Do I Even Need a Public Relations Strategy?
If you are a small to mid-sized company, you likely often debate with your team what PR efforts you should be undertaking, if any, and how much of your marketing budget you would be justified in spending on those efforts. You wouldn’t be alone in this dilemma as many other entrepreneurs struggle with the same question. There are many reasons that make public relations seem more intimidating than other marketing channels such as paid advertising, direct response and even social media. But the truth is, this is also the very same reason why public relations is becoming more important for businesses than ever before. I’ll explain why.
The past five years have seen an explosion in business spending in many areas of digital marketing such as social media advertising, pay-per-click advertising and even native content. Consequently, consumers are also being bombarded with more paid advertising than ever before. While paid advertising is, of course, an effective marketing channel, this advertising overwhelm for consumers has also had some side-effects. Chiefly, many consumers are gradually becoming numb to a majority of the ads they see each day and for some, (especially millennials and Gen Z) they are beginning to view paid advertising as less genuine.
As a result of all of these factors, what is becoming more clear than ever is that consumers (as well as B2B buyers) are increasingly looking for third-party information sources (blogs, news articles, review sites) to inform their purchasing decisions, even if it is after they have already learned about a product through a paid advertisement.
Consider these statistics:
80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information from articles versus advertisements. (Content Marketing Institute)
70% of consumers prefer to get to know a company through articles versus advertisements. (Content Marketing Institute)
Leads from articles have a 14.6% close rate versus outbound leads which have a 1.7% close rate. (imFORZA)
What does this tell us? It simply means that buyers (personal and business) want to collect information from a variety of sources when doing due diligence on your product. If the only information that they find during an online search is paid advertising and your own company blog, this gives your product less credibility than your other competitors who perhaps might have product reviews on industry blogs or even features in major news outlets. If you’re going to compete and succeed in today’s ad-saturated environment, you need the credibility of trustworthy third-party sources talking about your brand.
This is what a well-executed public relations campaign for the purpose media coverage can do: get media, relevant bloggers and social media influencers talking about your products so that you reach new audiences and establish credibility with prospects. In the rest of this post, we will look at how to create a public relations strategy that achieves that.
What is a Good Public Relations Strategy?
We have just discussed what the outcome of a public relations campaign should be in its simplest form: generating positive media coverage that drives awareness and sales for your brand or product. So now we will look at what a good public relations strategy for achieving that goal would look like.
At its very core, a good public relations strategy focuses on two elements. The first is telling a compelling story. The second is cultivating relationships that spread that story. Without both of these, you do not have an effective media strategy. This post is dedicated to helping you develop both of those within the framework of a goal-focused strategy and then implementing it. But first, we should also look at what a bad public relations strategy (as it pertains to media relations) would look like.
What is a Bad Public Relations Strategy?
Conversely, a bad public relations, as you might guess, focuses on securing immediate results at the cost of the quality of you story (and sometimes even the truth) and at the cost of the relationships with media. Promoting stories about your brand or product that are overly-promotional or spammy and provide no value to readers and then using pressure tactics and mass-emails (known in the industry as “spray and pray”) will burn and future relationships you could be cultivating with the media and could even lead to some very unwelcome negative publicity. Avoid short-term focused tactics such as these and focus on building a story and relationships that will create long-term success for your brand and pay dividends for a long time.
The Three Primary Tools of Media Relations:
Media Pitch - The media pitch is the tool that you will be using the majority of the time in a typical public relations campaign. Simply put, a pitch is a brief email generally sent to reporters, editors or producers telling them about your story or announcement and asking whether they would like to interview you. Since this guide focuses on the media relations aspect of a public relations strategy, we will be going into more depth later in this guide about exactly how to write a successful media pitch.
Press Release - A press release can be considered a longer-form version of a media pitch. It is typically a 1-2 page document giving an in-depth summary of your news story as well as background information about the subject organization or person. The most common use for press releases in the PR industry today is for publication on a company’s website or a newswire for the purpose of creating a resource should reporters, investors or other parties wish to refer to it. Press releases are less and less commonly used for the purpose of directly securing media coverage simply because reporters now receive so many of them each day, they are inundated! Most reporters now prefer a shorter-form media pitch that gets straight to the point and allowing them to follow up quickly if they would like more information. Media pitches are also much more personalized than press releases and thus increase your likelihood of building rapport with a member of the media. Here is a more in-depth guide on writing a press release, if you are interested.
Media Advisory - The third major tool is called a media advisory. Media advisories are very short announcements sent to reporters (typically via email) to announce an event. Most commonly media advisories are used to announce and invite reporters to a press conference or briefing.
