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Gini Dietrich

Media Relations: How to Do it On Your Own

By: Gini Dietrich | August 6, 2013 | 
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Media Relations: How to Do it On Your OwnBy Gini Dietrich

Yesterday I was strolling through Twitter when I saw a tweet from my new friend Rebekah Iliff that said, “Dear @Inc: You do a GRAVE disservice here” and it linked to a story called, “How to Do Your Own PR.”

I’m a big proponent of helping small business owners figure out how to do some of this themselves. After all, they typically can’t afford a firm or a soloproneur and journalists would much rather talk to the business owner versus a PR professional.

But, after reading the story, I agree with Rebekah. It not only does a grave disservice to the PR industry, but also to small business owners.

In the article, sales guru Geoffrey James says:

I know people who are paying as much $10,000 a month to a PR firm and getting very little out of it.  And that’s sad, because PR–getting positive media coverage–isn’t all that difficult.  Here’s how it’s done.

Then he goes on to list the following:

  1. Devise a story worth writing about.
  2. Create nuggets to insert into the story.
  3. Offer yourself as a story source.
  4. Control the interview.

What is PR?

Most of the Spin Sucks readers don’t need a PR lesson. You already know PR isn’t “getting positive media coverage.” I’m speaking to the first-time visitors.

PR isn’t just about getting positive media coverage.

If you’re spending $10,000 a month and “getting very little out of it,” there are a few things going wrong.

  1. Your PR firm are publicists and their only job is to secure media interviews.
  2. You haven’t given it enough time. Publications have lead times. Even blogs have lead times (we’re more than a month out).
  3. Your firm hasn’t helped set the right expectations.
  4. Your firm has set the right expectations, but you’re still unrealistic about it.
  5. Your firm doesn’t know how to measure their effectiveness to real business results (and they should check out Iris Public Relations Management to help them do so).
  6. Your firm isn’t integrating communications into their publicity efforts. For $10,000 a month, you should be getting more then media relations.

If you are interviewing PR firms and they aren’t talking about more than media relations, how to integrate paid, owned, and shared media in with the earned media, and results, keep interviewing.

In some cases, the results will be increased brand awareness and credibility, which aren’t measurable to dollars and cents, but they should be upfront with you about how that work integrates with some of the things that are measurable to cash.

Not Even PR Pros Get it Right Sometimes

The article James wrote starts out well. You do have to have a story. Having a new product or launching a new company or having a famous investor is not a story.

To figure out what it is that’s interesting to the journalists and bloggers you’ll be pitching, you have to read what they’re already writing.

For instance, this morning I woke up to 23 emails in my inbox that were pitches from PR professionals.

Of the 23, 21 of them were copy and paste news releases into an email.

I deleted them all without reading a single one.

The last two were personalized pitches. One was to interview the author who has written a book on how to raise your kids and the other was a franchise location opening somewhere in Mississippi.

I deleted both of those without response.

This is a PR and marketing blog. We don’t write about how to raise your kids, nor do we write about restaurant openings.

So, while they were personalized, it’s pretty clear the PR professionals did nothing more than do a mail merge. They didn’t read the blog. If they did, they would have saved some time and aggravation when I don’t respond.

How to Do Media Relations

It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations really well.

If you want to do it on your own (and I caution you that it’s sometimes far less expensive to hire a professional the first time around), here are some things to consider.

  1. Read the blog, publications, online sites, and watch the programs and listen to the shows where you want to appear. It takes time, but it works because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer, or hosts really care about. Either your story fits them or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, no matter how badly you want a story in that publication, move on.
  2. Personalize your pitch. I love the story Rosemary O’Neill tells of how she pitched her company’s new unlimited paid time off policy in a two sentence email…and it became a top news story. She knew the blogger would love the story because she reads the blog and has commented there. All she had to do was send a quick email and it was picked up. And then it grew legs, being picked up in larger publications.
  3. Comment on blog posts and articles. This is the very best way for the journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the stuff they’re producing, you build a relationship. When you build a relationship, they are much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some, in fact, will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit.
  4. Don’t send a long email. We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about you, they won’t read it. Take the approach Rosemary used and send a quick email that grabs their attention. The details can come later.
  5. Lose the idea of control. Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions they expect to ask you. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say. But you cannot control the interview. You can be sure your one or two messages are repeated, but you cannot control the interview.

Going through this process takes time. The reason you hire a professional is not just because they have relationships you need, but because (if they’re good) they use this process every, single day.

But you can do it yourself if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands a little dirty.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

121 comments
3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I saw that crappy article, started reading, then gave up as my computer is allergic to b.s. I know you know how I feel on PR being so much more than publicity, media relations. I'm pretty sure you know where I sit on the DIY fence. In fact, I've used that quote, graphic more than a few times. It's not that it's impossible; it's the real work that's involved, the time it takes, the investment to go DIY - for anything. Who's gonna run your business while you do all that? And who's to say you'll do it well, do it right? On budget?

