SORRY, BUT WHAT THE HECK IS PR ANYWAY?
Take solace friend, you’re not alone. My parents still don’t understand what I do. That might be because public relations is a bit of a misnomer. It should really be called media relations because that’s primarily what it is. Now, that’s not all it is—there is so much a publicist handles that goes beyond the press release–but for today’s discussion, let’s focus on that.
PRO TIP: All those stories you’ve read about a new product, a beautiful hotel, a hot new restaurant or even an in-depth look at the woman behind the latest tech breakthrough? Nine times out of ten, that story exists because a publicist reached out and pitched the writer. It probably also involved an interview with a representative –that the publicist arranged and prepped the representative beforehand – and maybe some kind of freebie that the publicist also arranged. That’s PR in a very basic nutshell.
DO I NEED IT?
In a word, yes. Media is a third party, editorial opinion and therefore more trusted than an ad. That’s why it’s called earned media. Think about it this way: you open Food & Wine and see a huge ad for the restaurant down the street with a pretty picture of a steak. Forty pages later, you see a two-page spread that includes an interview with the chef and mouth-watering descriptions of their signature dishes from an, ahem, seasoned food writer. Which one are you going to trust? Which one captured your attention longer?
The best part is, more often than not, that story either cost the restaurant zero dollars or was achieved for the price of a meal. Let that sink in.
CAN I DO IT?
If it feels too big to even know where to begin, try thinking about it this way: there are endless writers, influencers, bloggers out there who ALL NEED CONTENT. They need to feed that very hungry 24-hour news cycle beast so they’re always looking for interesting stories to tell, people to profile, new companies to write about and products to review. That can, and should, be you!
So roll up your sleeves and dive in, it’s going to take a little time and some research. You need access to their email addresses and getting those might cost a little money. There are several database companies to look into: Cision, Muck Rack, Melt Water to name a few, but they do require some serious cash and probably are a little more than you bargained for.
Good news, there are other ways. You’ll probably want to start local and often, local newspapers list their contact info on their Contact Us page. Even a generic email@example.com is a fine place to start. If you have a fun event coming up, find a news station’s news desk phone number, start dialing and smiling! Freelance writers almost always have a website where they list their email address. So do your research on who is writing about what you’re selling and start googling. When all else fails, head to the Gram or Twitter, but please, do it with grace. The line between friendly story idea and annoyance is very thin.
I’VE GOT A LIST! NOW WHAT DO I DO?
Admittedly, this is the tricky part and why people generally hire publicists. PR gurus do this all the time and they’ve heard and seen it all. So, you have to bring it with a fun pitch they haven’t seen a million times before. Just because you think your restaurant has the best Caesar salad in the world doesn’t mean Food & Wine or even your local newspaper is going to care. But maybe the chef who created it has an interesting background, or perhaps your family-run business that’s been serving the community for 20+ years has done a full remodel with all new offerings. Maybe you and your partner started your business from scratch and have turned it into a booming success and now you want to start a program to give back to those coming up behind you. Before you start, ask yourself: what is my story? can I envision someone reading about it in a magazine/website/newspaper and if so, would I read it? If the answer is yes, write it up and send it out.
I’M BEING GHOSTED
Yeah…that’s going to happen. You have to think about pitching like batting averages—you’re going to swing and miss a lot more than you’re going to hit a homerun. You’ll need to do some follow-up (once, maybe twice, we’re not trying to badger anyone) and then maybe expand your list or try a different tactic. You might not get them on the first try and that’s ok. Journalists may not always respond but they’re always happy to hear new story ideas.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS BAD PRESS, RIGHT?
Other than on Yelp and this epic rip from NYT, how many terrible reviews have you read about lately? I’m willing to bet, not many. Rarely do any publications want to publish stories talking about how terrible some place is. What’s the benefit in that? Now that’s not to say that every word will be glowing. This is still editorial after all, but chances are more copy will be dedicated to the benefits rather than the drawbacks. And once you see that story, don’t beat yourself up. In order for an article to truly be unbiased, there needs to be some critiques sprinkled in. People tend to think something is fishy when the review is too perfect.
At the end of the day, I would still hire a professional if possible. Not only do they have the relationships and their fingers on the pulse of what’s relevant, but they can also coach you on ways to entice the media into writing a story (do you think anyone invented a $5,000 cocktail because they thought anyone would actually buy it? It was for 100% for PR). The pros can prep you for interviews and provide recommendations on potential opportunities. But look, if that’s not in the cards and you are full-on DIY-ing your biz, you absolutely do this. You just need a hook and a list.