Formulating Your Public Relations Strategy
As with any marketing initiative, the first step to a successful public relations strategy is planning and putting that plan on paper for clarity, team buy-in and to track your progress. A basic public relations strategy has the following sections:
Every plan needs to have a goal such that everybody knows what success looks like for this initiative. Goals should be clear, measurable and of course, meaningful. In the public relations realm, many companies set a goal such as being featured on a particular media outlet. But in reality, media coverage should not be the ultimate end-goal; it should be a strategy that achieves some more meaningful for your company, such as growing revenue, increasing brand awareness (which can be measured through metrics such as share of voice) or increasing traffic to your website.
Your goal should be measurable. Do not set a goal as vague as “increase sales”. A more measurable and clear goal would be “increase sales by 10% by the end of the current fiscal year”. This gives you a very clear target that anybody can review to see if success was reached.
Now that we have set a goal, we need a strategy for how we are going to get there. The strategy is oftentimes an overview of the marketing channels you are going to use to reach your goal, how you will use them and what the desired outcome will be.
For example, if your goal is to grow traffic to your website by 20% this year, an effective strategy for that could be securing a number of product features and reviews on industry blogs so that you will have a high click-through rate for sending those readers back to your website. Another strategy could be securing a feature story about the founder of your company in a major national newspaper, such as the New York Times.
The key to fleshing out your strategy is to identify these elements:
What is your message?
This is the story you are going to tell the media about your company. Remember, it needs to be compelling and not simply a sales pitch to buy your product. Every company has something unique about it that makes for an interesting story that people will want to read. Perhaps your founder had a fascinating journey to success when starting the company. Perhaps there is something quirky about your company culture. Maybe even you have a unique success story about one of your customers that should be shared (with the customer’s permission, of course!).
Who is your audience?
Your audience is the end-reader you want to tell your story to. For many companies’ public relations plan, their audience is customers and potential customers. However, it can also be groups such as your local community, industry peers, investors and even government regulators. Identify who your audience is and their demographics.
What are the best media outlets for reaching that audience?
With your audience identified, you will now define which media outlets you should target for potential press coverage in order to reach your audience. The key is to target the media outlets that your audience consumes. For example, if your target audience is c-suite executives, you may target outlets such as Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. If your target audience consists of homeowners who may want to renovate, you might target Better Homes and Garden magazine.
A common question is how many media outlets to target. While this answer varies widely based on the niche you are in (some niches have 10x more media outlets than others), you should strive to identify as many as you can across digital, print, television, radio and even podcast mediums. The more media you can target (that are relevant, of course) the better your chances of securing coverage.
Which reporters at those media outlets are the best to contact (and what is their contact info)?
The next element we look at is the specific writers, reporters and editors that we need to cultivate a relationship with at each outlet in order to secure coverage. This is a very important part of the process because choosing the wrong media contacts could derail your campaign. Here is how to go about identifying the right contacts:
There are tools that help expedite the process. Using a tool such as MuckRack or Cision (later in this post we go over a full menu of tools) will help you quickly pull up a list of all the contacts who work for a particular media outlet and what they each cover along with their contact info. Using one of these tools will certainly save you a lot of time; however, even if you do use them, we still recommend following the next steps listed here.
Visit the websites of each media outlet on your target list and find articles related to your industry or niche. Chances are the reporters writing these articles cover topics that are somewhat similar to yours. It’s a good idea to find at least a couple contacts on each site using this method to form a rough list of who covers your topic area.
Now it’s time to narrow down your list of reporters at each outlet to the best one or two that you should reach out to. Read extensive amounts of coverage written by each media contact on your list. This is very important because it will teach you a lot about the individual preferences of each reporter and give you an in-depth look at exactly what they like to cover.
Note: many reporters have very specific coverage areas. Just because their title is listed as “Technology Reporter” on their profile page does not mean that they will be interested in your drone startup, for example. A deeper dive into reading their most recent articles may reveal that they generally only cover B2B software. So reaching out to them as your primary contact for that outlet would be a total waste of your time and theirs. This is why this part of the process is so important. Invest the time into making sure that your contacts not only coverage your topic area, but also are interested in your specific niche.
A last tactic you can use to add additional reporters to your radar or when having difficulty finding contacts covering a specific topic is to utilize Google News searches. It sounds basic, but it is actually a very effective tool for discovering the most recent reporters covering a very particular topic.
Choose a keyword that would best describe your niche and search for it using Google’s News tab. There is an option to filter the results by time frame. Filtering by past 24 hours, past week or past month are usually most effective for finding reporters who may be immediately interested in your story.
