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32 Incredible PR Tips To Get Guaranteed Media Coverage For Your Small Business

My name is Mike Peake and I have been a journalist for more than 25 years, the past eight years of which have been as a freelancer. I work for a multitude of consumer magazines and, from time to time, the UK’s main broadsheets.

As a result, I’m in a good position to explain what needs to happen in order for SMEs like you to get coverage in the media.

At face value, it looks like a pretty simple equation: interesting information + letter or email to your target publication = media coverage.

Unsurprisingly, there’s an awful lot more to it than that.

For a long time I have been a link between those with something to promote and the words and pictures which make it to print or end up online. When I worked in magazines in London, for several years I was in charge of the features desk of what was then the UK’s biggest monthly.

PRs working for major brands, tiny start-ups and everyone in between would constantly be in touch trying to secure coverage for their products. I was the ‘gatekeeper’, if you like – the person who made the decision between what went into the magazine and what didn’t.

As a freelance writer, I play a different role. I receive dozens of emails every day from PRs who hope I might read their press release and then take that idea to a contact of mine on a magazine.

If a PR doesn’t have a relationship with the editor of Wired magazine, say, or Radio Times, it makes sense to try and get on the good side of a writer who does.

So I have played, and continue to play, my part as a ‘link man’. And like thousands of other journalists, I can occasionally open doors that PRs can’t.

With that in mind, a crash course in getting stories about your product or service into newspapers, magazines and online publications is perhaps just as compellingly given by a journalist as by a PR.

And journalists, I suspect, are less likely to sugar-coat things as they don’t have a vested interest in taking your money as a client.

With total transparency in mind, therefore, here are my Top 32 tips for SMEs who want to boost their chances of getting onto the media radar.

1. Be sure that you’re ready

Having been involved in several media-based start-ups myself, I’m all too aware that there isn’t a magic alarm which goes off at the precise moment your product or service is ready for launch. What normally happens is that there are weeks, months or years of development and then a general consensus that the time is probably right to start shouting about the end result.

But there are things that absolutely must be in place before you make first contact with the press, and making sure that product is available is No. 1. Why? Because in a dream scenario, your chosen magazine prints your press release and the product shots you supplied, which leads to orders.

Yes, you need to be mindful of magazines’ lead times (most need information weeks or even months before it’s printed), but you won’t get a second chance if you can’t fulfil.

2. Make sure the website is fully functional

Holding pages or unfinished websites will mark you out as an amateur. Imagine that it’s not a journalist visiting your website but a wealthy new customer – as the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make that first impression. Being able to state the price and stockists are essential, too.

3. Include product photography

Busy journalists and magazine editors are more likely to be swayed by an eye-catching image than a windy press release. And yet press releases do still sometimes get sent out before the product images are ready. Journalists rarely have an interest in a ‘series’ of press releases building up to your launch – you have one chance. Make the most of it.

4. Have a named contact within your operation for all media enquiries

If you’re not using a PR and are handling your media launches in-house, make sure that there is one person who is assigned the job of speaking to the press and that they are fully on-message should a writer call up. If a magazine editor wants more information it is vital that they know exactly who to connect with. Make sure this person is listed as the point-man on all media releases.

5. Find out exactly who you need to contact

While the hierarchy of a magazine isn’t usually very complicated, to the uninitiated it can seem a little daunting. It stands to reason that if you want to see the announcement of your new product or service in a specific slot of a specific magazine, you absolutely must get the information into the hands of the person who looks after those pages.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • The Editor: a role that varies enormously depending on the size of the publication. On bigger titles, the Editor usually has a team around him/her and is unlikely to even see a press release because someone else will open their mail.Ditto emails – anything that looks like a media release may well be ignored. On smaller titles, however, the editor can be extremely hands-on and might be exactly the person you need. Have a look at their publication and see if they do most of the writing.
  • Section Editor: as in ‘News Editor’, ‘Features Editor’, ‘Hardware Editor’ etc. These are the people you need. They’re usually named on the masthead (the list of staff usually found on a panel somewhere in the magazine), and if not, an advanced search on LinkedIn will usually yield results.If you can forge a good relationship with the person who looks after the specific pages you want to appear in at your target title, the dividends could know no limits.
  • Staff writers: well worth trying to get on the right side of, as these are the people who will take ideas that they think have legs to their section editors.
  • Almost everyone else: including sub-editors, editorial assistants and picture editors. None of these people tend to decide which articles make it into print.

