Getting press doesn’t need to be expensive or exhaustive. If you have the right tools and understand the process you can get press for your startup.
What I Learned When I Worked at a PR Firm
- A going rate for a firm with an established reputation is between $120 – $350/ hour.
- Public Relations firms won’t guarantee placement or even a ratio of placements.
- While Public Relations firms are in the business of “selling your story” I have yet to come across a PR firm that actually quantifies their close rate (i.e. the percentage of placements they land compared to the total number of placements they pitch).
- Public Relations firms get paid regardless of results.
- Public Relations firms generally won’t share the entire list of media they pitch. Not knowing who said “no” and why they said “no” is a long-term disadvantage to your startup.
- When a customer signs on as a client they are promised a team of four or five people. Generally the client ends up with one or two people executing their PR campaign. The one or two people will also be working on other clients at the same time (sometimes upwards of 10 clients at a time). Client meetings are well orchestrated so it always appears that the client has a large team of people working for them when they really may only have one or two.
- Public Relations firms almost never share the contact information of journalists they pitch. PR executives guard media contact information as a way to continue to garner business. Not sharing contact information also makes it difficult for clients to follow up on the quality of the pitches sent out on behalf of their company.
- Public Relations executives tend to be charismatic women in their early 20s and 30s making companies primarily run by men easy targets for new business.
How to Bypass PR Firms and Get Press
Cision and Vocus are the top two media contact databases used by PR firms (yes, there are databases of media contacts). Having access to a database of media contacts means that you can easily put together a cohesive strategy to pitch your startup year round.
Vocus has an Editorial Calendar feature that allows you to search by topic/ keyword and type of media outlet (print, online, and broadcast). Vocus then generates results that share who is writing about your topic, when the editorial deadline is, and the anticipated run date of the story. Results can be viewed in a calendar format making it super easy to know when you have a pitch deadline coming up.
Using a database to build media outreach lists saves huge amounts of research time. Rather than spending time on research you can focus on building authentic relationships with journalists because you understand what they’re interested in, what they’re not interested in, and the way they preferred to be contacted.
Depending on the features you want an annual subscription to Cision or Vocus can run from just under $3,000 to upwards of $7,000. The price tag of a media database is fairly cheap when compared to the cost of hiring a PR firm that doesn’t guarantee placements, that doesn’t help you develop personal relationships with all the media they pitch, is removed from the metrics of your customer acquisition funnel, and will require a contract with a minimum monthly retainer (small monthly retainers range from $3,000 – $5,000).
Having access to a database of media contacts does not mean you have free range to spam the heck out of journalists. Sending untailored emails and email blasts will result in doing more harm than good (and possibly even get you blacklisted from a media outlet). Having access to a database of media contacts means that when you’re ready for PR you will have a cost efficient edge.
If you’re not sure if you’re ready for PR a good place to start is the PR checklist.
What You Should Know Before You Pitch Someone
- What topic(s) do they cover?
This seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many off topic pitches I’ve received. An easy way to really understand the topics/ beats covered by the person you’re pitching is to read/ watch several of the stories they’ve written and/ or produced. Even though someone may write about topics that relate to your company their style may not align with the way you want your company portrayed.
- When is the deadline?
You have the best chance of being included in a story if you pitch well in advance of a deadline. Pitching ahead of time means you have an opportunity to personally follow up and build a relationship with the journalist.
- What reference materials are needed?
Depending on the story you’re pitching the writer may want photos, video, and/ or reference materials (i.e. press kit). Mentioning the availability of these materials gives you an edge because you remove the need to ask if they exist and/or are available.
Materials Used To Solicit Press
- A Pitch Email
Pitch emails are tailored to the writer based on who they are, what they’ve written, their writing style, and of course the story topic. Media want exclusives so you shouldn’t pitch the same story to everyone. For example…You’re announcing that your startup just closed financing…Possible unique pitch angles include… Stories behind the composition of the founding team and idea, growth metrics, case studies, exclusive partnerships, etc.
- A Press Release
Generally a press release accompanies a tailored pitch (this is not always true though). The combination of a tailored pitch, well written press release, and mention of reference material creates a package. The more you can package an interesting story the more likely you are to land a story.
- Reference Materials
Reference materials can be photos, videos, links, bios, product specs, etc. Reference materials are generally provided when someone has expressed interest in your story idea. An easy way to provide reference materials is in the form of a company press kit. Unless requested, it is highly recommended not to send these materials in the initial pitch email. Doing so can come across a little desperate and excessive. Rather mention that these materials are available. If the journalist is interested they will ask for them.
The next post in this series will breakdown the anatomy of a pitch and a press release.
Questions, feedback, or additional thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments below.