For less-covered niches, the past few months is also typically effective for your search. Doing this filters out any very old articles whom the author of which may no longer be covering that space or may not even be working for that news outlet any longer.
The tactics section of your plan is where you are going to outline the nitty gritty of your PR efforts. You’ll spell out the specific actions you are going to take, step by step, when implementing your plan. Ideally, you will also assign a timeline or deadline for each tactic as well in order to create accountability and urgency. Because you want to be as specific as possible in this section when it comes to spelling out specific actions that need to be taken, we typically use bullet points to create chronologically ordered to-do items. If you have multiple team members implementing the plan, it is also wise to list the name of each person that each task is assigned to.
Create an email pitch about our latest product launch. (Date, Assignee)
Adapt and send the pitch to each media contact on our target list individually. (Date, Assignee)
Follow up on pitches sent. (Date, Assignee)
Create action items for every step you will need to implement for each part of your plan. If your plan consists of media outreach, publishing a press release online and also creating a series of social media posts, document the step-by-step for each of these initiatives.
Target Media Outlets:
We have previously discussed how to research the appropriate media outlets and also the contacts at each of those outlets to whom to send your pitch. Documenting the full list of contacts here below your tactics will allow you to share the list across your team (thus avoiding duplicating pitches) and also to continue adding to the list perhaps as you discover new contacts who are also suitable.
Executing Your Public Relations Strategy: The Art of Pitching
Once your public relations strategy is complete, it is time to execute. The first step of executing is to write the media pitch that you are going to send to reporters. We will go over that here.
How to Write a Pitch
A media pitch sent via email has five major components:
Subject Line: Your subject line should be as short as possible and compelling. Ideally it will say something about the root of your news story that will grab the reporter’s attention. For example, if I were a health coach and I were pitching a story about why consuming too much red meat is dangerous, my subject line might say “3 Unexpected Risks of Eating Red Meat 3x This Week”.
Greeting: The greeting may sound simple enough that it does not require much explanation, but there are actually certain greetings that convert better than others. We have found that using “Hi (First Name)” converts far better than using simply “Hi,” or other variations such as “Hey” or “Dear”.
The Hook: The “hook” is the meat of your media pitch. This should come right after your greeting and should immediately present the main premise of your story in the most compelling way possible.
There is a common expression in the PR industry called “don’t bury the lede”. The “lede” is a journalism term referring to the most important part of the story. A common mistake that people make when pitching a story is starting off their pitch with less important information and taking too long to get to the heart of the story. The key is to create a 2-4 sentence hook that immediately tells the reporter the relevant parts of the who, what, when, where and why of the story. You can save the background information for the follow-up conversation.
Bio: In a new paragraph below the hook, we have found it is best to add 2-3 sentences that give credibility to the person or organization that the story is about. In order to successfully secure media coverage, you not only need a good story, but you also need a credible source.
For example, you may be pitching a story about insight on a new industry trend. But if the organization or person that you are presenting as the expert to be interviewed for the story lacks the credibility to speak on that topic, it decreases your chances of the reporter wanting to interview you.
So use this section to give 2-3 sentences (any longer than four sentences will come across as excessive) that powerfully demonstrate why the source is the most credible source to speak on the topic. Any awards, recognitions or other achievements that organization has earned are great points to mention here.
Call-to-Action (CTA): The final section of your media pitch is where you need to elicit a response from the press. This is called a “call-to-action”. What it should look like is one sentence (the shorter the better) that asks a reporter whether they would like to take action on your story (typically in the form of an interview). Most calls-to-action are some variation of: “Would you be interested in interviewing XYZ about….”
Lastly, do not forget to sign your name!
You now have your first media pitch draft ready to send. Keep in mind that pitching the media is never an exact science. While you may think your pitch is persuasive, in reality it may take several re-writes before you actually start to get responses. So do not be discouraged by an immediate lack of response. With that in mind, we will move to the next step of sending the pitch.
As a reminder, reporters receive many pitches per day. Many. Many reporters have noted that they receive upwards of 500 or even more than 1,000 pitches per day depending on the outlet they work for. So knowing that, it makes sense to adhere to a couple best practices that give your pitch the best chances of being opened and not ignored. Here are a few:
Do NOT mass email. This should be self-explanatory. Reporters hate mass emails. Take the time to send individualized pitches and to alter them up a bit to speak to that specific reporter.
Avoid attachments when possible. Reporters do not like opening attachments. If you need to send a document/video/photo, create a link to it.
Ensure that there are ZERO spelling and grammar mistakes before sending a pitch.
Make sure that your pitch is addressed to the correct reporter and spell their name correctly! You have no idea how often this happens.
