MASTER GUIDE

PR on a budget: a guide for startups and SMEs

10 chapters·60 min read

Understanding public relations is essential for any marketer, but absolutely critical for those working with a small marketing budget. If you’re looking to grow your company through free media exposure, we're here to help. 

In this document, you’ll find a hands-on, practical guide to build and execute your first PR strategy as a startup or SME. We have collected tips, tricks, tools, advice, templates, and examples from PR professionals at some of the fastest-growing startups and businesses in Europe and the US. 

We hope this guide will help you get started with your PR strategy or take your efforts to the next level. Throughout this guide, you'll find multiple assets we've created for you to make this process as smooth as possible. Most importantly, you might want to download our Communications Strategy Canvas to document your strategy.

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Table of contents

How to build a media relations strategy

Every startup CEO dreams of landing coverage on Techcrunch, and every SME director dreams of seeing their company covered in the New York Times. It’s a beautiful recognition of all that hard work you’re putting into your company day in, day out. 

But startups and SMEs are full of busy people: investors are waiting for updates, sales calls have to be handled, invoices need to be sent. Out of every marketing campaign you could be setting up— is investing time and resources in a public relations strategy a smart move? 


Why startups and SMEs need PR

We firmly believe that investing time and effort in a PR strategy is a wise choice, but only at the right stage of your company and only if executed well. Adding public relations (or media relations specifically) to your marketing mix will help you:

  • Reach new potential customers: Media coverage helps reach new potential customers in various stages of the buyer journey. Coverage can help leads become aware of a problem they’re experiencing, a solution for a problem they’re experiencing, or that your company is the best solution out there. 

  • Build trust: A successful PR strategy helps build trust with leads, MQLs, and SQLs who are already aware of your company. By showcasing coverage on your website or in your sales collateral, you will strengthen trust with your leads in sales conversations. Even when you’ve already convinced your lead, coverage can help your champion with persuading their colleagues to choose your solution. 

  • Raise capital: Here’s a little-known fact; a successful PR strategy helps you raise more capital. According to research from Hard Numbers, media coverage positively correlates with raising capital. Companies generating the highest volume of media coverage see a 35,635% increase in funds raised between their first fundraising event and their Series B. 

  • Keep momentum: Every startup wants to launch with a bang, through a Kickstarter campaign or on Product Hunt. It can be all too easy to invest your entire budget into the first few months and then descend into silence. A good PR strategy ensures that your name keeps popping up for potential customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

When is a good time to start with PR? 

There’s a time and a place for everything. When rolling out a PR strategy, you don’t want to be too early (where there’s simply no story to tell, just an idea) and you don’t want to be too late (where you’ve missed a ton of free media exposure). 

matias

Matias Rodsevich, who advises European startups and scaleups on PR, says: 

“The best time to start a PR strategy is when a startup or SME has begun working on their brand efforts. They need to be in a stage where they’ve been testing their narrative and messaging in sales conversations. You need to know your story, have a mission and vision, and you need to have some idea of which angles and messaging get traction. If you’re still figuring all of that out, you better wait for a little.” 

Matias adds that he often sees companies start too late or too early. Companies that start too late have waited for budgets to grow to a size where PR can be easily outsourced to an agency. The problem in this situation is that they'll have missed months, maybe years of media coverage, where they could’ve been working on building a press network, honing their messaging, and creating brand awareness. 

Other startups and SMEs start too soon. They try to catch the spotlight in a phase where the company is still figuring out who they are, the product isn’t ready yet, or unsure what makes them different from other companies. This doesn’t work— journalists don’t write about ideas (unless it’s one of Elon Musk’s ideas); they write about people, products, or services

Bottom line, an excellent time to start with PR is when your brand essence, mission, vision, and most important, target audience are clear. Typically, startups find themselves in this position somewhere between their seed funding and Series A. 

Our advice to any startup is to start monitoring the media landscape as soon as you can— even if you’re not ready to roll out your PR strategy yet. Start getting a feel for what publishers write about, see which journalists write about your industry, and get acquainted with them. Most importantly, start building a press list as soon as you can— it’s never too early for that, and you’ll be grateful later on. 

Hiring an agency vs handling PR inhouse

If you want your PR strategy to be successful, you need to find a story that resonates with media professionals. We genuinely believe that your company’s story is best told by you. However, there’s more to just telling that story. PR is a skill; you’ll need to invest a ton of time developing that skill set. After that, you’ll invest another ton of time into executing your strategy. 

For startups and SMEs with a dedicated PR employee with the right skillset (or the right characteristics and willingness to learn): we recommend keeping PR in-house.

If you need some help getting started, if you need help honing your messaging, or if you don’t have an employee who can afford to spend at least 16 hours a week on PR; then we recommend hiring a freelancer or agency. 

How to determine your messaging

What should startups and SMEs talk about? 

We’ve noticed that young companies often feel that they don’t have anything newsworthy to share. While we think it’s a great realization that not everything that happens in a company is newsworthy, that doesn’t mean that news shouldn’t be shared. 

