendance and create an experience to connect.

There’s nothing like a real-life connection to ensure, at the very least, your email gets opened.

Crafting your Pitch

Your pitch is all about timeliness, relevance and, sometimes, pure luck. Whether it means your company will be mentioned as part of a bigger story or something more exclusive, your pitch is important.

When you reach out to a media outlet, you’ll want to consider what content resonates with their audience (e.g. upcoming event, holiday or milestone).

Keep your pitch as short and sweet as possible. You’ll need a brief introduction and then get right to the point. Answer the 5 W’s and how (This refers to the six questions that a reporter should answer in the lead paragraph of a news story: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) in less than two paragraphs.

If you’ve done your research you likely know the journalist’s pitching preferences, the type of content featured by the outlet and why your content will be newsworthy to them.

The hard part is that many times, you won’t receive a response if your story isn’t used. I typically follow up one time and then if there’s still no response, I consider it a “no” and move on.

Send Sources – Even If It’s Not You

A great way to build a  relationship with journalists and establish that you understand who or what “makes” a story is by providing them with information and sources that don’t necessarily have anything to do with your company.

Not every email you send a journalist needs to be self-serving. If you use resources like Cision’s Help a Reporter Out, you can connect experts with journalists who need great sources and, perhaps, increases your chances of future emails getting opened.

Getting Media Ready

The first few times (or, maybe every time) you’re interviewed by the media it can be overwhelming. You may worry about what to say, how you’ll sound or if your key messages will come through.

Depending on the medium of your interview, you’ll want to prepare accordingly. The most important tool in your media arsenal is a key messaging guide–the most important things about your company and story.

This may include:

  • Business tagline
  • What you do
  • Mission, values, and philosophy
  • 30 second sound bites of all key offerings
  • Social media handles and web site
  • Other pertinent information

Amplify your Placements

You got a story in the media! That’s a great first step. Now it’s time to maximize the placement until you are able to secure another one. I recommend creating a checklist of the things that must be done once a placement runs.

This list may include things like:

  • Write specific headlines and create visuals for all of the places your brand is active online. For this purpose you can easily create videos to promote your published articles, using Promo.com (my go-to platform for videos).
  • Include in email outreach to customers.
  • Add a callout to the article in your email signature for 30 days (encourage other employees to do the same).
  • Add an “as seen in” to your website.
  • Tag the writer or journalist and the outlet in all social amplification.
  • Post on social media where it’s appropriate (e.g. Facebook, Linkedin).
  • Build in a social media ad budget to boost the post in the most important places.
  • Celebrate internally with your employees.
  • Create a table tent with a callout to the article and a shortened URL if you have a physical location.
  • Include a link to the article in your company’s social media bios and profiles.

Getting media placements is not an easy thing to do on your own, but If you follow the steps and tips listed above, it is doable and can be very rewarding.

A good PR strategy will definitely increase your brand awareness and credibility and can also enhance your search engine ranking and provide you with great content to share on social media and in your newsletters. Go ahead and start crafting your stories, and make sure you add videos to your pitch and to the promotion of your press coverage. For video creation, I highly recommend Promo.com (disclaimer, I am serving as their advisor).

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