Bootstrapping Public Relations
Public Relations (PR) is an industry where we gain exposure to audiences using news outlets and third-party publishers. These are news publications, magazines, books, blogs, and social media. We can buy advertising in any of them, but PR is making the news and not actually paying for placement in the news. The goal is to gain free coverage by talking about items that are of interest to the public. And the best strategy is to constantly provide value. Value to writers, value to readers, and more specifically, value to potential customers.
PR typically includes subfields like branding, media relations, publicity, event management, special events, and relationship building within an industry. A good public relations firm will match a brand with where target customers are consuming content. But we don’t always need a good public relations firm for this, especially when there are industry thought leaders on staff or as a leader within an organization. Most people bootstrapping a company will have founder-led PR.
PR Without A PR Firm
If there is no PR firm, no matter where a business is located, it’s important to aggregate a local media list of everyone we can - at newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV outlets within the given geographic region. If something exciting happens in the business, we want to be able to call or email them quickly for media coverage. Good founders are invariably stretched thin. But spending one hour a week researching industry writers in the area and seeding them with tips, quotes, asking to grab lunch, etc will pay huge dividends down the road.
Most vertical industries also have specific websites, blogs, magazines, podcasts, stations (e.g. YouTube playlists). Each business should compile a list of those and look for a specific contact to reach out to should we encounter anything that might be of interest to them (just don’t bug them too much).
The final aspect of public relations to consider here is a media kit. Once we’ve gathered all the social properties into a simple list, we can publish them on a page – that’s simple enough. I usually like to put it on a page called Press that’s easily found from the front page of a site. Include the list of social properties from above, as well as a bio for the company with important facts, links to mentions in the press, past press releases, and how to get in touch with the company (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). The media kit could also include logos, photos, PDFs of marketing-type collateral, guides on how logos should be used, etc.
We’ve talked about local and industry-specific press so far, but what about getting broader coverage? For that national and web media, let’s review what Haro (short for Help A Reporter Out) can do for us. Haro is a website that connects people who write the news with people that want to be featured in the news. Reporters, bloggers, and others in the press can (and do) find quotes, examples, and stories for the projects they’re working on. Countless PR agencies around the world use Haro to monitor these requests and connect their customers to the writers and editors involved.
Haro sends a number of inquiries. I usually recommend building a filter, so we only see the ones that might be pertinent to our business. This means focusing on the content of the messages and looking for words like “startups,” those containing various topics we consider ourselves an expert on, “leadership,” or the local geography. The biggest holdup I see is imposter syndrome. We all have something to contribute, don’t forget that!
The name of the game is speed. The quicker we respond with a quote, the more likely it is to get used. Additionally, since there is a finite number of minutes in a day, we have to focus on things that we can either use to bolster our credibility with local press and customers, or those we believe might generate customer leads. Getting quoted by media just for the sake of doing so isn’t really worth the effort. Still, it’s a numbers game. The more we respond to, the more likely something will get used.
When To Get A Firm
We’d all love to have enough funds to have a team do every task that needs to get done. But we don’t. However, there does come a time when every organization needs to hire a firm. It’s hard to know when it’s time. Sometimes it’s the release of the product. Other times it’s years later. I know successful businesses that have gone decades without PR.
But there are times when PR needs to get outsourced or perhaps brought in house. There’s no right or wrong answer, but there are a few factors to take into account. Will media outreach provide a substantial benefit? Has the organization reached a point where the cost to attain a lead isn’t changing and new broader techniques should be applied? Is the company looking to get approached by investors? Is there some kind of public policy change we need? Are investors or mentors suggesting a public relations strategy? Is there a need for crisis management? There are a lot of other factors, but these are a good place to start.
In general, PR is an important air cover to get word out about the organization. The results are often fairly passive marketing, but the earlier we start doing a little of our own PR, the more quickly we can get working with media outlets to help legitimize our efforts and build our personal brands to help propel the company a little faster.
Good luck out there, you deserve it!