The inherent danger well beyond the time/money argument - expertise. If you DIY your own taxes - do you just sit down with an adding machine or budget software, pray the IRS says 'well, you didn't know better but at least you tried.'? Of course not. How much time are you willing to devote to study, to learning the tricks of the PR trade? Knowing how to recognize a story, an angle, a trend - and how you fit that? Like anything, Communications is an essential Business function that IMO, takes more than a wing and a prayer.

So my plea for any non-PR choir folks reading this: If you're gonna DIY please, please, please 1) start by reading smarter advice like those here on Spin Sucks and for the sake of puppies and rainbows, 2) consider at least SOME budget going to true professional expertise. I can tell you from experience, you may DIY but at least that way, you won't be going it totally alone. FWIW.


IrisPRMgt
IrisPRMgt

Thanks for the nice mention Gini! I've rarely seen companies succeed at doing their own PR. The time investment alone in building relationships to garner the kind of results they want is usually the biggest shock to non-PR executives. PR is a discipline that has to be practiced - well - every day (as everyone reading this knows). Blogs like this are great for sharing with clients. Thank you for always presenting information in a way that's easily digestible by anyone -- PR pro or not!

ryancox
ryancox

I loved this @ginidietrich. So much so, I'm going to text you and tell you so. But seriously, I'm going to bookmark this, and send the link to every bad pitch I get. I'm not kidding...I'll BCC you on the first. 

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

Having "done your own" PR, I say YES to all of the above. (And as a freelancer, love 1-3 especially.) Following these guidelines helps you focus your efforts. So much time can be spent "spreading the word" as thin as melted butter (then you only get soggy toast) rather than targeting and sharing your message where it will have the greatest impact. Btw, does comment #113 get any sort of prize?

SuziC
SuziC

Have I mentioned lately how much I love your blog, Gini & Friends? 

Randy Milanovic
Randy Milanovic

I've given up on the Herald and the Sun was never that deep.

Sjeanne06
Sjeanne06

Ohhh, don't fret @ginidietrich!! I'm "fair"-ly certain that there will be an opportunity for you to use one in the near future... (see what I did there)??! Ok, it's late... I'm logging off... 

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

So many great comments already, so I'll just highlight my favorite ideas: 

1) Know your story. It's great that you have a new whitepaper and you can certainly publish an online press release announcing that fact, but most journalists aren't going to care about that little tid-bit. If you don't have a Story (with a capital "S") then figure it out ASAP!


2) Journalists and bloggers are some of the busiest people on the planet. Pitches should be short and blunt. Give them what they need -- no teasing, nothing cute.

3) Media outreach is a small part of PR. Social media, branding, relationships, customer service, visibility, etc... are all part of your PR campaign. It pretty much encompasses every aspect of your business. You are busy. Hire it out. It's worth it. 

4) Truly effective PR takes time. Setting goals to be featured in "X" number of national publications next month is unrealistic. Think outside the box. What else is a "success?" 

I love @ginidietrich that you actually had a client notice the correlation between stopping PR and their pipeline drying up. Classic! 


biggreenpen
biggreenpen

I really enjoyed this post and gained a lot of knowledge. The only thing I can add is that (to echo a theme I've shared before) our non profit has "done its own" and other times "had PR people." With a government-funded (mostly) program that is also a not-for-profit corporation, there are a lot of audiences to attend to. The biggest "plus" when we had an external firm was their ability to focus on a strategy, and their connections to all of the media outlets. The biggest "challenge" was the fact that they didn't (in some cases -- we have had a few which is probably a topic for a different post) take the time to really learn about our organization in a deep enough way to speak to it knowledgeably or handle some nuances well. Lessons learned.

DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

A big part of the magic must happen even before step #1, right?  You have to be smart in determining where you want to appear.  And that decision should (in a beautiful, perfect world) ideally be based on data linking those places to your targets, not just "that blog is awesome" or "everyone reads that paper." Especially if you are taking media relations on yourself, I would say you should direct your efforts as strategically as possible. This message is brought to you by the ANTI-SPRAY-'N-PRAY Coalition. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I love when something gets you all feisty! 

Being a veteran of this for a client I would add to this great post to use Twitter (along with commenting etc) . First find 1] the places you would love coverage 2] find who does the writing. You can find those names often on the site where you want to be. (Use the Google).


Then make a list for these twitter accounts and do two things. 1] scratch their back. Share their content with your follower where it fits your persona. 2] Use twitter to slowly get to know the writers.

And they should remember any reasonably sized publication might have plenty of workers. So getting to know the sports writer might not earn you any attention by the restaurant critic.


