I regularly get emails from people who would like to learn more about things they can do themselves to help pitch their new video, book, song, or product without hiring a publicist like myself until I’m in their budget (I don’t charge THAT much, I promise!). I’ve put together a list of basics that I think just about any new business (musician, author, entrepreneur) can implement to start getting publicity for themselves and increasing name recognition.
Why Be Your Own Publicist?
I don’t think everyone is ready for a publicist’s services for their first project or event. I think a lot clients come to me expecting me to be to be able to part the waters like Moses and turn them into global sensations by the time they’re ready to launch their first product.
The first piece of advice I give to new brands looking to work with a professional publicist is that I think you first have to be able to generate some PR on your own. If you’re hiring a publicist for a 4-6 month campaign surrounding a new book or product, I can get much better results if you’ve managed to get some publicity for yourself in the past rather than if I’m starting at ground zero and building that foundation for you.
For example, I work primarily as a music publicist. I’m currently working with an artist who has been around for about 3 years playing local concerts and releasing songs. He managed to become friends with a concert promoter in town and landed 2 opening slots for national touring acts when they came through his town. As a result, the local music magazine gave him a write-up.
When he came to me to help promote his new single, I was able to craft a story around his background in music, his history of releasing songs, and his successful press clipping from the last big event he had. I can leverage this previous coverage he was able to get himself and pitch it to my network to help him get higher-profile placements than he would have been able to get himself – the perfect partnership.
Create a Good Story
You’ll hear it a thousand times, but it’s the truest thing in this list. Unless your story is captivating, the press doesn’t really care. Whatever you’re pitching, unless it’s interesting to the readership of the publication you’re pitching to, your pitch will fall flat.
As an exercise, read through some recent business or product features on popular blogs in your industry. After reading, summarize the article to yourself by noting what was said not only about the product, but also about the author, business owner, or musician. Likely, you’ll find anecdotes about how they started their new business with $300 to their name, wrote their newest book while locked in a remote cabin, or got the idea for a new product while jogging.
Make your story unique.
Keep it Short
As an extension of creating a good story, I want to emphasize the importance of keeping your story short. Successful pitches to journalists and bloggers come from 2 or 3 carefully crafted sentences that get straight to the point, tell the journalist why you’re different, and what kind of story you’re offering them that will engage their readership.
This “elevator pitch” approach opens up the door to conversation if a journalist wants to find out more about what you’re doing and how they can write about you. Including your entire life-story in an introductory email when the blogger has only 30 seconds to check their email before a lunch break is going to get your email trashed or ignored.
Build a Press Kit
Build a press kit of all of the relevant content to your pitch. Pitching content isn’t just about the story – high quality photographs, biographies, and fact-sheets are also critical to success.
I like to dedicate a separate page on my website or my client’s website where press photos, social media links, quotes from the creator about the project, press releases, links to other noteworthy press, and samples of the song, video, book, or release I’m pitching are available.
You’d be surprised how often the key to getting a great write-up comes from simply being prepared and making the story easy for the journalist to write.
Monitor the News for Your Market
Using Google News’ RSS feeds, you can easily monitor trends in your industry. Google News can be set to automatically notify you when a blog or news outlet is covering something relevant to your product or story.
When you see a story trending across multiple outlets, make note of the publications, journalist’s names and contact information, and some basic facts about the story. You can add these writers to your contact list of people to reach out to when something may be of interest to them.
As an example from my own work in music PR, when the music streaming service Spotify announced plans to add tools for independent artists to monitor their popularity and promote their songs, I noticed a growing trend of music blogs and business publications talking about the implications these tools would have on independent bands.
I used this opportunity to reach out to both local and national blogs about a band I was representing to see if they would be interested in doing a story about “what it’s actually like to be an independent artist using Spotify.” A national publication ran with the story idea and interviewed my client for the piece.
Build a Media Contact List
If you’re on a budget, you can use spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Docs to keep track of the media outlets you’d like to keep contact with or ones that may benefit you in the future. I use 2 separate sheets, one for outlets that I’m currently communicating with and ones that I’ve talked to in the past.
In my media contact list, I record:
- Publication name
- Publication URL
- Journalist/Blogger name
- Industry they cover
- Email address
- Phone number
- Last date of contact
- Links to stories about my clients
Buying Media Lists
Media lists are available for just about any industry, but they’ll set you back a few hundred dollars at a time. These media lists include up to date information about the current journalists in each industry, the beats they’re covering, and just about everything else listed above.
If you buy a list, still don’t assume you can blanket email every journalist listed. Media lists only help to collect information. Professionalism and courtesy is still necessary when communicating.