Here’s what we learned from an interview with a journalist a while back: 

“If something’s not newsworthy for a broader audience, it doesn’t mean that we (e.g. journalists) don’t like to know about it. This sort of information is often essential for the context of your other, bigger stories. However, we often miss those announcements since they don’t survive the ‘is this newsworthy filter’ in our inboxes. It’d be much better to publish such news in the news archive on your website so that we can use it as contextual information for a bigger story.”

 

We advise companies to use a newsroom or news archive on their website to demonstrate progress in their company. Here are some things startups and SMEs should be writing about: 

  • Big hires: communicating about new hires shows that you’re committed to building out the right team and taking the company to the next level. Most importantly, big hires with an extensive CV and reputation create a halo effect; if someone from such stature joins a young company, that company must be promising. There must be something there, right?

  • Product launches and upgrades: while most upgrades and launches aren’t necessarily newsworthy for the majority of outlets, these events are crucial for journalists to get an idea of how the product’s progressing.  

  • Business partnerships: if you’ve managed to build a partnership with a high-caliber partner, it’s a great idea to share that in your newsroom. These partnerships show credibility to leads, investors, customers, and other stakeholders.

  • Investments: newsworthy! There are heaps of outlets that publish investment news. These outlets and journalists are easily found. Do a quick google search for local investment news from similar companies— you’ll know exactly who to pitch.

  • Company initiatives: Are you donating your software to an NGO? Are you pledging 1% to the world? Is the team running a marathon to raise funds? While it’s not necessarily news to share with journalists, these are great messages to add to your newsroom in order to build trust and likability. It shows you have a moral compass and that you use it.

Newsjacking: a smart way to land coverage

If you’re just starting out, getting big news outlets to talk about you is a challenge. Early-stage startups and SMEs can’t rely on brand awareness to land coverage, because recognition is gradually built up over time. However, there is a great way to “hack” the system, and catch big fish without brand recognition. If you want to land coverage in a big newspaper or outlet, try newsjacking. 

Reactive PR or newsjacking refers to the way a brand can capitalize on the popularity of a news story in order to be featured in media outlets. Think of newsjacking as riding out a popularity wave. For example, let’s say there is a breaking story about solar power and your company offers solar panels. Newsjacking would mean sending out a reactive pitch to media outlets, referencing the problem in the news, and showing how your solution can fix it. You don’t even necessarily have to mention your product in the pitch to increase credibility; just make sure they mention your company and not just your name.  

Take AeroMexico’s timely campaign as an example. It’s no secret that when Donald Trump was in office, he frequently fuelled debates on immigration as his administration tightened border policies with Mexico. The Mexican airline newsjacked this controversial decision with an ad campaign offering Americans discounts on plane tickets based on the percentage of Mexican descent revealed in their DNA tests.

▲ AeroMexico leveraged a news event to gain awareness and viral attention. 

How to build your PR strategy

The world is a loud place. Most of what we hear is noise. It’s our job as PR professionals to stand out from that noise, to create signal.

To achieve this, you have to build and finetune a PR strategy. This means digging deep down into what makes your company tick, what excites your audience, and where they're that audience is hanging out. This will be the core of your game plan.

How to build your PR strategy in 5 easy steps:

  1. Discover your purpose
  2. Get your audience right
  3. Fine-tune your message
  4. Define your tone of voice
  5. Map out your channels

1. Discover your purpose

To resonate with your audience, you have to be authentic, credible, and likable. Consumers today are more demanding than ever before. They insist upon transparency, and brands that don’t stick to their values, or simply don’t seem to have a deeper purpose than making money, are punished with oblivion. 

To determine your raison d'être, begin by doing a quick exercise with your team. Ask them the following questions: 

  • What are the three key selling points of our product or service? What makes us different from the rest?
  • Who do we do this for?
  • What do we believe in?
  • What is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal we are working towards?
  • What is our story- how did we come to market and what does that mean to us (and our customers)?

 

2. Get your audience right

Marketers often find it difficult to pinpoint their brand’s audience. As an early-stage company, it's tempting to want to reach everyone because your product or solution isn't set in stone yet. The problem with trying to reach everyone is that you'll ultimately reach no one; your message becomes too broad and therefore unrecognizable for most people. 

Identifying a specific target audience will make your message stronger and your actions strategic. When deciding who your target audience is, Diogo Pinheiro, former Global Communications Manager at Heineken, makes a strong case of differentiating your aspirational target and your volume target.

Your aspirational target is the type of consumer that embodies everything you stand for. Although it may not be the group that brings in the most revenue, they are the ones who share the same core values with your brand. Diogo argues that this small group of people may not be enough to sustain your brand and drive business. Therefore, it is important to also identify your volume target; your potential buyers. 

When deciding which audience to communicate to, go for your aspirational target. They might not be the ones bringing in big bucks. However focusing your messaging on your aspirational target, will also attract your volume target as it is the type of brand they aspire to be.

Communicate to your aspirational target and your volume target will follow. 

A great example of picking the right audience comes from the popular dating app Bumble. After having launched Tinder, Whitney Wolfe Herd decided to venture into her own project. Like any other dating app, Bumble was meant to be used by men and women from age 18 and above, all across the world. However, the Bumble team decided to focus its efforts on targeting women between the ages of 25-34. Their message focused on empowering women by allowing them to make the first move. We can safely say that their focused messaging has resonated with the volume target— Bumble has 100 million users across the globe and is responsible for more than 200,000 marriages

3. Fine-tune your message

Now that you’ve figured out your ‘why’ and your ‘who’, the next step is to define your what. What do you, as a brand, want to share with the world? 

