Getting yourself written about in the press is the most effective form of free publicity there is. Why? Because huge numbers of people read newspapers and magazines every week – 1 million people read The Sunday Times each week alone, for example. But more than that, people believe what they read, they remember it, and they tell others. Being written about gives you the kind of credibility that no amount of paid-for advertising could ever buy. Here’s how to go about it.
1. You don’t need to hire a PR Firm
Contrary to what public relations companies will tell you, you don’t actually need to hire one to get yourself in the paper. If a story is interesting, a journalist will want to write about it, and they won’t care how it reached them. Remember journalists have lots of white space to fill, every day, every week. They need stories to fill that space. So save yourself £2000 a month and start being your own PR firm.
2. Decide what your story is
Why would a journalist be interested in writing about your business? And why now? What makes it different and special and unique? It might be that your business has just done something newsworthy – invented a fantastic IT product that solves lots of problems, or been awarded a major contract that had been expected to go to a foreign competitor. Or it might be that you are the story, perhaps because of the unusual way you set up the business. If you are not sure what your story is, ask people close to you what they think is the most interesting thing about you.
However a word of warning – don’t add colour just for the sake of it. It will just make everyone cross.
3. Do your homework
Read the newspapers and magazines that you would like to appear in to find out the names of the journalists who regularly write about the industry or market you operate in, and about companies which are similar to yours. These are the key people you need to contact, and ideally aim to build a long-term relationship with. And don’t limit yourself to the national papers – it may be that local press or trade magazine will be more useful for you than the national press because your potential customers are more likely to read about you there.
4. Don’t bother writing a press release
Press releases are fine for large firms as a way of informing the media what they are up to because they know they have a ready audience of people interested in what they are doing. But as a small unknown startup you have to be smarter and a bit more inventive to get noticed. So once you have identified a journalist you think might be interested in you, ditch the press release and send them a personal email instead, explaining what your business does, why it is interesting and how they can contact you. If the switchboard won’t tell you the journalist’s email address then just guess – it is likely to be email@example.com. And keep it short. Journalists have very short attention spans and very large inboxes, so you need to grab their interest in the first line or the moment will be lost.
Ringing them instead of emailing is a high-risk strategy and not recommended – you are bound to pick the moment when the journalist is close to a deadline, they will sound cross and won’t be concentrating, and your moment will be lost.
5. The exception
The only exception to the ‘no press release’ rule is if you are contacting your local paper – many are under-resourced nowadays so may appreciate a succinct press release with a quote and some background context, and even a photo. Again, keep it simple and clear so it obvious what the story is about.
6. Be honest
Aim to build a relationship of trust. If another paper has written about your company recently or interviewed you for a piece which has not yet been published, say so. They still might want to write about you, but with a different angle. And if you don’t and the journalist ends up looking foolish because the piece has already appeared elsewhere, then it’s goodbye to your new friendship.
7. Volunteer to be a case study
Join Enterprise Nation or the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), or the Forum for Private Business (FPB) and tell them you would be happy to be a case study for them. Journalists will often ring up organisations such as these while writing a story and ask for a case study that illustrates the point they are writing about.
8. No stalkers
If the journalist doesn’t want to write about you, do not bombard them with emails trying to persuade them otherwise. It will not make them change their minds, it will just deter them from ever writing about you in future.
9. The practicalities
Give journalist your mobile phone number – and keep your phone on. Do not pester the journalist about when the piece will go in because they often genuinely don’t know.
If you get in the paper and the piece looks good, and you are happy with it, give yourself a big pat on the back. You have just managed to get your business thousands of pounds of free advertising, and you didn’t have to pay a penny for it.
Ross Lee got in touch with the Sunday Times Business Desk by email because he believed he had an interesting story to tell. He had started his business The Barcode Warehouse from scratch and managed to build it into a highly successful multi-million-pound business. The Sunday Times agreed and ran a 1000 word profile about him and his company, a move which dramatically boosted the profile of both and indirectly helped him secure more work.