Maintaining Relationships – The Art of Following Up
It should go without saying, but if a journalist covers your story, you should reach out and thank them for their time and offer to share the story around on social media and your own website. By sharing a story around you help it gain momentum, not just for SEO purposes with additional backlinks, but through sharing.
If you notice a blogger has syndicated your story from another outlet or has done a fresh write up or opinion about your story, take the time to reach out and thank them for their coverage.
Every few weeks, make a point to reach out to journalists and bloggers who have written about you in the past, even if you don’t have anything to pitch. Keep up with their blogs and stories and compliment the writers whenever something catches your eye.
Also, take the time to share their content on social media when appropriate. Don’t be an attention-seeker about it, but share worthy content and reach out every 6-8 weeks to keep relationships fresh.
The Internet has made story syndication incredibly easy for bloggers looking to attract some quick traffic. When pitching your story, realize that you hold power in offering exclusivity of your story to a single press outlet instead of blanketing your press release across the web.
With exclusive content, blogs are able to encourage your fans/followers to visit their website for the story’s debut than their competitors or even your own business’ website. In exchange for debuting your story, press outlets expect you to direct your social media and blog traffic to them for curious readers to read about the story.
If you’re ready to make a big announcement, offer to give the story to an industry blog exclusively for them to debut. By offering exclusive rights to the story and 1 or 2 days of lead time
After a blog or magazine has debuted your story or press release, it’s courteous to wait a few days before reaching out to other publications
The Difference Between ‘Exclusivity’ and ‘Debuts’
There’s a difference between ‘exclusive’ content and a blog ‘debut.’ Exclusive content refers to the idea that the piece of content you’re giving to a blog won’t be further sent to additional outlets after the story has gone live. For big announcements, like say the new iPad, this benefits the blog greatly because it knows it has the upper hand over other publications also interested in the story.
‘Debuted’ content is content that will be announced on one outlet first, and after a few days of directing traffic to that blog, the business will continue to pursue additional press for their story. This gives the debuting blog a head start over valuable traffic, but doesn’t grant them exclusive access to the story.
Just Ask for Coverage
This may come as a surprise, but half of the battle of getting your own press coverage is just simply asking for it. Local magazines, blogs, and newspapers are always in need of new content, so if you have a high-quality press photo and a compelling enough story, there’s a good chance that you can get a shout-out in a local publication for your next event just by asking the journalist to include you.
These inclusions can be gotten by scouring local magazines and newspapers to see about “weekly roundup” type columns that include ‘best-of’ lists and local business mentions. As mentioned earlier, being prepared and giving journalists exactly what they need to include you in a post may be the hardest part of actually getting coverage.
Offer to Guest-Blog
If you can’t secure press coverage for your story, see if you can write 400-500 words about something else the blog or publication may like to cover and include parts of your story in it.
Social Media Don’ts
The best way to get blacklisted by a person in the press is to send private messages or an overzealous number of Twitter ReTweets and Favorites, Facebook Likes and Shares, and Instagram Hearts. Yes, they share their content for it to get noticed, but when it’s obvious that your ultimate goal is to eventually pitch them a story, your ‘generosity’ on social media is going to be met with animosity.
Journalists aren’t dumb and they know publicists and businesses like their content to try and get themselves noticed. Be generous with your kindness, but don’t turn into a glad-hander who is ultimately only in it for themselves.
Thinking Like a Journalist
Many publicists achieve success because they are former journalists themselves. Understanding journalistic deadlines, what kinds of photos press outlets like, and even what time of day to email all contribute to success.
If you’re struggling to get some traction for your story, try and put yourself in the journalists’ shoes by thinking about the type of content they’d enjoy sharing to maintain or grow their readership. If you reverse your mindset from how to pitch and instead think in terms of receiving stories via email, you’ll find your placement rate increase.
For example, if you’re a local restaurant, you can pitch a story to local culture blogs like, “7 Best Late-Night Eateries in [YOUR TOWN].” Then, include your business and hyperlinks within the article so that your business is mentioned indirectly.
I can’t emphasize this enough. If you personalize your emails to bloggers, you’re going to have a much higher success rate than if you make a giant list of every publication in your industry and BCC every one of them.
Every email you send should include basic information about what you’re pitching, but also how you found the journalist, why you think they’d be interested in the story, and how it could benefit their readers.
Never Give Up
Learning the finesse of pitching stories can take months or years, but it doesn’t mean that as a local business you can’t get creative with your marketing in local publications until you have the budget to hire a professional publicist.
Think about all of the aspects of your business that you could pitch and always be paying attention to industry trends to capitalize on buzzing stories in the press.