Media attention can be a powerful way to increase traffic to your website, attract new customers and clients, and build credibility both within and beyond your industry. Landing a feature in the right publication can be a great way to jumpstart your business success.
But what if:
- You’re new to the industry?
- You’ve never been featured in the media before?
- You don’t know where to start?
I have a special treat for you today. My friend and former reporter for VentureBeat, Conrad Egusa, has offered to take us inside the world of journalism and show us, from the inside, the best way to get press for our business. Conrad is the founder of a start-up public relations firm Publicize and has helped hundreds of businesses get featured in big-name publications.
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To begin, many thanks to Ramit for the opportunity to share this lesson. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time.
If you happen to be a New York Times bestselling author like Ramit, access to the media is easy to come by. For the rest of us, not so much.
That doesn’t mean good public relations is not important. If anything, people just getting a start stand far more to gain from media attention than an already established name. Fortune 500 companies can make news when they want to, but getting featured early can be critical for a new small business.
PR is what helps spread your message, distinguish your product or service, boost your marketing campaigns, and legitimize your venture. Good press can create connections and opportunities you did not even know were out there.
I want to show you how to access top journalists and generate attention from the world’s largest media publications, regardless of whether or not you already have personal or business success to stand on.
I have used this method personally to get featured on The Financial Times, Bloomberg, TechCrunch, and other publications. Whether you are about to launch a consulting company, are opening an online business, or are still going through the initial stages of a startup, you can do the same.
Step #1: Are you newsworthy?
The first thing it is important to understand about the media is that news publications have no responsibility to feature you. Their responsibility is to deliver meaningful information to their readership. Public relations is not a favor and it doesn’t get handed out.
This sounds obvious, but when I was writing for the technology publication VentureBeat, you would have been surprised at the number of people I had approach me asking for press with nothing tangible to announce about their business.
Little things that important people and companies do are automatically newsworthy because of who’s doing them. But in order to get space on a prominent publication from the other end of the PR spectrum, you need to convince the people that what you want covered is important to a wider audience. If you want to make news, you have to have news to offer.
The first question you need to ask is, “Does anyone care?” And be honest with yourself about this.
Let’s say you own a bagel shop: Buying a new oven may be a huge step for your business. But it is not interesting or important to anyone but the most local of publications.
Is there something about this oven that sets it apart from the one that every other bagel shop uses? Will this oven allow you to somehow make significantly better bagels? In those cases, you may be onto something. Otherwise, the benchmark for news should be, “Why would this piece of information matter to anyone not already a customer?” If there’s no ready answer to that question, you may have news, but it’s not newsworthy.
There are four broad categories most business press tends to fall into. Don’t feel limited to only these kinds of stories, but in my experience, these are the most reliably newsworthy announcements:
- Company/Product Launches: You open a new coffee shop.
- Milestones: Your company holds its 10-year anniversary.
- Fundraising Events: Your company raises $100,000 in funding.
- Acquisitions: Your company is purchased or acquires another business.
Human interest journalism — the writeup about the immigrant who escaped two civil wars to rise from nighttime cleanup duty to head bagel chef at your bagel shop — is another opportunity to attract coverage.
Step 2: Picking your spots
Let’s imagine that Ramit is just graduating from Stanford University, and he is trying to get his Negotiate It mobile app off the ground without the benefit of his current success.
The product has not yet been released, and this “launch” will be his first press announcement. Ramit has a product he believes in and a newsworthy announcement for journalists to share with their audiences.
The two things Ramit needs to consider at this stage are:
- which publications will be interested in the story
- which will help the company reach its target audience
Media tends to be very specialized, so the best thing Ramit can do at this point is research. A fashion publication is obviously not what he is looking for, and even within the “tech” press, there are a wide range of publications to choose from.
Being familiar with a publication means understanding the type of content it likes to put out and who its readers are. This will help Ramit find the best publications for his app and, further down the line, to tailor his message to appeal to their editorial focus.
For Ramit, because this is a mobile app in a particular niche, it would make sense to focus first on personal finance and technology publications. Examples of good bets for Ramit are a tech publication that has previously featured self-help content or a personal finance writer with an interest in digital tools.
Step 3: Connecting with the media
Ramit has a problem now, or he thinks he does. He does not have any friends working at any of the publications he targeted.
Fortunately for Ramit, he does not need any of these connections.
The most common way to reach a media outlet is through a press release emailed to directly to the journalists.
Press releases are not particularly remarkable documents. In fact, they should have more or less the same format, no matter who is writing them, who is reading them, or what is being discussed. That’s mostly the point – a press release is information formatted in a specific way so journalists can review quickly.
People tend to dismiss general tip channels in favor of the notion that only personal contacts get you press, but at VentureBeat, over 50% of the stories we covered came in the form of press releases sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Press releases can also be sent to individual journalists’ emails. You should not be afraid to write journalists who you have not met before. They will appreciate that you are doing their work for them.