In this step, you will choose the themes you want to push that will make your brand stand out. Start by analyzing the overall value you are providing your clients. Which qualities distinguish you from the rest? What words would you like to be described as? Remember to keep your themes under three ideas that sum up what you want your audience to remember you by. 

During this step, it’s wise to chat with your aspirational audience. But, even if you do this, your messaging might not immediately resonate. It needs some honing, which is a matter of trial and error. Send a couple of pitches, buy your press contacts a cup of coffee, hop on Zoom calls with customers; find out what sticks. 

To find out what resonates with your audience, you’ll have to dive into your audience’s mind. Now, you don’t need superpowers for this, just a few helpful tools. You can use Ahrefs, Think with Google, and Pulsar, to track what they search for and other consumer insights. We recommend creating personas or customer profiles— mapping out your audience’s demographics and interests will make your communications a lot more strategic.

 

4. Define your tone of voice

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. 

Audiences have an emotional response to the content they interact with. Nailing how you say something is equally, if not more, important than deciding what you say. So be strategic, and talk like your audience. How do your leads speak to each other? Which words do they use? Are you keeping up with their slang? Are memes welcome? 

For inspiration, check out Mailchimp's Content Style Guide. There's no need to go into so much detail (yet) when defining your own tone of voice, though. At this stage, shorter and simpler is better. 

 

5. Map out your channels

Now you know what you’ll talk about and how you’ll talk about it, it’s time to define which channels to use to reach your audience.

Allow us to present the PESO model, a framework that integrates different media channels under one holistic strategy.

 

pesomodel

▲ The PESO model was coined by Gini Dietrich, founder of Spin Sucks. Learn what she had to say on the future of PR.

 

PESO stands for paid, earned, shared, and owned media. Here’s a quick summary of what each type of media entails:

  • Paid media: Channels that require money to distribute your content or ads. This includes social media ads, sponsored content, and paid media partnerships.

  • Earned media: Channels that require relationships with (media) contacts who have established an audience. For instance: securing a spot for your content on another digital site, getting shoutouts from influencers, or executing publicity stunts.

  • Shared Media: Amplifying content through an audience you’ve built. For instance, organic social media mentions, events, and networks you’ve cultivated over the years. 

  • Owned media: Inbound channels which your company owns, and where an audience finds your content. For instance: your newsroom, content marketing, thought-leadership platform, podcasts, and brand journalism. Important: this is only content on your domain. A blog on medium.com isn’t owned; if Medium stops its services, your content is gone. Also, by blogging on medium.com, you'll get no SEO value to your website. Always host content on your own domain.

 

Use this framework to map out how your content will be divided into each of these channels. Remember that if you are just starting out, it’s important to be realistic about what to expect from each of these efforts. To be effective, don’t forget to set goals and measure the results from each campaign to determine if it was worth your time and money (or your blood, sweat, and tears). 

Communication Strategy Canvas

We’ve created a free communications strategy canvas to help guide you through these five steps and document your communications strategy. Free to download and share it with your team.

Why you need a PR calendar

To stay on top of what is happening in your industry and therefore increase your chances of getting published, we highly suggest using a PR calendar. This calendar will become your roadmap for timely and relevant content creation. 

We know journalists are busy people. Between researching for their story, pitching to their outlets, and writing their piece, they don’t have much time to spare. By planning ahead, you can visualize all of the tasks you need to get done — like writing, pitching and following up — in order to land coverage.

You should also use this calendar to map out other ongoing projects or campaigns in your organization, trends you spot in your industry, and other special days.

Think ahead, or you'll only communicate afterthoughts.  

How to write a press release

There is a symbiotic relationship between PR professionals and the press. PR pros need to get their organization in the headlines to build brand awareness and trust. The media, on the other hand, are looking to find exciting stories to catch their readers’ attention. Ultimately, both journalists and PR pros rely on each other to achieve their goals. 

There are many ways to bridge that gap between both parties. A well-organized and effective press release is one of them. The purpose behind putting together a press release is to share company news. It’s a tool that is used to communicate something newsworthy (we can’t stress that enough) that has just occurred inside your startup or SME. Here is what you should include in your press release: 

 

    1. An attention-grabbing headline
      The headline is the most important part of your press release. Spend time on it! According to advertising tycoon,  David Ogilvy, on average, 5 times as many people read the headline as read the press release. Summarize your main point in 10-20 words, be data-driven (keyword research!), and keep your reader’s interests in mind.

    2. Structured format
      A structured format offers reporters an organized setup for your story. The first line should always feature the date and location of where the news takes place. Then move on with summarizing key findings in bullet points. Your release should answer the famous 5 W's: who, what, where, when, and why. Your second and third paragraph provide more details for context. Mark the end of your press release with "###" centered above the boilerplate.

    3. Use a factual writing style
      PR’s golden rule is show, don’t tell. Your press release should provide factual information about the product, person, or event that you are covering. Don’t overdo it with the adjectives and keep the fluff to a minimum.

