Should you do your own PR?
Not too long ago Kevin Leu wrote an article on VentureBeat titled 5 reasons you’ll regret hiring a PR firm for your startup sharing his personal frustrations with hiring PR firms. It struck a chord with me since I’ve felt those same pains many times myself:
- They don’t know how to tell a story.
- They rip you off.
- Often, they act like they know everything.
- They take more credit than they deserve.
It’s all true.
You’re paying on average $12,000 a month to get maybe 20 hours of work a week from them. This translates into maybe three or five stories a month if you’re lucky. If you’re a startup, hiring a PR firm is not practical. There are far better ways to get press and do your own PR.
To be perfectly honest you do not need to hire a PR firm. You can do what they do yourself or teach an employee to do this. Bonus: If you do your own PR yourself you’ll do a hell of a better job at it since you know the story MUCH better then any PR firm.
I lost faith in PR firms 6 years ago and have been doing my own PR whenever I need it, it has worked much better. Here is what you can do to do your own PR:
Quick side note – feel free to use this clickable table of contents to navigate this article:
- Search Google News to find articles related to the topic you’d like to pitch
- Verify this article is relevant to the topic you’re pitching
- Find the name of the reporter and the publication they write for
- Now write the email subject for your email
- Construct the body of the email to do your own PR
- Now figure out the email address for the reporter
- Reach Out!
As an example I just finished a study which found that a used Tesla Model S costs on average $30,000 more then a brand new Tesla Model S. It’s a hot study, it’s surprising, and I want reporters at publications to know about it. So I do a Google News search for “Tesla new vs used”.
Verify this article is relevant to the topic you’re pitching
I click on the articles in Google News that look relevant to my pitch about the Tesla model S study. I’m trying to find a very good fit, a reporter that is really interested in Tesla and new vs. used pricing.
If it’s an article about Elon Musk’s statement about Tesla fires occurring, this is not a good fit. If it’s an article about Tesla’s recalls, it’s also not relevant. Finally, if it’s an article that is older then 3 months or so, chances are it’s not relevant. I’m looking for something that was written recently, that is about Tesla’s pricing of used vs. new. It has to be very relevant; this is vital for this method to do your own PR to succeed.
I really like how Austen Allred forms his pitch angle when he is reaching out to reporters in the do your own PR process:
Is it timely? Is it relevant? And is it interesting? Why would someone like you be interested in reading this?
Again, we’ll take my startup, Grasswire, for example. Grasswire is an Internet newsroom that lets everyone fact-check and sort social media content in real-time. But what does that mean?
That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is’¦what the Black Pearl really is’¦is freedom.” — Jack Sparrow
What grasswire needs is an Internet newsroom. But what grasswire is is democratization of journalism and information. It’s turning over the power of governments and corporations to everyday people. It’s letting ordinary people control the information that determines how they see the world.
Not many people want to read about yet another social media tool. People love to read about freedom.
Find the name of the reporter and the publication they write for
The next step if you want to do your own PR: find the name of publications your targets write for.
This part is easy, I look through the article to find the name of the person who wrote it. Sometimes it’s a person from another publication, for example it might be a Bloomberg reporter who published something on USA Today.
Determine whether they’re a freelancer or a reporter for a specific publication. Pay attention here, click on the reporter’s name to view their profile to see which publication they write for. Verify it by checking their Twitter profile. They may also be a freelancer, which means they have a personal email address and not a publication one.
Now write the email subject for your email
This is a crucial part of your email when you do your own PR. They’ll either open your email or ignore it after reading this. They have 287 emails to go through that day, their chat client is blowing up and they need to write 4 stories. Your email has to capture their attention.
Usually I ask myself what is the headline of my pitch? If I was the reporter’s boss (the editor) and had to look over this story, what would I want the headline to be for this story in order to shock or surprise readers. In my case it might be something like this:
Why Used Teslas Cost $30,000 More Than A New Tesla
Not perfect but something along those lines. Neil Patel, a friend of mine, has tested a lot of email subjects in his time and has found that the following one below works the best for when you do your own PR:
don’t you hate it when people pitch you story ideas [insert their first name]?
Construct the body of the email to do your own PR
This is where most email pitches fall apart. People put an entire press release in here or three detailed paragraphs of information, or a bunch of links to show how legit they are. Remember they have 287 emails in inbox, IM client blowing up and 4 stories to write.
They have no time to read through detailed emails or click on any links. Pretend you bumped into them at a conference, you said hello and they responded, you shook hands and now you have 15 seconds to capture their attention. Your comment can get two responses: “Thanks, I’ll pass this along to others” or “I had no idea, that is fascinating!” What do you say?
