Sir Richard Branson once famously remarked, “Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a frontpage ad.” The problem is, with PR agencies charging retainers of $3,000 to $10,000 per month, few entrepreneurs can even let themselves imagine what a full-page article or TV appearance could do for their growth.
But here’s the deal: As a former journalist myself, with more than two decades of experience in TV, radio, print and web, I can assure you that pitching your story is not rocket science.
Journalists and producers need fresh, interesting and topical content. All you have to do is learn to package your brand's message in a way that’s mediagenic, then get organized about following up. Because the benefits of doing it yourself extend past the cash savings.
Indeed, when you do your own media relations. . .
1. You own your media real estate (instead of renting someone’s Rolodex):
When you hire a PR firm, you're paying its staff to make contacts on your behalf. But the second your retainer is up, you no longer have access to any lead that hasn't already turned into an actual media placement. Any PR pro will tell you that relationships take time to build, and one of the keys to media success is turning rejections into relationships.
Plus, different media outlets have varying lead times. For example, some glossy magazines work six to 12 months in advance, so if you pitch in October 2015, you'll literally be suggesting a Valentine’s Day story for February 2016.
When you do your own PR, you maintain contact with all those journalists you ping; and, with some planning and organization, you can stay in touch with them as they move around within the industry. Here’s another thing to think about: The next time you start a business, you’ll have contacts you can leverage immediately.
2. You have a chance to make use of hidden opportunities:
Illinois-based photographer and marketing guru Sarah Petty recently landed national TV coverage for herself because, during a coaching call, we talked about how the media loves a human interest story. She realized that, as a board member of Sangamon CEO, an entrepreneurship program, she had a fabulous story to tell about the value of starting a business while one is still in school.
This wasn't directly related to her core business, so an agency might never have pitched this angle. Still, she got national as well as syndicated local coverage for this story. The resulting exposure directly benefited her main company because she is now seen as more than just a business owner -- she’s a local hero.
3. You're forced to "live" a better story:
Once you understand the basics of pitching the media in a story-centric way (and you can even get press release templates to get you started), it really isn't rocket science to get serious media attention. But if you find that, pitch after pitch, you never hear back, well, maybe the reason is that your business isn't truly newsworthy.
When you outsource your PR, it becomes easy to blame the "lazy" PR pro. But if, instead, you invest in learning what makes a great TV or newspaper piece, it's hard not to create a business that begs to be shared.
But, you say, you'll never find the time to create good PR.
No worries. These days, it's relatively simple to hire a virtual assistant (there's no shortage of out-of-work journalists). This person can do a fantastic job of crafting a story-based release for you and perhaps even leverage some of his or her own press contacts.
This means that you can continue to build your own network (and net worth) without having to invest in doing the grunt work yourself.
Are you a small business that has worked with a PR firm? What was your experience? Describe it in the comments section.