    4. Add a boilerplate
      Not everyone is familiar with your organization. A boilerplate provides background information with a short summary of what your company does.

    5. Include a media kit
      You can’t control what the press writes about you. However, you can control the images they use. A media kit is a folder filled with downloadable assets that supplement a story; like high-resolution photos, videos, data visualizations, technical specifications. You can find more examples of efficient media kits here.

    6. Use quotes
      A human voice in a  story gives it a personal touch— journalists typically use quotes to enrich their stories. There isn’t always time for a telephone interview to get quotes. Be strategic: quote key stakeholders to save journalists time and effort.

    7. Include other coverage
      Has your company been covered by other reputable outlets? Link news articles to your press release to boost your credibility and trustworthiness. We’ve learned that journalists often use your coverage to source quotes for their stories.

    8. Don’t forget contact info
      Including clear links to contact details and spokespeople is crucial so journalists can follow up by phone, email, or Linkedin. Accommodate their preferred medium with basic contact information such as name, role, phone number, email, and links to social media. To make it more appealing, make it clear that they will also have access to a representative of the company, such as the CEO.

    9. Optimize for SEO & Analytics
      Search engines use backlinks as a way to rank a website. If a high-ranking website provides a backlink to your website, it is likely that you will get some of that traffic; so incentivize journalists to link to your release. This could be a data source, a hosted report, extensive analysis, a fact sheet - anything to incentivize a journalist to link back to your domain.

      If you're adding URLs in your press release so that a journalist can link back to your website, it's important to add UTM tags to your URLs. This way you'll be able to identify where your traffic is coming from.
      We have built a Google Sheet to create UTM-tagged URLs; to use it, click on this link and select file → make a copy.

 

Press release examples

The perfect press release wows journalists and stakeholders, all while remaining professional, truthful, and factual. Press releases differ per type of event, industry, and type of publication you're aiming for.

Here are some examples of press releases from our clients to give you guidance for your next release.

 

Product launches:

Your team has worked endlessly to offer the world a solution to a specific problem. To make your press release one to remember, use an angle in your writing to transform your product launch into a newsworthy story. I can’t stress that enough: a newsworthy one. Companies launch new products every day, what makes your product so interesting? How will it change things?

Make sure to include product details, but not all product details have to be included in your release. The geekiest ones can be added to a separate page on your website. This way, if you get published, editors can link back to the full product overview. These backlinks - especially from the big publications - are great for SEO.

And of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure to add high-resolution product imagery.

Check out how one of our clients, Shimano, used a press release to announce their new product:

Shimano.press.release

 

What's good about this release: 

  • Journalists can easily find and download high-res photos of Shimano's product.
  • A clear explanation of what the product offers
  • Includes product details such as measurements and materials

 

Events & Grand Openings: 

When it comes to events and grand openings, consider your press release a massive digital invitation. Before putting one together, determine what makes this event so important for your audience to know about. 

Press releases can be sent out for a variety of events— also events that are closed to the general public or those that have already occurred.

Although sending out a press release before an event is more common, there are multiple benefits of doing it post-event. For instance, you can emphasize the success of the event and increase the desire of participants to attend the following one. In any case, remember to feature practical details such as time, location, tickets, information on press viewings or press conferences.

Most importantly, what will make journalists pick up your story are the images and graphic material. An easily accessible media kit with beautiful images will dramatically improve your chances of getting published.

Check out how Dusk Network promoted their event with a press release after it occurred.

DuskNetwork
 
What's good about this release:
  • The conference was recorded, and a video of the conference is embedded in the press release for context

  • A short text explains how and where the event took place 

  • Includes practical information such as contact details 

 

Press release templates

Below you’ll find a template to share your product/service launch: 

 

Press release for the launch of a product/service

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Date)

(Contact Name)

(Organization name)

(Email)

(Phone number) 

(Press release headline)

(Press release description - keep it under one line or 25 words)

 

(Location, Date): (Company name) is excited to announce the launch of (name of product/service), a new (description of product/service). This new (product/service) offers customers (basis of new product/service). The official launch date is (launch date). 

(Company name) is betting on (further information about the product/service). This new (product/service) promises (benefits to consumers)

(Add image, video, or link to media kit/newsroom)

(Quote #1 from high-executive in your company)

  • Product/service benefit #1
  • Product/service benefit #2
  • Product/service benefit #3

(Quote #2 from industry expert/board member/consumer/influencer - pretty much anyone that can establish credibility on your behalf) 

(Product/Service) will be available in (place) on (date) at the price of (price). For more information, visit (link to newsroom or website). 

For more information, contact:

(Spokesperson Name & Last name)

(Spokesperson phone number)

(Spokesperson email)

(Spokesperson Social media info -- Twitter, LinkedIn)

Boilerplate: A short description, about 3-4 sentences long, that describes what your company does. You can include metric information such as the number of customers, employees, capital raised. You can also include awards or recognitions you have received or even your mission statement. 

Now that you've got the full picture, are you ready to craft a press release? We can help. We’ve gathered 10 press release templates for different event types.

blog-cta-pressreleasetemplates-jpg

How to build a press list

Writing a killer press release is only half of the battle. The next step is to find the right journalists to share it with.