Going out on a limb is actually the only way to consistently attract coverage. Don’t expect press to come to you. Be proactive. Even established businesses with expensive PR teams reach out when they want coverage. If you have not sent out an announcement, don’t be surprised that no one is covering your story.
Step 4: Standing out from the pack
Press releases are not complicated, but that does not mean it’s easy to write an effective one.
There is a bottleneck effect at competitive news outlets. Reporters are asked to read dozens of pitches each day, but only ever have time to write a few stories. If your press release does not stand out, it will not be read.
Contrary to what you might think, catchiness is not about getting esoteric or sensationalizing your story. The tone should be measured and active, and that starts at the beginning.
Your title should, in straightforward terms, explain the content of your press release. You can then follow up with bullet points highlighting the most prominent features of your announcement.
The most important part of a press release is the first line, which is what we call the “storyline.” The storyline explains why the announcement is newsworthy.
With the storyline, it is good to start off with who you are and what you have to announce. From there, you want to move to the big picture. This is where you answer the “Why should anyone care?” question. Don’t be scared to make large claims (if you can back them up). In an ideal world, in the world you envisioned when you came up with your product, what do you hope to accomplish?
In Ramit’s case, this would be an example storyline for Negotiate It:
Stanford graduate launches Negotiate It mobile app, aims to re-imagine the way we negotiate our finances.
Notice how Ramit emphasizes what we call his “social proof.” For him, this means mentioning Stanford University, an internationally renowned university known for producing bright minds.
In the event you haven’t graduated from Stanford, your social proof could be “former New York Times journalist” or “Town Board Member” or anything else that makes you, as a person or company, stand out. If it relates directly to your announcement, great. If not, include it anyway. Personal experience will give your story depth and interest, whether or not it has to do with what you’re hoping to advertise.
Also notice that Ramit gives his company a strong purpose. Whatever your venture, big or small, locally-based, or loaded with international aspirations, there is something that makes your value proposition different. This is why you are pursuing it in the first place, and why people will be interested in your story. If you would like to see, we created a press release for the Negotiate It mobile app here.
The email you send over along with your press release can be a chance to offer a bit more context. Below we have an example TechCrunch email for the Negotiate It mobile app:
Step 5: The media explained, again
You may have noticed that Ramit offered an “exclusive” in his email. What this means is that he is providing one publication with the opportunity to publish the story first.
Particularly with digital media, the news cycle is all about speed. Publications large and small compete with one another to break stories. The outlet that finds a story first “wins” that news cycle.
The best way to entice a larger publication to cover a story is to offer an exclusive, which raises the value of your pitch.
Shooting for the publications with larger readerships is encouraged because the largest publications drive more visibility, and smaller publications will generally follow suit.
In Ramit’s case, if the tech publication TechCrunch picks up his announcement, tech blogs and niche publications will take notice, as will larger traditional news outlets — like, say, The Wall Street Journal — that take cues from their more specialized counterparts.
Each industry has its own major publications, and each publication has its own niche or nuance that sets it apart. If you followed Step 1 and did your homework, you’ll have a good sense of where to aim for first.
Step 6: Furthering coverage
Let’s say Ramit manages to get featured on TechCrunch. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong.
Getting your article up is the only the first step. To ensure it reaches as many people as possible, there’s more legwork to be done.
As soon as he sees his article online, Ramit should begin sending out emails to hundreds of other publications with the press releases to create a snowball effect. He may want to offer them interviews or other added-value content in order to boost his chances. He could, for example, take screen shots of his app or tweak his press release to give media outlets a different angle to work with.
There are any number of media outlets that cover personal finance and technology innovation, and by generating interest from as many sources as possible, Ramit can maximize his coverage beyond even the reach of a major publication like TechCrunch, even if the secondary coverage he gets is from smaller publications.
(If you are looking for where to find the emails of these publications, we spent 100 hours creating a free Journalist Contact Database here.)
Social media, it should be noted, is as strong a promotional vehicle as some publications. Promote your coverage proudly. Incentivize your customers and fans to do the same.
Step 7: Repeat
Companies succeed by growing. You want to convey a sense of progress, and keeping to a regular media schedule is important. Ideally, you’ll have a new newsworthy announcement every few months.
If Negotiate It receives an influx of 10,000 users following its first wave of hugely successful coverage, Ramit could follow up with his next story:
Negotiate It reaches 10,000 users, continues its mission to change the way we learn to negotiate.
By setting regular media goals for your company, you might just find your business rises to meet them.
Conrad Egusa is the Founder of Publicize and he is the Co-Owner of Colombia Reports. He serves as a Mentor to The Founder Institute and earlier was a writer for the technology publication VentureBeat. He is happy to connect on LinkedIn.