We recently hosted our first non-Nashville Introduction to Entrepreneurship workshop, out at the beautiful Catapult Lakeland in Lakeland, Florida. Post-class, we asked some of the aspiring entrepreneurs in attendance what they wanted to know more about.
Almost across the board, marketing was the thing.
We get it: When you’re starting a business, it’s usually coming from a passion — and creating and producing the product/service is something you have expertise in. Expertise breeds a degree of comfort. Getting people to know about that product/service… that can feel a little more daunting.
Successful marketing is a multi-pronged process and a conversation that’s a little deep for a blog post. But we wanted to at least surface-dig into a part of it that can be a place to start, and a place to build some momentum: seeking out and snagging press.
Pitching to press: Hire a pro, or go solo?
You go into the process of seeking out press attention at a crossroads: Invest the money into hiring a PR/marketing pro, or give it a go on your own?
An obvious thing: A PR pro will almost always do a better, more thorough job, almost always with more and better results. Their attention is focused completely on that process, and they have relationships with writers and editors who turn to them as a noise filter. Pros are also, for good reason, expensive.
If you have the means, and you think a big blast is warranted, hiring someone can be wonderful. (Again, a whole blog post on its own.) But if you’re not ready or financially able to put your press search in the hands of a PR pro, you can absolutely make headway yourself. It’s just worth doing a little homework to plan your attack — the spray-and-pray method of pitching your business at best largely gets lost, at worst annoys the folks you’re trying to appeal to.
Can I have your attention, please?
When you’re launching your baby business, getting someone with a broad reach to take an interest and spread the word can be a huge boost. But whether we’re talking newspapers, magazines, blogs or anyone else with a reach, the thing you’re always fighting against: Those folks are being bombarded, nonstop, from companies big and small and in between. It is, on the slowest days, an utter cacophony.
Writers and editors are struggling to hear a melody through the din. You’re struggling to get your melody heard. It’s a tough space. So your challenge is to recognize the ways you might blend into the noise, and avoid those practices.
From baseball to press pitching, accuracy is really important.
Here’s a place to start.
Before you so much as start typing a greeting, do some research, and make a list. Collect the names of publications that regularly cover what you do. Find specific writers and editors that have covered similar topics/businesses in the past. Familiarize yourself with those publications, and those professionals. Ask yourself honestly whether your business fits into their world of coverage.
Baseline: It’s your job to find the square holes for your square peg. It’s not the round holes’ job to redirect. And when you fire off a pitch to someone whose publication or beat is a completely wrong fit, it’s a waste of your time and their time, and kind of a rookie-mistake annoyance to a lot of people. Some folks will take the time to tell you your aim ain’t true and forward or suggest. Most will just delete, probably after an eyeroll.
If you develop a good sense of if you fit into a publication’s coverage — and better, why you fit — you’re ahead of a whole lot of the noise-makers.
Rounding up your materials
Before you start pitching those folks on your list, the first question you need to answer: What’s my story?
That is, what’s unique about your product/business, and you? What makes it stand out? What does it have that others in its field don’t? Why should anyone care?
The answer, here, becomes the foundation of your pitch.
Beardition doesn’t just make shampoo — they make all-natural beard care products with subtle fragrances that’ll appeal to even the most dudely of dudes, right out of Nashville. Planning NashvilleManStuff.com’s holiday gift guide? You’re sold!
You felt some kind of inspiration and connection with what you’re creating — it’s why you wanted to build it into a business. You just need to give some dedicated thought to why what you do is special to you, then refine the message of why it can/should be special to lots of other folks.
Broadening that message into either a formal press release or a less-formal pitch will be next on your list.
What’s the news?
With a now-firm sense of what makes your business/product special, let’s think about timing, and why you’re sending out a press release/pitch now. Is there some news? New product? Event? Timely happening that ties in perfectly to what you do/sell? Are you merely wanting to announce that you exist?
The strongest pitches tend to have a news peg. Our new restaurant is opening on May 15. This new product is hitting shelves on June 1. Our firm just launched a week ago.
If a “new”-style newsy peg doesn’t fit, can you lock onto something to make your pitch timely? If you’re Beardition, maybe you pitch around Movember while facial hair is front of mind. If you’re local artist/jewelry designer Mary Mooney, maybe you time your pitch ahead of Mother’s Day when you know consumers (and thus writers/editors) are thinking about gifts.