This will help you make friends and gain some attention unintrusively. Of course when desperate parking outside their home at random times hoping to catch them works too.

bobledrew
bobledrew

There are so many things that need to be questioned in the post. Why not invite Mr. James on board the SS Spin Sucks for a Livefyre Q&A? My favorite statement's in the article's subhead: "Why pay big money to a PR firm when it's so easy to get media coverage?" 

Leaving aside the fact that PR firms do much more than media relations... when I did more media training than I do now, I used to regularly check in with some assignment editors in my local media market and ask them if they kept track of how many pitches they got per day. Here was the (paraphrased) answer I used to use: 

I'm the assignment editor for XXXX news, the local supper-hour newscast. We have 44 minutes after commercials. 6-7 minutes of that is weather. 7-9 is sports. 10-12 is national and international news. That leaves 16 minutes of a local newshole. For those 16 minutes, on any given day, I'll have about 200 story ideas to choose from. Those can come from people like you (PR folk), from reporters, from community organizations, by email, phone call, and even fax (yes, newsrooms still get faxes). 

I used to tell clients that you shouldn't get upset when you DON'T get a hit on the news; you should be  overjoyed when you DO. 

EdVanHerik
EdVanHerik

It's an interesting issue. A colleague and I are wrapping up a book on media relations for nonprofit and small-business executives, and we tell them that it will give them an idea of whether they want to do the work themselves or hire a professional. 

One thing we point out is that it is time-consuming to learn a new skill and media relations is time-consuming to practice well. Do they really want to spend their time that way? 

Like other posters suggest, we also put the issue in the larger context of a communications strategy, setting goals, timelines, budgets, etc. 

We're hoping that, at a minimum, executives who read the book have realistic expectations of what a media relations campaign can do for them.



ExtremelyAvg
ExtremelyAvg

I can't imagine thinking PR is an easy "do-it-yourself" sort of thing. I find writing my sales material for my novels to be a challenge and I have no idea how to write a news release, pitch, or any of the dozens of other things I'm sure PR people do with ease.


When I have $10,000 per month, I'll definitely hire you, Gini!

Latest blog post: Always Be Closing

AmyVernon
AmyVernon

I have so often heard, "They're paying $10K/month to such-and-such PR firm and are getting nothing out of it." It makes me wonder what they were expecting, if the firm knew what they were expecting and a lot of other things you address here. If they're not getting anything out of it, why don't they talk to the firm and express that? Or, they made a bad choice when they hired a firm.

I've also been on the receiving end of SO MANY bad pitches from PR firms, over 20 years in journalism I very rarely ever received a real PR pitch that actually related to me. The few times I did, those sources became trusted and I would go out of my way to get a bit of news from them in the paper somewhere because they went out of their way to make sure I got what I needed (even if it wasn't necessarily their first choice in what they would have wanted me to focus on).

SuziC
SuziC

 What @TaraGeissinger said!  

I've tried tweeting pitches to journalists I follow to see if they are remotely interested. I've been pleasantly surprised! 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@bobledrew well in reality if you do one of the following you should easily get the coverage 

Rob a bank wearing your brand T-Shirt.

Drive your company truck off a pier.

Take hostages and demand retailers pull your competition off their shelves.

Follow @ginidietrich in a small plane as she tricycles through the Loop flying a massive 'Please cover me in your blog' Banner. And do some low buzzes every 15 blocks.

SuziC
SuziC

@ginidietrich We talked about using your power (mindreading) for good and not evil. 


DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

@ginidietrich @DwayneAlicie You throw your cell phone when you get POed, don't you. Like Naomi Campbell. I knew it!

I left out two important things in my comment. 1. When people ask me about how to "get the word out," those are the steps I tell them, and I do believe I learned them here!  But I don't think anyone has ever followed my advice. Insert frowny emoticon. Obviously, they never have time.  2. You're my hero (along with @Howie Goldfarb) and please don't throw your cell phone at my head. 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ginidietrich @Howie Goldfarb Fiesty Gini is the best Gini. 

If I had to sit down and give someone advice about getting coverage (which, for the 8 millionth time, as you say is publicity not PR) I would tell them do what Howie is talking about....for every ecosystem you want to be a part of. If you are not doing this, you won't get coverage (at least not any that matters). 

And I'm not trying to be glib here, but who among the readers of this blog couldn't help someone get 10-15 good, valuable pieces of coverage up in 6 months to a year? I mean, it ain't rocket science, it's relationship building....and the access to relationships is all there with social media (unless you have that client who wants a guarantee of their story on the front page of the NYTimes, because if that's their goal they are so far from the real world you can't help them). 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ginidietrich @Howie Goldfarb Also does anyone else like the fact that phone calls are pretty good again if you've actually got something useful to say? So happy about that. 

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