6. Understand the ‘secret sauce’

A press release should, of course, be just one part of a much wider marketing strategy, but whereas some aspects of marketing come with a relatively predictable ROI, with PR it is almost impossible to control or even guess at the success of your campaign. This, of course, can make PR very frustrating.

Why did a rival product get a quarter of page and you got nothing? Why is your competitor’s CEO quoted in every article while you never get mentioned? It all boils down to relationships and to a lesser degree presentation, and both play a part when you make that initial approach.

7. Make your press release compelling

Does the headline immediately state why your product/service is special and worthy of the reader’s attention? If not, try again. Will superlatives like “smallest” or “world’s first” help? Will name-dropping a bigger company increase your chance of catching someone’s eye?

For example “New app for Facebook users will reduce teen pregnancies” is probably a more absorbing headline than “New app launched to help reduce teen pregnancies”.

8. Follow the accepted format

The urge to do things differently may be a great temptation and indeed could work, but more often than not journalists expect information to be presented to them in a certain way (see the example below). Similarly, they expect photos to be high-res and of a professional quality.

If you’re sending a press release the old-fashioned way (snail mail), do include printed images. But if you’re doing it by email don’t clog up an inbox with 20MB of photography, instead use more manageably sized shots and state clearly that hi-res images are available on request.

Better still, have a link to your website where hi-res versions are immediately downloadable for media use.

pr tips

http://www.mediacollege.com/journalism/press-release/format.html

9. Think like a journalist

Your press release should be interesting and to the point, with the main message up front and some usable, insightful quotes. A brief company history at the end is appropriate, and contact details are mandatory.

Avoid 1,000-word essays as literally no one will read them.

Your goal is to ensnare the right writer/section editor on the right title with an interesting media release that grabs their attention, comes with great photographs and makes them want to print it. The more you can think like they do, the better.

10. Be prepared for rejection

When trying to capture the attention of a journalist or section editor, it’s easy to think that you know better than they do. You are so invested in your product or service and so convinced of its importance to the market that it can seem inevitable that people will want to write about it.

When that doesn’t happen, it can be infuriating. When I was at the helm of a large British monthly, the only person who knew what kind of article we liked to print better than I did was my Editor.

In fact, when a new editor came in, he deferred to me because he was happy to accept that, whilst he was finding his feet, I knew what we would and wouldn’t cover better than he did. And yet it was surprisingly common for an irate PR to almost entirely lose their composure when trying to convince me that I absolutely had to write about their client.

Just because you think you’re a perfect fit it doesn’t mean you are.

11. Find out if your target magazine really does have somewhere to write about you

Magazines are usually pretty inflexible, and have a very clear idea of what kind of article slots in where. If you’ve just launched a legal helpline for architects, you might think it a cert for the Architectural Review. But if that title doesn’t have any news pages and is more of a feature-based magazine, it might never get in.

Similarly, your new luxury cruise won’t get into National Geographic Traveller if they don’t do news or have a policy to never write about cruises. Newspapers and magazines don’t have any obligation whatsoever to print your story.

12. Ask: is your product/service really original?

So your new Bluetooth headset has gold-plated buttons. It’s a world first. You’re very excited. But last week Gizmodo wrote about one with platinum buttons. Techradar have just written 500 words about the pointlessness of novelty accessories.

No one cares about your gold-plated headset, and the more you try and convince a writer that he or she is missing the point, the quicker you’re likely to fall into their bad books. For alternative ways of trying to get coverage, see #14-20.

13. Be patient… and keep trying.

In a busy magazine, literally hundreds of press releases arrive by post and email each week, and they play just a tiny part in what the magazine will write about. In fact, in journalistic terms, a news snippet inspired by a press release comes with arguably the lowest cachet of all.

