When you’re a startup, the biggest PR challenge is finding a powerful message and the right audience to direct it to. Little by little, you start to figure out what works: who you are, what you do, and how you are different from your competitors. Then it’s time to grow. When it comes to scaling, the hurdles take a different form. You need to make quick, yet strategic decisions that will help your PR team expand in the right direction. Your strategy will shift, your objectives will change, and your biggest PR challenge as a scale-up will be to raise awareness and carve out a space for the solution you offer in the new market(s).
Getting noticed in a competitive market isn’t easy, especially if it’s a foreign market you are entering. So how can scale-ups rise above the noise and create signal? The answer lies in being findable, offering value, and finding local resonance. But how do you do that?
In this article, we sat down to chat with Sarah Ninon Bertrand, PR & Communications Manager at TicketSwap, a safe platform to buy and sell tickets for concerts, festivals, and other events. Sarah uncovers the secrets behind the success of TicketSwap’s expansion across Europe and even across the Atlantic. Hint hint: it’s all about inbound PR.
What is inbound PR?
The way we make decisions has dramatically changed. Whether that means buying a new toothbrush or investing in a new computer, consumers are more empowered than ever to go online and do their proper research. We hate being targets of intrusive ads and we want to make our own decisions.
The same goes for journalists. They don’t wait around for a good story to fall on their laps (or their inboxes). Instead, they are actively researching their stories. To find the scoop, they rely on their networks, their news feed, or a quick Google search.
Inbound PR is all about getting your news found. It’s about putting content at the center of your strategy and sharing it through different channels (i.e.: blogs, ebooks, SEO, social media, and more) so that stakeholders can find it and come to you — not the other way around.
A while back, we sat with Iliyana Stareva, an ex-Hubspot PR leader, who took Hubspot’s ideology for marketing and applied it to public relations. To understand how to do media relations the inbound way, read our conversation here.
Inbound vs. Outbound
Sales and marketing have used inbound tactics for a while – and PR is catching on.
Traditional outbound PR consists of finding the right contacts and pushing messages out to them. It relies heavily on pitching stories to news outlets. If you do your research correctly and are targeted enough, you'll start landing some coverage.
Inbound PR, on the other hand, is about attracting the right people with relevant and valuable messages through less invasive channels. These channels are mostly owned channels like blogs, social media, search engine optimization, podcasts, etc. It doesn’t mean you’ll stop using press releases or pitching them to journalists. Instead, inbound PR calls for a mindset shift where PR pros find ways to help journalists craft meaningful stories and not the other way around.
Now, it’s important to mention that you don’t have to choose either-or. A good communications strategy balances both outbound and inbound PR. Outbound PR is a great strategy, if applied correctly, especially when you are still trying to make a name for yourself. If your scale-up is still quite unknown, you can leverage outbound PR until your inbound efforts catch on.
Inbound PR strategy for scale-ups
Now that you’re expanding your brand to new markets, you’ll need the help of inbound PR to get your message to the right people. The goal of inbound PR is to transform strangers into publishers through 3 stages: attract, engage, and delight. Below, we’ll cover each step of the inbound PR methodology, so you can apply it to your fast-growing company.
In the first stage of inbound PR, you want to pull in strangers, that being journalists, bloggers, influencers, and other thought leaders, towards your message. You do this by writing relevant, valuable content like blog posts, company stories, or press releases that are search engine optimized. Optimizing your content is crucial because once you pitch your story to journalists, they will most likely look you up online. If you don’t have a solid presence, be it through an online newsroom or on social media channels, they probably won’t consider you relevant and your chances of landing coverage decrease significantly.
Using your expertise to create valuable content can kick-start meaningful relationships with the right people – in this case, your desired stakeholder personas. This could range from customers, investors, and even the media.
When creating content, shift your focus towards the needs of your audience. Ask yourself 'what's in it for them'. Remember, a journalist’s job is not to promote your business, but rather to write an interesting story for their audience. Respect their role and give them what they need, instead of focusing on your wants.
What many PR pros tend to forget is that what we work on, day in, day out might not be as interesting to the outside world as it is to us. That’s why taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture can provide some more perspective on what’s happening on a larger scale. Instead of sharing what your company has been up to, you can share insights on what’s happening in your industry. For example, you could provide the results of quantitative research your company has conducted and share it with an infographic. You could also record a video of your CEO explaining a complex subject that is central to conversations happening in the industry. The more visual and easy it is to understand, the better.
In TicketSwap’s case, the way they attract strangers and turn them into leads is by offering valuable insights that will interest the reader. In their case, they often take themselves out of the conversation. As counterintuitive as it may sound, Sarah explains that this strategy has actually been the foundation of long-lasting relationships with the media. “We use our platform to give a voice to the users and partners that collaborate with us at TicketSwap. By telling other people’s stories, we can shed some light on some of the problems we face in the industry and the solutions that are offered. This way, journalists have more authentic stories to tell their audiences. And if we do end up getting a mention, well, who’s complaining?”