Press network, media database, contact list, however, you want to call it: you'll need to do your research and find journalists, bloggers, influencers, and other media professionals who might be interested in your story.

Why buying a media database might not be the answer

You can buy a subscription to a media database, of course. It’s the fastest way to get access to a list of emails and contact information— if you have the budget for it.

However, we do want to emphasize that buying a database is not a shortcut to coverage. It's just a list of names and email addresses. You still need to research these contacts.

After hundreds of conversations with PR pros and journalists, we’ve learned that cultivating a meaningful connection really does pay off. 

Take one of our clients, Komoot, who have observed much higher engagement rates from the journalists and media contacts that they have most recently met up with at their events. 

Bottom line is, buying a media database guarantees you will get a list of names and email addresses. What it does not promise is that you will get picked up by any of them. Most of the time, buying a media database doesn’t even guarantee that those names and their background information are up-to-date. Journalists change interests, take on new gigs, and move to different outlets. 

How to build your own press lists, for free

So if you want something beyond a spreadsheet, you have to build your press network yourself. Although there are no shortcuts, and you will have to invest some time (15 minutes a day), this effort will pay off in the long run.
 
The best part is that this strategy helps you build a press list for free. And that's crucial, when you’re just starting out and have a limited budget. Here’s how many of our customers build their press lists:
 

1. Monitor: build a feed with your favorite outlets and keywords

There are very sophisticated ways to monitor your industry, and monitoring solutions are getting better and better. However, there are more affordable (or even free) alternatives available that allow you to get a good overview of what your favorite outlets are publishing and what’s being published in your industry.

With Feedly, you can build a feed with your favorite outlets, and mentions of keywords, companies, or products that are relevant to you. By setting this up correctly, you’ll have a digestible overview of everything that’s happening in your industry - without having to switch between multiple websites and tools. Feedly is free if you’re monitoring up to 100 sources, in 3 feeds, and offers very affordable plans for larger feeds and additional functionalities (a Slack integration, for instance.)
 
Start your day by going through this feed. When you find an article that is in line with the themes and topics your company writes about, you’ve found a new potential press lead. Just open the article, check who wrote the article, and add that person to your CRM with their name, outlet, and relevant articles. If you don’t have a CRM, an Excel sheet is sufficient to get started. Once you’re ready to professionalize things, check out our CRM for PR teams.


2. Research: how to find the contact details for press contacts

Once you’ve found a few new interesting contacts on your feed, you need to find a way to contact these contacts. Depending on the way you’d like to get in touch, you’ll look for either their social media accounts, their email address, or both. Finding someone’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn account is easy, so we’ll skip that. How do you find someone’s email address, though? Here are a few ways to do that:

Google: This might sound a little self-evident, but very often you can simply google an email address. I just googled “email address + ‘my name;”, and to my surprise found my own email address. When it comes to journalists, their contact details are often available on the newspaper website or on other websites.

For example, if you’re looking for an address for Barry White from the Guardian, you can try searching “email address Barry White”, “email address Barry White Guardian”, etc. If you can’t find the email address for Barry White, but you do find one for Barry’s colleague at the Guardian, you can use the email format to guess Barry’s email address. So, if the colleague’s email is Josephine.blabberbox@guardian.com, Barry’s email address probably follows the same format, so: barry.white@guardian.com

Prospecting tools: There are quite a few good tools out there that will help you find someone’s email address. I like to use hunter.io - you fill in the company and the person’s name, and hunter.io will find their verified email address or estimate the email address based on other emails they find from the same company. Other very similar tools I’ve tried out are snov.io or Voila Norbert. Most of these tools are free up to a limited amount of searches and some of them even have email verifying tools, so you can test if the email works before you send a pitch to a broken email address.

Social media: As I said, journalists often want to connect with their industry, so they leave their email addresses on their social bios. Check out someone’s Twitter or LinkedIn —  you’d be surprised how often you’ll find a correct email address there.

Can’t find the email address you’re looking for? Try to reach out to the journalist on social media. The general email address for press releases every newspaper and publisher has should be your very last resort.  Most newspapers and publishers get hundreds of irrelevant pitches and press releases a day at those email addresses, so even if your story’s good, there’s an enormous chance that they won’t notice your email.


3. Organize your contacts and build a profile

Save your newfound contacts — including their contact details — in a nicely organized CRM or Excel sheet. Then, google their name, find all their recent articles, and build a profile. Do this by adding notes to these contacts with the recent articles and categorize them based on their interests. Segmentation is where an Excel or Google sheet typically gets a bit messy. However, it’s a good place to start before choosing the right CRM system.


4. Connect: every connection begins with an introduction 

Media databases and newswires have sold us the idea that there is a shortcut to generating media exposure. Buy a list, or purchase a distribution, and get covered in the best media outlets in the world. Ironically, many PR people seem to have forgotten about the ‘relations’ in media relations.

With the above strategy, you might end up with a lot of potential media contacts. But you won’t need to connect with or build a relationship with every single one of them. It won’t hurt, but we’re all busy people and we need to balance our time and output. 