Magazine editors and their team are serious people, almost always overworked and arguably underpaid. There are perks, of course, but the hours are long and they take pride in setting their own agenda.

In other words, they’re not there just to idly fill their pages with ‘fluff’ about new products or services, but to discuss trends, to create conversations and to send journalists off on interesting assignments.

Not that this means you should abandon all hope of ever getting in – as J.K. Rowling will tell you. Her first Harry Potter novel was famously rejected numerous times before it was picked off a slush pile by a junior editor.

14. Ask how you can add value

A media/press release typically takes the form of a written document that describes your new product or service (or the results of a poll/survey you have commissioned, etc), and is usually accompanied by appropriate photography. But there’s much more that you can be offering and it generally revolves around the added value you can bring to the party. You want free column inches, think about what can you give in return.

15. Offer sample product

Is the offer of free samples, or a free trial or use of a service likely to make your approach more interesting to the editor? If so, ask yourself in advance what kind of coverage you would expect in return (keep it realistic; editors put a sky-high value on even the tiniest bit of coverage).

16. Can you help with a problem?

Are your team well-suited to assist the magazine with something? Are there experts within your organisation who could help with advice or opinion pertaining to a current trend? Would a journalist visit to a production or research facility of yours pave the way to an interesting article?

17. Could you offer an exclusive?

free-pepsi-offer

Is your story so red hot that and such a good fit for your dream publication that you would be prepared to offer it to them on an exclusive basis? Be realistic, however: you need to be pretty confident that they will be well and truly blown away by what you are offering in order not to look like an overreaching amateur. You also need to be in the right kind of market. Tech and automotive – maybe. Home furnishings and gardening – probably not.

18. Do you have celebrity endorsees?

Access to celebrities is often a great way to get into the press – though don’t expect the interview to be all about your product as the unspoken deal is that you offer up the celebrity for the interview and the magazine returns the favour with a mention of the product at the end of the article.

19. Would ‘gifts’ win you some friends?

A ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ approach is at the very heart of the PR game, and sometimes PRs woo journalists with all manner of trinkets. Hotels do this all the time: come and have a free night in one of our suites and then write about how lovely your stay was.

When I worked in London, barely a week passed without someone from a PR company turning up with 500 bags of crisps or a couple of hundred bottles of beer for us to try out in the hope that we’d write about it. But it really is a gamble.

20. Would your amazing photography save the magazine some money?

Magazines and newspapers never pay to print the photographs that are submitted with a press release, but not all of the photography you seen in print has been acquired for free – editors frequently pay professional photographers to shoot things for them. Occasionally, though, your press release photos and the editor’s own editorial interests overlap.

Let’s say you’ve just hired a well-known photographer to take some incredible shots of your new boutique hotel in Mayfair. If those shots (and some editorial) would make a good article in a luxury London magazine, the editor might be inspired to print several of your shots across multiple pages – because they wanted to write about the hotel anyway.

21. Build up your profile

Your goal is to connect with the people who look after the section of the very publications you want to get into. Journalists aren’t as big on scattergun networking as people in some industries, though writers do like to amass a wide variety of interesting contacts.

Aim to become a good contact – a go-to person for information about your industry.

22. Start with a personal introduction

Not really possible when using a PR agency, but if you’re handling your own PR it makes good sense to approach with a personal email. Keep it friendly, keep it brief, explain why you’re getting in touch and suggest how you might be of use.

If you’ve a press release, be sure to attach it, along with your best product shots. Will you get a reply? Maybe not – but my guess is that the chances of having your email read is greater than a wildly random press release that is clearly identical to an email sent out to a hundred others.

23. Make it a two-way relationship

If you do get coverage, write a quick thank you email, offering to be on hand for quotes, competition prizes – whatever is needed. Also point out any success stories that happened as a result – journalists love it when they’re made to feel influential.

Tell the journalist that you appreciate the coverage and they’ll be the first person you go to next time. Follow them on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn. If they follow you back, they might even know about your next product release before you’ve formally announced it to them.

24. Build up your contacts book

As well as the ‘old-school’ media, there are countless successful bloggers and Twitter personalities whose radar you might like to be on. To help find them, set yourself a Google Alert (or several, with different search permutations) via a Gmail account.