Do not “bury the lede”. See above on “How to Write a Pitch” if you need a refresher on this.
Space out pitches that are sent to reporters at the same outlets. Do not pitch five reporters at the same outlet all at the same time. If more than one of them decide to bring the story to their editor to get it cleared before responding to you, it is going to make them look bad in front of their boss. This will not help you with building rapport with reporters. Give a reporter a reasonable amount of time (such as a few days) to respond before moving on to another reporter at the same outlet.
Pitch consistently. Pitching the media is similar to sales in that you often have to endure a lot of “no’s” before getting to a yes. So do not be discouraged by rejection and do not stop your efforts after just a week or even a month of unsuccessful outreach. Continue to tweak your story ideas and reach out to new reporters.
You have written a pitch. You have also sent it to your list of media contacts. What happens next? Well, you may end up hearing back from a reporter who would like to interview you and write a story. Fantastic! However, there is also a very good chance you may not. Which means you will need to plan to follow-up with each of them.
Do not be discouraged by this. In fact, a full 80% of successful media pick-ups actually happen after the follow-up. Which means that making the effort to follow-up on every single pitch that you send is essential and if you do not, you are likely leaving opportunities on the table.
When to follow-up? Typically two days after the initial pitch being sent it the best time to follow up.
How many times to follow-up? In our experience, following up once is usually enough to establish whether a reporter is interested in a story. If they are interested, they will get back to you. If they aren’t, and you continue to follow-up repeatedly, you risk alienating a reporter that you could always just send a new story to in the future.
What to say in a follow-up? Follow-up emails should be very short and very simple. Through years of testing, we have learned that the best follow-up emails are one sentence or two at most. Here is an example of what a follow-up might say:
Hi (First Name),
Do you have any interest in interviewing (Name)?
That’s it. Simple and fast. Plus, if the reporter wants to jog their memory about what your pitch was about, they will be able to refer to your prior email below.
Tracking Your Public Relations Strategy Success
Now that you are actively reaching out to reporters, building media relationships, and eventually - generating news coverage about your organization, the next step is to be tracking your efforts. There are two primary forms of tracking that you will find helpful to use during your campaign:
Pitch Log: Your pitch log is where you will make notes of each reporter you pitch, what story you pitch them and the dates of both the initial pitch and the follow-up. Ideally this document should be a spreadsheet and it may look like this:
The pitch log will allow you to remember exactly who you pitched and when, ensure that each reporter you have pitched is followed up with and help you with calculating a conversion rate for how many of your pitches turned into interviews or when it might be time to test a new story angle if the original one isn’t gaining training.
Media Report: The second document for tracking your public relations campaign will be where you track media coverage once it goes live. Each organization likes to track different metrics about their media coverage based on their specific goals; however, we recommend keeping a document that tracks at least the following:
A link to each media placement.
The date it was published.
The contact who wrote it.
How many social shares it received (see tools below for tracking this).
Maintaining this record for each of your media placements will allow you to have a thorough record of coverage you received along with a timeline and a broad overview of how it performed on platforms such as social media. Many other organizations also go on to track metrics such as traffic driven from the article, how well the article ranks on search engines for targeted keywords and even whether the backlinks in the article are do-follow or no-follow. Customize this to your goals and objectives.
Helpful PR Tools:
There are many tools and softwares available that help make it easier to run a successful public relations campaign. Whether it’s assistance with researching and compiling media lists, tracking the success of coverage once it’s published or monitoring the news for mentions of your brand, here are a couple of the most important tools that we like to use. You can also see our more comprehensive review of top PR tools here.
Cision: Our favorite tool for researching reporters. Cision has one of the largest databases of reporters for almost every niche.
MuckRack: Another fantastic tool for researching and building relationships with reporters.
Google Alerts: A free one and a good one. Google Alerts is still one of the best tools for being quickly notified when your brand name is mentioned in a news article. We highly recommend setting this up even if you are using other media monitors.
CoverageBook: CoverageBook is a PR reporting tool. It measures the performance of media placements you have secured. We have primarily found this tool useful for getting accurate and inexpensive data on social sharing of media placements.
Bringing It All Together
We have covered a lot of ground here from the definitions of the basic tools using for getting media coverage (media pitches, press releases, media advisories) to how to build out an entire public relations strategy for generating media coverage to even how to pitch the press and get interviewed. As with any marketing strategy, it takes some testing and tweaking to perfect this and gain momentum. But with consistency and a well-thought-out, powerful story, a public relations strategy can be one of the most powerful drivers of growth for a business.
If you have any additional questions about creating your strategy or how to go about any of the processes described here, do not hesitate to reach out to us. We would be happy to advise on further best practices.