Be creative and credible to land continuous coverage

jon-woodroof

Jon Woodroof, founder of cycling PR agency Twotone Amsterdam

COVID-19 marks a before and after in every industry, PR is no exception. We have adapted to new circumstances and found new ways to connect. Still, having less face time with journalists is an obstacle. Jon Woodroof, the founder of Twotone, a PR agency based in Amsterdam, explains how connecting has become more difficult in times of social distancing. 

"Since 2020, we’ve missed out on doing trade shows, launch events, and media days. Essentially, you get less time and space to connect with the media. In our case, we are used to doing bike rides with clients and journalists to build up trust and familiarity. So, in that sense, we've had way fewer opportunities to really get to know people.“

Despite the challenges we face today, cultivating long-term relationships with the media requires ongoing efforts. In the end, you reap what you sow. So how does Jon do it? He says a key element is to deliver credibility. Every. Single. Time.

"Credibility is a must. We aspire to build trust with the journalist and editors that we pitch. They open our email and pay attention to our social media because we’re credible; they decide to write about our clients and test products because they trust us. We take pride in working with the best brands in the industry and though we’ve had some misfires in our day, we love the confidence of representing companies that sell high-quality and reliable products."

Making friends with the media

An efficient strategy to connect with your media contacts is building an A-list and a B-list. Your A-list consists of spot-on contacts, the exact right journalists at the exact right publications or outlets that write about your exact industry. It shouldn’t be a very long list, and they’re usually market-specific; your colleague covering another market should have a similar list for her or his market. 

Know your A-List contacts inside out

The A-list are people that you should be checking in with every now and then. A few ways to connect: 

  • Introduce yourself: Introduce yourself and your company and explain how your product/ vision/mission/company might be in line with what they’re writing about. Don’t get all salesy; landing a publication is not the goal of this email. Baby steps.

  • Use Feedly to monitor your A-list contacts, read what they’re writing, engage with their articles, and add the most interesting articles to your CRM so that you can use them in your pitch at a later stage.
     
  • Have a cup of coffee. Introduce yourself, your company, and explain why their audience might find your company or its products interesting. If your contact agrees and lives close - have a cup of coffee to get acquainted. 

  • Organize media events. If you’d like one of your contacts to cover your product or service, you need to help them understand your product and interact with it as it’s meant to. Simply sending them a product for a review might not have the effect you hope for - most products get better as soon as they’re better understood. By organizing media events, you get a chance to guide the way media contacts experience your product. And that’s powerful.

Connect with your B-list

For your B-list it’s not crucial to set up separate feeds for each journalist, just one feed will suffice. There’s a big chance that your B-list will also include news outside of your industry, but Feedly can help you cut through the noise. 

Feedly has recently launched ‘Leo Skills’, an AI-powered functionality that helps you deduplicate news, and shows articles based on priority. By filling in the right topics in your feed, and liking articles if they’re interesting (and disliking them if they aren’t), Feedly will learn which articles to prioritize, and let artificial intelligence cut through the noise. You can interact with, re-share, and add articles that seem like a fit to your newsletter (and let the journalist know), or send them a quick DM. 

Pitching: how to do it right

Now that you’ve put together your press release and the list of media contacts you’ll be sending it to, it’s time to perfect the pitch. Let’s be honest: pitching is hard. It’s a complex science that is based on human relations, persuasion, and social psychology. While we can’t offer a secret formula that will get you published (spoiler alert, there is no secret formula), we do offer valuable insight from seasoned PR pros. 

  

How to send a great pitch 

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▲ Adam Stones, owner of PR agency A'DAM Comms and author of Influence: powerful communications, positive change.

“Effective media relations means being tactical and targeted”, according to Adam Stones. "There are four principles I suggest you use every time you pitch:" 

  1. Personal: It’s called media relations for a reason. You have to get to know the journalist; what they’re passionate about, what relevant stories they’ve covered, where their stories appear specifically. Then show off this knowledge in your pitch. And state why you are approaching them specifically. Be friendly and show you get them.

  2. Clear: Journalists have little time and are bombarded with hundreds of ideas a day, so be direct and concise. Make it clear what the story is and why this is an opportunity for them (including any exclusive aspects): show its news value, its relevance, and the significance for their audience. There must be some value in your pitch or they may not open your emails ever again.

  3. Easy: If the journalist has to do lots of work to ask for missing information, to decode your technical language or anything else that requires precious brain space or time then you’ve lost them. Have everything they need, ready to go. Make sure images and other visual assets are ready and approved, spokespeople are named (and briefed) and case studies are written up. (Better still, have everything ready in your online newsroom powered by pr.co!)*

  4. Timely: Ensure you are aware of what else is happening in the world around your launch date, as well as what the journalist may be working on. Perhaps you need to reference or connect with those time references, or now even avoid that date entirely. Then, when you do pitch, give them enough time before the story’s go-live date so they can plan how they will cover it, then follow up a couple of days before launch to give them a nudge.

*Disclaimer: Adam was not paid to say anything about our newsrooms. We simply don’t have that kind of budget.*

Adam advises to keep your pitch fairly short - make sure you express that value and the summary of the story, along with what else you have to offer. Play around with this template to find what works for you.