You’ll get a daily alert which contains your search term(s). Simply click on a story and if the publication is a good one, add it to your list of the ones to contact.

25. Befriend a freelancer

A good freelancer can be a vital link between you and your target publication. Freelancers are generally not as overburdened as staff writers or section editors, and they’re more keen to get paid. If you can convince the right freelancer who is prominent in your industry that you have a great story, he’ll likely give it his/her best shot – and will possibly try and get you into multiple titles.

To find one, look at the bylines in your target publication and if you see a writer who isn’t listed on the masthead as a member of staff, then he/she is a freelancer (we’re sometimes listed as “contributors”, too). It’s not usually too big a job to track writers down via a personal website or LinkedIn.

26. Recognise a free lunch when you see it

coke-drink-offer

I’ve found that some SMEs simply don’t believe that they can get coverage for free. Several times when I’ve been in touch asking for help with an article, small businesses have been wildly sceptical, wondering what it’s going to cost them.

The answer is nothing.

The media is a two-way street, and sometimes journalists actually need you.

If I’m writing about luxury gifts and I find your hand-made bespoke umbrella stands online, I might want to include them in the article. We’ll print pictures, we’ll add your website – all for free, because, as I say, we need you. I also often need people to give me quotes for an article because they are an expert in their industry and their quotes will add flavour to the story.

Again – free coverage, but not to be confused with a call from the advertising team or creative department or sponsored content team (or whatever they call themselves) who will offer coverage for a fee.

Generally, journalists just want content. A word of warning, though – a journalist wanting to speak to you about your comments/thoughts on a news story or something controversial is a different ball game.

If you’re a Harley Street GP and a writer from a national daily wants your thoughts on a string of controversial complaints about Harley Street GPs, that could well be free coverage you’d rather not have.

27. If you can’t make a story, can you hijack one?

I wrote about this for another blog recently because it’s something that is increasingly on people’s radars. It’s also something I was asked to do some work on by a major international brand, so I have had my hands dirtied, so to speak.

In a nutshell, a story breaks at 9am and by 11am you have something to add to that story. By ‘break’, I don’t necessarily mean it has to be a world-shattering political story, but the way news (in all its guises, from celebrity to property trends) spreads so rapidly these days it often takes just hours for multiple sites to be running the same article.

Be warned, though, that ‘newsjacking’ is not something for beginners – this is advanced (and possibly slightly crazy!) territory here.

The other blog posting I wrote was for a much in-demand creativity training agency, so lateral thinking was the order of the day and I suggested that there might have been a good PR opportunity for the Werther’s Original brand, for example, to have ‘newsjacked’ reports that Lindsay Lohan’s performance in a new West End play had received a lukewarm reception.

How?!

Well, I reasoned that snacks and sweets are exactly what people reach for during a lacklustre play, and that Werther’s Original would have been well-suited to have quickly done a ‘scientific test’ to see which were the loudest and noisiest treats. By rapidly releasing their findings, they would have ‘newsjacked’ the Lindsay Lohan story.

28. Remember that speed is everything

When newsjacking, two days or even a day after the story has broken is often too late. Quick thinking is critical.

29. Let your imagination run wild

The opportunities to put your own slant on a story won’t always be obvious – far from it, in fact.

Take a look at the PR stunts dreamed up by Paddy Power’s agency to see what I mean – although I must stress that when you stray this far into complex (and volatile) PR territory the chances of things going wrong increase exponentially, which is why most brands hire seasoned PR companies for things like this.

Among the simpler Paddy Power stunts was the time they went to Rome and put up a board showing their odds on who the next Pope would be. They also sent two interns to the Brit Awards dressed up as Daft Punk (complete with green Paddy Power underpants) and the pair got in. Paddy Power got loads of PR coverage for very little expense.

30. Keep it cheap

On a related note, there’s usually no point investing thousands on a poll or research if trying to newsjack a story, as you have no guarantee that anyone will print it. Facebook has a poll-creation app, and ‘snapshot’ Twitter surveys can be done quickly and for free.

