When you're starting a business, the best ways to acquire new customers is to build some media buzz.  And that means doing some of what's usually called "public relations" or PR.

Most entrepreneurs wrongly believe that the best way to get PR is to hire a PR firm.  However, PR firms can be pricey and they're often not all that good at landing media coverage.

I know people who are paying as much $10,000 a month to a PR firm and getting very little out of it.  And that's sad, because PR--getting positive media coverage--isn't all that difficult.  Here's how it's done:

1. Devise a story worth writing about. Reporters are always searching for stories that their audience wants to read about, hear about or watch.

In this blog, I write a lot about using stories in your sales messages (like "Tell the Customer's Story").  However, a story that appeals to customers isn't likely to interest to a reporter.

(Note: throughout I'll use the term "reporter" to include anybody who's got an audience, including bloggers.)

For instance, a sales message like "we can save you 25% on purchasing costs" will be of of little or not interest to any media audience, other than that, maybe, of a small trade journal.  Maybe.

By contrast, a media-ready story needs a "hook" that makes it newsworthy, usually be attaching itself to whatever news stories have recently been bouncing around, or going viral, in the media world.

For example, suppose you provide travel services to frequent flyers. A good story pitch--right now--would be something like: "10 Ways to Be Productive When Stranded in Moscow."  Hopefully a reporter will pick up on that idea, which will provide you a forum to talk about your travel services (more on this in a moment.)

I should probably note that there's some "art" involved in figuring out story angles and most PR folk don't do it very well.  If you need help, consider hiring an out-of-work newspaper reporter. There are plenty to go around.

2. Create nuggets to insert into the story. Once you've defined a newsworthy story, your next step is to encapsulate your sales message into a "nugget," which you can work into the interview.  The nugget ensures that potential customers take note of your product when they read, hear or watch it.

Nuggets are short, digestible, and (above all) quotable sentences that you work into the interview.  They're more than just "sound bites"--they're "sound bites" that help sell your product.

In the travel services example above, for example, you might want to have these nuggets ready:

  • "At TravelGuru, we show top executives how to get more done at the airport than at the office."
  • "TravelGuru helps you find the business support services you need, even when you're stranded."

One of the great things about nuggets is that they're easily adapted to different types of stories.  The two above (for instance) would also work if your story hook was a coastal weather delay or a government report on late flights.

3. Offer yourself as a story source. Now you've got a story idea and you've got your "nuggets" ready to insert into the story.

Your next challenge is to get your story pitch under the eyes of reporters who might write the story you're proposing, or (better yet) interview you and publish the interview.

There are three ways to reach reporters, in order to usefulness:

  1. Personal contacts. This entails pitching your story to a reporter whom you've already met or who's already interviewed you.  Just as with any business situation, there's nothing better than having an ongoing relationship when you want to get things done.
  2. Targeted emails.  This entails pick through Internet news sources to find reporters who've covered subjects similar to your story pitch in the past.  You then send them a personal email explaining why you contacted them, and why you think they'd like your story.
  3. Press releases.  These are form letter email sent indiscriminately to thousands of media people.  Most reporters ignore them, but there are many sites that will publish the release as it is, giving you at least some kind of coverage.

Most reporters tend to have "beats"--specific subject areas that interest them and which they write about.  For example, my primary "beat" for Inc.com is sales and marketing, with occasional posts about corporate life and politics.  Getting a feeling for a reporter's "beat", helps you can craft what you're going to say so that you can insert your "nuggets" more easily and smoothly into the resulting article or post.

Regardless of how you contact reporters, you're not going to capture their interest unless the Subject line (i.e. the story idea from Step 1) is truly stellar. I get hundreds of "press release" story pitches every year and I've probably read about 30 of them, and written about maybe five.

4. Control the interview. Now you've got a reporter interested enough to interview you.  As you're being interviewed, insert your "nuggets" into the story.  Here are two time-honored techniques:

  1. Bridging. This is a technique of moving from one aspect of a topic to another.  To achieve a successful "bridge," you answer the journalist's question honestly, and then promptly follow that response with your message.  Here are some typical bridges:
  • "No..." (answer the question), "let me explain..." (your message here).
  • "Yes..." (answer the question), "and also remember..." (your message here).
  • "I don't know, but what I do know is..." (your message here).

A word of caution, though.  Make sure that your messages are related to the questions that were asked.  Nothing annoys a reporter more than a blatant non-sequitur.

        2. Flagging. This consists of prefacing your nuggets with a phrase that indicates the importance of what you're about to say.  Here are some classics:

  • "Here's what's really important..."
  • "The three points to remember are..."
  • "Let me be perfectly clear on this..."

Flagging helps the reporter (and eventually the audience) prioritize your remarks, thus helping your message (nuggets) come through more clearly.

As you can see, there's no big mystery to doing PR work.  Building buzz and using the media to get your message out is a skill just like any other.  The more you DIY, the easier it becomes.

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