Be Your Own Publicist
When I left my full-time magazine editing career to launch a business, there was one thing that came surprisingly easy to me: getting press. And that was because after years as an editor, I know how editors really think, and how to give them easy, well-packaged stories.
As I started to get more involved in the entrepreneurial community, I found myself constantly giving advice on the process, from how to pick the right outlet, to finding the right editor, to sending a concept/story/product that actually makes sense for their readers. In short, I was teaching entrepreneurs how to land great press.
Here are six steps to DIY public relations.
Step 1: Pick ONE Part of Your Brand to Sell
Are you selling expertise (first and foremost) or a product (first and foremost)? You might have dual sides (for example, I’m selling my business as a product, but my PR knowledge as expertise). Even if you’re selling multiple things, for this exercise — and each PR outreach — focus on just one.
To start, make a list of everything you have going on. As you read through the next five steps, you might realize that one area of your brand is more press-worthy or fits better into your target publications than others. Don’t worry: You can go through this whole plan again with another topic on your list.
Step 2: Know Your Target Audience
You can have a few, but you’ll target your PR separately for each audience, so put them in different lists (this is what Google spreadsheets are for). Another way of looking at your target: WHY are you doing this PR exercise? Who do you want to reach?
An example: For the wedding vertical of my business, we want wedding magazines because we want to reach engaged couples. If we were raising investment money, we’d want tech press to highlight our technology and reach the investors who frequent places like TechCrunch. For partnership opportunities and credibility building, we’d want mainstream media like The New York Times. For pure Web traffic, we’d want top lifestyle blogs and Instagram/Pinterest placement. As you can see, the target audience is vastly different based on your immediate goals.
Step 3: Pick Three Outlets That Would Make You Giddy
This will be fun (head to a bookstore or newsstand, or play around online!), but make sure your list has some grounding in reality, based on the stage you’re at and an honest look at how “fresh” your product or expertise is. And think outside the normal, well-known box: Can you find outlets that have a strong relationship with your target audience? It might not be a household name, but one your audience considers their go-to.
For example, while it was great to have my business book featured in glamorous publications like Food & Wine, the pieces in business-centric outlets like Harvard Business Review and Fast Company really resulted in traction. And think across mediums: Consider radio, TV, websites, newspapers, magazines, blogs, social media influencers, and podcasts. Think both local and national.
Step 4: Analyze (and Enjoy) Your Target Outlets
Take one outlet from your list and read, listen, and watch LOTS. This should be fun too. These are your people, so it’s good to know what they’re paying attention to. As you enjoy the content, here’s how to analyze the outlet:
a) Find pieces, sections, and columns that your type of product/expertise could fit in to.
b) Who wrote/produced this? Google them or do a LinkedIn search — are they on staff (an editor or staff writer) or a freelance writer? If there’s no byline with the story, turn to the masthead (often at the front of print publications or in a “bio” section on websites) and see who edits that type of content. For example, there might be a food editor and an associate food editor who prepare all the food pages, even though their names aren’t necessarily on the content itself. Tip: Editors often handle products, while freelance writers will pitch big feature stories or utilize expert quotes, so depending on what you’re selling you’ll want to focus on the editor or the writer.
c) Found someone who seems to “get” your vibe and would cover what you’re selling? See what else they’ve written/produced and make note of what you like about it.
d) Once you’ve found your perfect spot and perfect person, head to Step 5.
Step 5: Write a “Love” Email to That Person
a) First, tell them what you love about their work, whether it’s a recent piece or a style of interviewing that always gets you, or copy that makes you laugh out loud.
b) Give a one-sentence overview of you and your company.
c) If you and your product are relatively “equal” to the editor or outlet you are pitching, you can offer to treat for a speedy lunch near their office, to drop by with coffee, or chat for a quick deskside. Give a few specific date and time options about three weeks out. (Then share your product and ideas in person.)
d) If you’re reaching out to a more dream/stretch outlet, suggest two to three targeted story ideas OR say that you’re simply sending over product for them to enjoy and try. Your goal here is to give them something sticky, specific, and valuable, whether that’s content or product.
Step 6: Follow Up, Repeat, and Track!
Now that you’ve gone through the process once, repeat it for as many concepts, target audiences, and outlets as you like. I like to work on one idea/audience at a time, depending on my immediate goals. To help track your efforts, make a spreadsheet where you can note your follow-ups, dates you send product, and meetings — and don’t forget to track your successes too!
For years, Rachel Hofstetter (@rachelhoffy) was a food editor at places like O, the Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest. Besides copious amounts of chocolate and cheese, her favorite part was talking with up-and-coming food entrepreneurs. Their stories led to Cooking Up a Business, a book about food startups, which gave Rachel the entrepreneurial itch. She left her editing career to launch guesterly, a software platform that enables anyone to create a custom event playbill. Now she’s combining her two worlds into Savor PR School, an A-Z guide to getting great PR.