Once you’ve attracted the media, you want to entice them. You want to persuade them that you are relevant. You do this by sharing targeted content through an online newsroom. Sarah compares this stage to flirting. It’s when you have to do your proper research and find some common ground with whom you want to connect with. “In the end, public relations is all about human connection,” Sarah says. “Figure out what the journalist is writing about, what interests them. If you find a beat that resonates with your company’s core beliefs and actions, don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Entering a new market certainly requires a ton of research. “We rely on our local teams to help pick out prospects that could result in potential media opportunities. We do some more research on them and pitch relevant local stories,” Sarah explains. Another successful strategy to build relationships with the media in new markets (and hopefully land coverage along the way) is using the exclusivity route. Using embargoed press releases can help you build trust which is the force that binds people together.
Once you’ve done your proper research and prepared a powerful pitch, you must be able to collect all of your media assets in one place, in case journalists come looking for more information. We suggest using an online newsroom. “Right from the beginning, we knew we needed a dedicated place for our news. We wanted a central hub to share the latest happenings in each market but to also keep track of everything on a global scale.”
The power of online newsrooms
An online newsroom makes it easier to seize a media opportunity. If you’ve grabbed the attention of a journalist, you have to move quickly to respond to their queries. TicketSwap’s newsroom contains news (set in different languages for different regions), high-resolution media kits, clippings, a detailed about section, and a spokesperson's contact details.
It is crucial that, like in marketing, you use lead capturing functionalities to get a journalist’s contact details. If journalists are looking for more information, they should be able to subscribe to get news delivered to their inbox, join a topical newsletter, or be added to your press list. It pays off to chat with your network to find out how they would prefer to stay up-to-date with your news– this could be via email, but in other cases, it’s Whatsapp or an RSS feed to hook into their news feed.
“Instead of constantly bombarding journalists with pitches, we send out a monthly newsletter with our news. Sometimes, journalists won’t need the information in that moment, but the opportunity for a story may arise later on. We also tend to include news from other markets in case that offers an interesting angle for them. This way we stay on a journalist’s radar without being too intrusive,” says Sarah.
We offer an all-in-one newsroom solution, where these inbound features (like a newsletter) are available right out the box. If you’re interested to learn more, request a demo or download our product deck.
If you’ve carried out the previous stages diligently, that means you’ve managed to turn strangers into visitors, into leads, and then publishers. The last stage in the inbound PR methodology consists of delighting journalists to make sure they come back to you in the future. Sarah explains that delighting a journalist is all about being human. “If you can read someone quickly, understand how to connect with them and how you can help them, it will make a huge difference.” If you’ve provided a seamless experience for a journalist, chances are they’ll come back to you for insight for more stories.
“Storytelling is a buzzword right now. Everyone is talking about it,” says Sarah. “I say that the real success behind a powerful strategy is simply being human. If you’re honest about your process, people will want to hear it. Share your learnings more than your wins and allow yourself to be vulnerable.”
Take the time to see who has signed up to your press list and newsletters, research them and shoot them an email to see if and how you can help. Start the conversation and help them help you.
The fuel you need to get started
PR plays a huge role in expansion. Not only will it help you get the visibility you need in new markets, but PR also allows you to build trust and relationships with key stakeholders. Inbound PR can add fuel to the fire and help you start growing your business abroad.
“We realized that little by little, journalists started coming to us for news, instead of the other way around. Before, if we got media requests they usually came in through customer service. Now that we have a dedicated newsroom and a set strategy, we see just how fruitful our relationships with the media can be.”Sarah Ninon Bertrand
Get started with your inbound PR strategy
Ready to get started with you very own inbound PR strategy? Here are 6 steps that will help you get there:
1. Define your stakeholder personas
The most important and decisive part of developing an inbound PR strategy is defining who you’ll be speaking to. A persona is a semifictional representation of your ideal client or journalist. For PR purposes, we will use journalists or media contacts as personas. To create a profile for them, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who are the journalists, bloggers, or influencers that already have an interest in us?
- What does their day-to-day look like?
- How do they prefer to be reached?
- How do they research when picking and crafting a story?
- What challenges do they face?
2. Define your stakeholder’s journey
Once you’ve defined your personas, you need to understand the decision-making process they go through. This way, you will make sure that the content you are creating will answer the questions that may arise. There are three stages:
- awareness (of a problem): when a journalist realizes they need to write a story
- consideration (of a solution): when a journalist does research
- and decision (to work with you or someone else for a story): when media personas pick the brands/influencers to complete their story
Your job as a PR pro is to provide valuable content that will answer questions for every stage.
3. Create a content plan
After setting up profiles for your media personas and determining their decision-making process, it’s time to create a content plan. The goal of each piece of content – whether it’s a blog post, a video, or an e-book is to get your media persona further along their decision-making process.
4. Promote your content
Once you’ve carefully created and published your content in your owned media channels, it’s time to promote them to make sure it reaches the intended audience. Don't be afraid to repurpose your content and share it through different channels.
5. Nurture your leads
If a media persona shows interest in your content, you want to continue to nurture them further through the decision-making journey. You can do this by designing personalized e-mail drip campaigns with relevant content. In Ticketswap's case, they use a biweekly or monthly newsletter based on a journalist's interest.
6. Measure results
A strategy loses its power without the proper measurements in place. The magic of inbound PR is that not only can you drive tangible results, but you can track them too.