Timing, in all things, is key. Sometimes the “I exist!” thing grabs eyeballs if your pitch is meticulously crafted otherwise… but more often than not, you’ll attract more attention if you’ve got a little news juice in there too. So think about why your business is interesting, and then think about why your business is interesting right now.
If you’re a solid writer, you have a great weapon in your arsenal as you get ready to shout for attention. If you’re not a writer, so much, it’s worth seeking help. Can you get a writer friend to help with a press release, or put aside some money to hire a writer to put one together for you? A janky, disjointed release/pitch tends to do more harm than good — when the first impression you make is clumsy, your recipient tends to assume your product is similarly unrefined.
Whether it’s you or someone you hire/contract, the aim is to expand your basic “what’s my news and what’s my story?” into a press release that succinctly explains your business’ draw. And succinctness is key — you’re trying to grab attention quickly, and genuinely.
Newspaper reporters are trained to include a “nut graf” within the first few paragraphs of a story, which clearly (and quickly) answers the question, “Why am I reading this?” A good way to make sure your release is in a good position to do its job: Consider the nut graf. Got one? Good. Got a clear one? Great.
Here’s an example — a clear nut graf from a New York Times review of Oculus Rift:
Oculus, the virtual-reality company that Facebook acquired for $2 billion two years ago, released its much-hyped Oculus Rift system on Monday. With a headset, camera and game controller, the system, which costs $1,500 when bundled with a powerful computer, is the first virtual reality product of its kind to reach consumers, before similar ones coming this year from HTC and Sony.
K. We know what’s interesting about this product, and why we’re hearing about it now. Need some more concrete examples? Skim some releases from Havas PR, a huge global firm. It'll give a sense of how folks who get paid a lot to do this... do this.
That kind of clarity, in a release or pitch, helps your pitchee get a quick gut feeling about whether they want to cover you.
Having a compelling quote or two from you in there is a good practice too. If a writer wants to do a quick brief and include a voice in there, they have what they need. And giving press folks what they need up front stacks the deck in your favor.
Best-case scenario, your release is so concise and well-composed a blogger could copy and paste it and post it as-is. Some bloggers do so, and however you feel about that practice, it doesn't hurt to give those folks something great to use.
What else do press folks need?
When you release your pitch, you want it to already include everything the person you’re pitching to might need to catch and send it onward.
Good rule of thumb: Don’t make them hunt things down, don’t make them circle back. Make your pitch rich with (necessary) resources.
Other things writers/editors may want/need, depending on your business:
- A product photo or headshot(s), or both. These should be clean, professional, and hi-res.
- Your website and social links
- Clear details on who to contact if an interview/more info is wanted/needed
Plan to pull all that together before you send off or announce anything.
Putting the pieces together
It’s not a science, necessarily, but if you’ve never pitched or been pitched to, the packaging of this kinda thing might be a little mysterious. Some help:
Things not to do:
- Send those big fat hi-res photo files as an inbox-decimating attachment.
- Include your release only as a PDF/other attachment. Worst case, the intended won’t even open the attachment. Best case, a writer may want to copy/paste some info to make sure it’s accurate and have a frustrating time doing so.
Things to do:
- Write a clear, very brief intro that gives a heads up as to why you’re reaching out a) now b) to the recipient specifically. And don't be afraid to be human in it. Professionalism and Business Robot-ese don't necessarily have to go together.
- Make a media kit with photos/logos/etc., downloadable on your website, and include that link. (Ideally, have that media kit include smaller-res files for online and hi-res for print.) Here's The Skillery's Media Kit, as an example.
- Paste the release in your email body, and, if you want, attach it as a Word doc or PDF.
- Proofread, proofread, poorfead! (<- LULZ) Double-check and triple-check everything from your punctuation to the recipient’s name and publication. Any writer will tell you (with a SMH chuckle) how many times they’ve been sent a release with “I’d love to be included in [Totally Not Your Publication]!”
- Follow up, but not oppressively. About a week after you send, if you haven't heard anything, send a friendly follow up, ask if there's any interest, if you can send any more info. A week on from that, maybe try again. But avoid machine-gun blasting, and definitely don't be passive aggressive, marking out how many times you've emailed with no response. (That happens more than you'd think, and usually earns a swift delete.) Be friendly and professional, and understand that you might not be a great fit this time... If you set the stage with professionalism now, your next bit of news might be the bit that gets the ink.