Press coverage is a fickle, funny sport, especially for the new businesses it can make or break. PR requires a certain degree of skill and finesse. Much like you wouldn’t want an untrained developer coding your app, a less experienced PR strategy isn’t ideal — this individual is responsible for relaying your brand to the public.
PR veteran Mitch Leff consults with small businesses and entrepreneurs on strategic counsel, program development and media relations. He started compiling media contacts as a printed reference book for himself and his own clients years ago, but realized by the time the book came off the press, it was old news. However, the dream of a convenient guide to Atlanta media lived on, and he recently went digital with the database to continue making PR more efficient for new businesses.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders also may not be “making news” all the time, but could have an expertise that could lend itself to serving as a source for journalists. So, if you’re an expert in Internet security or psychology, Leff says to be open to speaking to media as a source for a variety of stories, increasing your thought leadership status in the process.
Establishing yourself and your company in the public sphere can be a daunting task, but the results are worth it if you do it right. Are you running a new or lean business? Here’s what you need to know about pursuing the press:
Know if it’s too early
As soon as you’re in business you can start to market the company, but there’s a catch: “You have to be ready to handle the demand it brings,” Leff says. “You don’t want to market your product if you don’t have the manufacturing or the staff to take care of clients. The worst thing would be to start marketing and then not be able to take care of them.”
Clearly define your message
Leff advises the most cost-effective and powerful step in creating a press strategy is to develop key messages and sub-messages that clearly and concisely explain who you are and what you do. This is successful not just for media relations but for presentations to investors, potential clients, and everyone in your company.
“I’ve heard companies talk about the same company like it’s two totally different ones,” Leff said. “Figure out how to describe your product or service, and it shouldn’t take 15 minutes. It should take 30 seconds.”
For a clear, persuasive elevator pitch, Leff suggests practicing with people who aren’t in your immediate circle or familiar with the product already. They may or may not want to know more, but it shouldn’t be because they’re confused about your initial description.
Figure out who your audience is
Leff says you want to get the word out as much as you can, but if they’re not targets, then you’re wasting your time. For example, a B2B company will see little value in being featured in general consumer media. Millions could see it but only one percent will ever be interested in making a purchase. However, if your story gets into a specific industry publication, 60 percent could be interested instead of one.
It’s about quality, not quantity.
Find your hook
Pitches should be short and feature the most important part first. Don’t bury the lead under meandering sentences like “I have a new business that I think you would be interested in. It deals with…” Rather, think in headlines, use keywords and get to the point fast. Then explain it, but in no more than a couple of paragraphs tailored to the media outlet you’re pitching.
TV needs to know the visual perspective. Radio and podcast need audio. Publications are more flexible, but visual capability is helpful too. It should be just enough to get them interested in reaching back out for the whole story. Leff also advises you check for readability by emailing it to yourself and opening it on your phone, because it’s likely your contact will open on mobile too. And haven’t we all experienced the dread that comes with opening someone’s manifesto on a cell phone?
Increasingly, social media is a good tool for finding reporters and editors, but it’s not the only tool. Whether it’s by email, calling on the phone, or meeting physically for a meal or coffee, there are many different ways to meet people and relay your pitch. Leff says he’s spoken with some reporters who refuse to answer their phone, and others who prefer it. If they’re in meetings or attending events, instant messaging — whether it’s Facebook, Google Hangouts, or even texting, if they welcome it — can get you a faster response than a dedicated phone call.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that it varies based on the individual, and the process takes patience. If your pitch isn’t getting picked up, consider whether the timing is off, your pitch needs a better headline, or if you’re really even at the press-worthy stage.
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