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.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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