31. Know the risks

pr tips

Think very carefully before piggybacking on controversial stories or anything that could backfire on you. Stories can take unexpected turns – such as the iPhone 6 “bending” story.

One day we were told we could barely look at a new iPhone without it falling apart, the next Apple were explaining that just a couple of phones had actually been bent and also released a video of their rigorous testing procedures.

Remember also that there is something ever so slightly unsavoury about the idea of newsjacking, so consider how things might go wrong before pressing send.

32. The $64,000 question: should you hire a PR?

In my experience, PRs do a good job under extremely difficult conditions. Dealing with knockback after knockback, they perform what can be a truly thankless task, but the industry is so competitive that it tends to keep PRs on their toes and thus working hard to keep your business.

If you want to build up a relationship with the press, don’t have time to do it yourself and are operating on a tight budget, it’s probably worth seeking out a small PR firm, maybe even a one-man operation who you can hire by the day, or who offers a fixed-fee for a specific service.

Bear in mind:

  • There is no guarantee of coverage. PRs don’t “buy” you space in a magazine, they simply try and convince editors and section editors to write about you, either by sending them press releases, phoning them up or meeting them face-to-face. The better your story and the better your PR, the greater your chance of success. Budget counts, too, so £50,000 in the hands of a big, influential PR firm will doubtless get you some coverage… but would other marketing methods, over which you have total control, be a better solution?
  • Coverage can go either way. You have no control over what is written about you (you don’t normally get to see it first), and as well as making entirely innocent mistakes about your brand, a journalist’s own editorial take on you and your product might not be to your liking.
  • Coverage may not lead to sales. On the flipside, it may lead to some high-quality links.
  • If your story is brilliantly simple, a PR might not be able to add much to what you can offer yourself. Let’s say you design luxury cushions, have some great photographs and can spare a few hours to track down the names of key players in magazines you already know and love. It’s not going to require a huge amount of skill to saturate your chosen market with a photo-led press release. Total cost: £0.
  • PRs are unlikely to have the passion for your brand that you do, no matter how enthused they seem when you meet. Also, they are likely to have multiple clients to promote – whereas you have only one.
  • But they will have a large contacts book and – if you pick the right PR – a priceless relationship with key players in your industry, thus saving you countless hours of research/schmoozing/begging to connect on LinkedIn, etc.

PRs come in many guises, and the better ones keep up with the times and will have first-rate social media skills. If I was spending money I could ill afford on a product launch, I would make sure that the PR was Twitter and Facebook mad, had clearly demonstrable experience and lots of contacts in my chosen field.

Before you even arrive at that decision, though, go back through this list and ask yourself again just what it is that you’re promoting – and what you might need to adjust in order to make it a more attractive proposition to those busy, seen-it-all-before magazine and newspaper people whose pages you’re so itching to occupy.

Finally, and because we journalists know a thing or two about words and getting a message across, I work with Grow to create intelligent and engaging blog content for the websites of SMEs.

A good blog helps you to establish yourself as a voice to be reckoned with, it informs and educates your customers and it helps with Google Search.

If a blog – or any other written content – will help your website to shine, please contact me or the Grow team to find out what we can do.

Mike Peake is a career journalist with multiple bylines in such publications as The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, Harrods Magazine and Country Life.

http://www.bymikepeake.com/
http://www.blogswithoutblah.com/

At Grow we think Mike is a rather wonderful writer, and if you require at least 4 blog posts per month, get in touch with Mike. Mention ‘Grow’, and get 15% off your first month.

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Comments

  1. top penny stocks watch says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this website needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably
    be back again to read through more, thanks for the advice!

  2. Mike,

    Thank you thank you thank you!

    What a fabulous article and so helpful.. I’ve been going around in circles looking for what to include (and indeed how to layout) a press release, what to have in place first, how to handle things, whom to contact etc.. 1 article, all answered.. BOOM.

    You have the honour of actually being printed off and going in my reference folder – ’tis a high honour indeed as I’m a Northerner and a little tight on using ink/paper..

    Now to add a million more tasks to my to do list..

    Thank you again,
    Rebecca

  3. Sweet. I definitely want to try this.

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