So here you need to appeal to the reporter’s interests when you do your own PR. You might want to look through their profile, see other types of articles they write, questions they ask, things they tweet to get an idea of what types of things would pique their curiosity. There is no perfect email template, you just have to play around with it. For example if I decide to use Neil’s subject line from above and his email format, I’ll alter it slightly, here is an example:
subject: don’t you hate it when people pitch you story ideas [insert their first name]?
I also have a story pitch but before you hit delete, just give me 37 seconds, or else you’ll regret this for life! So here it goes:
You recently wrote a great article on Teslas, I really enjoyed your analysis on its affordability. We just completed a study and discovered that the average price of a used Tesla is $30k more than a new Tesla. Thought this would pique your curiousity.
We are publishing the findings from the study on [insert date], and I wanted to see if you would cover it beforehand. Here are two reasons your readers would love your coverage of this:
Insert benefit #1
Insert benefit #2
I could keep on going with reasons you should blog about us but I won’t overwhelm you with details. If you’re interested, let me know and we can set up a time to chat when you’re free.
[insert your name]
P.S. I think I have 7 seconds to spare still, so if you could just hit the reply button and let me know what you thought of my pitch, that would be great. Even if it is “F off”‘¦ any feedback would be great.
Sometimes the email above seems too pitchy and spammy so I use something more along the style of what Austen Allred recently posted on his blog on how to do your own PR:
My name is Austen from Underwater Audio. We developed a technology that makes iPods completely waterproof ‘” it’s some pretty cool technology you (and your readers) would love. We’re at underwateraudio.com, and I have a I’d like to send your way to [review/check out] if you’re interested. Let me know!
Now figure out the email address for the reporter
This is mostly a mechanical task, but it is crucial if you want to do your own PR. It does require some work but all good things do, so lets get crankin’!
- The most obvious place to look first is at the top or the bottom of the article where their name appears with their email address. If it’s not there, click on their name to look through bio page for them, the email might be there. If not, look at their Twitter profile, it might be there. Else, go on to the next bullet.
- If you haven’t yet, install Rapportive in Gmail in order to go forward with this step. Remember step #3 where you identified if the reporter is a freelancer? If they are a freelancer, chances are they use their Gmail address for emailing. Follow this video below from folks at Distilled along with this spreadsheet to guess their Gmail email address. Type in “gmail.com” into the domain field in the spreadsheet.
- If they are not a freelancer, meaning on their bio page it states they write for that publication, try the same approach as above with Rapportive and the spreadsheet. If no luck, go on to next bullet.
- Head over to http://email-format.com and type in the domain to get an idea for the email format to use for that publication. You can then substitute their first and last name into the email format and give those a try. If not go on to the next bullet.
- If all else fails, there is a way to use Google+ to contact people privately. You do not need to be connected with them to reach out. Find them on Google+ and reach out with your message.
I’ve covered the email finding process in more detail in this post.
Now you’re set to reach out. You have a very relevant and timely pitch to the reporter that is a perfect fit for your topic. You have a very short and actionable email ready for them to read and give you a Yes/No reply. And you have their contact information.
Quick tip: You might want to install Yesware to see if they opened your email. If you sent five emails and three of them were opened but you didn’t get a response within a few days you probably need to change who you reach out to or your subject and email style.
Another quick bonus money tip!
You don’t have to spend $12,000 on getting press. You can do your own PR. Moreover, you can even buy targeted ads on Facebook to target individuals with the job titles of “editors, journalists, writers or bloggers.”
Instead of writing the actual article, just write a few headlines to A/B test which ones get clicked on. When they click on the headline, have them land on a simple email submit page. Now you have the email addresses of individual journalists.
You also now know which headline will resonate best with them, so you have the hardest part of writing an article (writing the headline) already tested.
If you want to target a specific journalist(s), then buy their name(s) with your Google AdWords account. Everyone Google’s themself at some point. Unless, their name is something generic like Scott or Sally Smith then you can get exposure for less than $1 per day! Again, if you haven’t written the article, just have the ad target the email entry form landing page that you used in the Facebook ads.
P.S. Curious to hear your questions as you read through this, please comment with your experience, other resources you’ve learned from, and approaches you’ve tried.
P.P.S. BTW I’m pumped to have finally launched this blog, having ghost written for so many years for other people it’s refreshing to write as myself! Any feedback on the quality of the writing and what you want to hear in future posts is very much welcome!