Dear [name],

I am contacting you from [give a top-line on your organization, if relevant].

Please find below a story that we are announcing on [add date, and relevance of date if needed].

The story is: [summarise the story key points to show the wow].

I thought it would be of interest to you given [add in relevance related to their work and/or the current news agenda].

I can also offer you [add in details of assets, such as photos, graphics, a report, further interviews, etc]. 

Please let me know how I can help further.

What to include in your pitch

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — there is no magic formula that will get you published. However, there are basic elements that must be included in your pitch. These basic factors will make you come across as personable and helpful, which does increase your chances of getting noticed. 

“You have to give the media multiple opportunities to speak to you”, says Madeline Vidak, PR & Communications Specialist at the fast-growing electric vehicle charging company EVBox. When it comes to pitching, she shared a list of items she usually ticks off:

  1. A summary of the most important news: keep it as short as possible

  2. Contact details: don’t forget to give the media a way to reach you in case they need more information 

  3. One meaningful picture: Illustrate what you are pitching

  4. Paste the full press release: always make it easy for journalists to read your news. Not everyone wants to click on links. 

Jon Woodroof also shared Twotone’s pitching. Here are some elements you can’t miss:

  • Mention a journalist by their name. Each pitch has to be personalized.

  • Include an icebreaker. It can either be a recent trip or ride you or the journalist have done. This is a way to captivate their attention and show them you care to connect.

  • Make your pitch short. As short as possible. This means inserting a one-line summary of your story that showcases its value. 

  • Add an open-ended question. Instead of asking a journalist, “will you write about this?”, give them options. Ask them if there is anyone on their editorial team that might be interested in the story. You can also send them more information on other releases or products that might appeal to them. 

  • Add a CTA. What do you want journalists to do with this information? For example, if an embargo is lifted, you want them to know they can publish your story. Or if you’d like them to RSVP to an event, it’s important to be clear on what you expect from them. 

Using inbound marketing techniques to get covered

A decade ago, both marketers and salespeople came to the realization that cold calls and outbound tactics might not be a failproof way to get customers. As it turns out, the consumers they were reaching out to were critical human beings. They didn't appreciate being sold to.

Hubspot came up with a solution: inbound marketing. As a marketer, the power of inbound (content) marketing probably isn’t new to you. Inbound marketing is about pulling customer prospects towards a business through blogging, search engine optimization, and social media. 

We won’t say that outbound tactics are dead. Not yet, anyway. But if you want a strong influx of new potential press leads, there are certain things you can pick up from inbound marketing to increase your chances of getting published.

The benefits of sharing your news online

Essentially, inbound marketing relies on attracting potential customers by providing valuable information that they can’t find anywhere else, for free. In this sense, it’s more effective than traditional outbound marketing because it attracts, instead of interrupts. 

One way to attract potential leads or journalists is by publishing your news online (either on your website or newsroom) for the world to find. By doing so, journalists and other stakeholders will easily find your news articles and stories. You can also use inbound’s lead capturing tactics in order to get media professionals to leave their contact details. Once you have a list of media contacts that are interested in your content, you can begin cultivating fruitful relationships. 

By publishing press releases and stories in a newsroom or press page, instead of just sending them out as PDFs, your startup or SME will also benefit from three massive perks:

  • your news becomes shareable (and therefore findable!) on social media.

  • your stories will be findable through search engines and boost your entire website's ranking on search engines. 

  • Your news will be discoverable for website visitors.

What is an online newsroom? 

An online newsroom is the home for your company news and media coverage. It’s the public-facing heart of your brand, the place where you can control your own narrative.

When done right, your online newsroom makes it ridiculously easy for journalists to find your company news. They can find out what your company does- and why- in seconds. Which makes it very easy for them to write a story about you.

An online newsroom is often listed as ‘best practice’ in public relations for a pretty important reason- it dramatically increases both the volume and quality of your media coverage. 

If you want to increase your chances of getting covered, here are a few elements you must include in your online newsroom: 

  • A segmented news archive: where you inform journalists about your events, accolades, company updates, or anything else you are doing. Ultimately, you are what you do, so your company news is a great way to help others understand your brand story or philosophy.

  • A well-organized media kit: A media kit is a folder full of downloadable assets that supplement a story. This is mostly photos, but can also include videos, data visualizations, and technical specifications. Media kits should make a journalist want to write a story about you- because you’ve given them so many quality assets, that they’d be crazy not to. It should be publicly available in your online newsroom. What makes a good media kit? Here are a few examples.

  • Clear contact information: Making sure that investors, influencers, and journalists alike can reach you makes all the difference. Your online newsroom should include details such as email addresses, social media handles, and/or phone numbers.

  • A strong about section: A strong ‘about section’ gives context to a brand narrative. It is how a company explains the unique value they bring to the market and how their coverage fits into a wider company (and industry) story.

  • Previous coverage: A clippings section captures the history of your media coverage and the movement you’ve created. Visitors can clearly see what the conversations about you look like, and with clear logos from reputable publications who have covered you, you have that social proof that is foundational for brand reputation. Journalists might also use previous coverage as a source for information and quotes. 

