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MARKETING

How to Hack the PR Machine

Start-ups on a shoestring might not have the money for a public-relations agency or even a PR pro. Here are seven steps to do-it-yourself PR.

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Finally. An early version of your product is up and running. The feedback is great. All you need now is to let the world know you exist. Whether you’re looking to get in front of potential investors or customers, you need to get the publicity wheels moving.

For many cash-strapped entrepreneurs, managing their own press outreach is the only option. Here’s how to combine your passion for your company with some best practices in public relations. Done right, public relations can get you rolling down the path of user acquisition, industry validation, funding, and more. Here are seven steps to PR success.

1. Create your media list

The best way to go about identifying the most relevant media for your company is to set Google news and blog alerts on your keywords. Within a few weeks you'll have a clear idea of which publications and writers are regularly covering your space. You should also use Google news to search coverage on your competitors, and see who is writing about them.

2. Pitch the press

The pitch, and follow-up, is the most critical component of public relations. Creating a brief, easy-to-understand summary of your news is key in getting anyone to be interested. The first sentence of the pitch should explain who you are and what you want (i.e. coverage of your news in their publication), including a link to your company. If you’re offering an exclusive, specify that up front.

Next, summarize your news and why it’s relevant to the publication's readers in one to two sentences. Think about the headline and how you’d like the first sentence of any story to read. Follow this with a handful of summary bullet points that touch on the key components of the news and are no more than two lines each. Finally, include links to images and then the full text of the release.

Never attach an unrequested file. No one is going to open it, and it increases the chances your email will get caught in a spam filter. To increase your chances of getting a response, use the words ‘exclusive’ and ‘launch’ in your subject title whenever possible.

3. The press release

The press release is not the core component of getting your message out, but it is still an important tool to share the nitty-gritty details.

Your release should contain five elements: who (your company), what (what are you announcing), why (why should anyone care), how (the technical details), and how much. Ideally the release is between five to seven paragraphs, with a limit of five lines per paragraph, capped off with your company boilerplate.

There should be a quote from your CEO and a third-party reference from a partner or customer. Quotes, like the entire release, should avoid jargon and corporate-speak.

Lastly, your product may truly be disruptive, but avoid using unqualified adjectives such as “best,” “superior,” or “world famous” in the release.

4. Gather materials for the press

In the multimedia age, no story is complete without images or a short video. Gather all the visual assets that support your announcement: your company logo, three to five product or screen shots, a product action shot (featuring an attractive user if possible), and a short professional demo video.

Put them all on your company Web site, with URLs that are specific to the announcement, for example "www.CompanyName.com/AnnouncementName_ImageTitle". Never send a journalist a high-res image as an attachment unless requested.

5. Exclusive or embargo?

If you’re handling PR on your own, don’t try to wrangle an embargo. Offering an exclusive makes much more sense. Reach out to one publication at a time, offering an exclusive on your announcement. Give each one a day or two to get back to you, and aim to get through your whole list – or get a commitment for a story – within two weeks.

6. Choose the release date and time

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the best days to make news announcements. Research the industry calendar to make sure your announcement won’t be competing with a big event, such as an Apple announcement or a huge industry conference. Ask for a publication time between 8 and 11 am Pacific Time. That’ll let you get the most notice from the West coast tech audience while still hitting East coast news cycles.

7. Email etiquette: how to follow up

As you travel along your quest for coverage, be courteous and clear about your expectations. In your initial email, give an explicit timeframe in which you’d like to see news published. No response? You can send a total of three emails over a three-to-five day period without creeping into stalker territory. In the third email, indicate that it will be your last note. Continue down your target list until you connect with someone who’s interested.

With each news announcement, you’ll gain confidence in the process and build valuable relationships with the media.

Last updated: Jan 26, 2012

REBECCA REEVE is Founder and Principal of Rsquared Communication, a boutique tech PR firm based in San Francisco. Rsquared specializes in work with B2B and consumer-facing web apps.




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