How to set up a press page

Online newsrooms can be built in-house or bought as an off-the-shelf solution from a specialized company. The decision is different for every organization, depending on their unique situation and functional requirements.

If you are just starting out with your PR strategy we suggest holding off on the decision to invest in an online newsroom. Although we are convinced that this tool can help propel PR teams’ efforts, in the end, it is an investment. Before opting for a newsroom, we suggest testing the waters. Upload your press releases on your blog or website, check the traffic it gains, and if you see some traction. Once it starts working you begin looking for a dedicated newsroom. 

Now, here at pr.co, we've created hundreds of newsrooms for strong brands worldwide. We have a special (affordable) program for startups. Don't hesitate to shoot us a message (on LinkedIn, by scheduling a demo request, or by sending our colleague Sjors an email, whatever you prefer!).

How to measure your PR efforts

Measurement is a misty subject in PR. Quite a few PR practitioners will tell you the results of a PR campaign can’t be quantified or measured. Compared to PPC campaigns— like Google Adwords or paid Facebook campaigns— PR campaigns indeed are a bit trickier to measure. There are a couple of reasons for this:  

 

  • PPC campaigns directly affect buyer behavior: someone clicks on an ad and buys a product or doesn’t. PR campaigns can certainly affect buyer behavior, but it’s more often an indirect effect. 

  • The results of getting covered in offline outlets (like newspapers) are challenging to measure. 

However, the biggest reason is that PR practitioners often just aren’t clear on the objectives of their campaign. You shouldn’t design campaigns to reach many different goals; good campaigns are focused on a clear objective. The campaign might have side effects and reap positive results that you hadn’t planned for. A campaign built around increasing brand awareness might have a positive influence on sales. That’s nice, you’re in luck.

 

How to set clear objectives

What role do you think media relations should play in your marketing strategy? Build awareness? Persuade people that are already tempted to buy your product? Enter new markets? 

Pick the goal that’s important for your company: your so-called wildly important goal. Don’t get tempted and formulate loads of different goals - the key to great results is focus. 

Ask any successful startup founder what their advice is for other startups; 9 out of 10 will advise you to work with focus.

How to define what you should be working on

Once the objective for your PR campaign is clear, you’ll need to define lag measures and lead measures. 

Lag measures track the success of your most important goal. You cannot influence these lag measures directly— they are things like revenue, profit, brand awareness, and customer satisfaction. They are lag measures because, by the time you see them increase or decrease, that which drove the change has already passed. You can’t do anything to fix them; they are history. However, they are essential to define because they show you if you’re headed in the right direction.

leadlag-jpg

Most important for a successful PR strategy are your lead measures. Lead measures track the critical activities that drive (or lead) to the lag measure. The big difference with lag measures is that your team directly influences lead measures: they are things like the number of pitches sent out, the number of contacts created, news announcements sent out, and completed campaigns. It’s imperative to focus on lead measures that you can directly influence. 

Lag measures are often easier to measure, and they represent the result we ultimately want, but without executing lead measures, they will bear nothing but frustration. 

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To give you some inspiration for setting up the measurement part of your PR strategy and campaigns, here are some examples of objectives, lag measures, and lead measures:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Which software should I be using? 

Now, let’s go to the fun part. There have got to be some sweet tools out there to growth hack your way through this, right? I know that’s what you’re thinking; there’s no need to hide it. 

I have good news and bad news for you today. 

The good news: there are loads of excellent tools out there to make you work faster, better and remove all those tedious tasks that make your workday crawl by. 

The bad news: you might not need them. Yet.

Good software helps you automate and streamline your processes and recurring tasks. Rule of thumb: don’t automate before you have figured out a process. Chances are that you can do perfectly well without any tools in the first year of rolling out a PR strategy. Take your time to get a feel for it, see what works, what doesn’t, and finetune your messaging and pitch. As soon as you start seeing good results, you should begin building processes to make those results replicable and scalable. Once those processes are there, look at each step and see where you could start automating. 

Bottom line: tools are not your holy grail to building a successful PR strategy. You design a strategy first, through trial and error, and then you find the tools to streamline that strategy.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s have a look at some free and affordable tools which could come in handy: 

For building a press list (here’s an article we wrote on how you could use these tools to build excellent press lists, for free): 

For publishing news:
For managing and designing brand assets: 
For monitoring your brand and measuring success: 
For managing projects and campaigns:
For managing contacts and sending news: 
For automating tedious tasks: 

Once you’re ready to streamline and step it up— you might want to have a look at our platform. We can help you:

  • Build a world-class newsroom
  • Quickly publish on-brand press releases and news
  • Manage press lists and contacts
  • Find new contacts
  • Efficiently send out news
  • Host media kits

Basically, we can bring together your CMS, CRM, newsroom, DAM system, analytics, and email tool into one platform, which will save you a lot of back and forth between different tools. We offer our solution at a significant discount for startups. We’re keen to show you around our platform: schedule a chat with us to learn more.

Some things we think you shouldn’t be spending your money on as a startup or SME: 

  • Newswires:

Honestly, newswires are the worst. They’re a remnant of how news was distributed in the early 1900s. This has, for some reason, found its way to 2021 in the form of a massive industry. As a startup, you will not get picked up by simply paying a newswire to “distribute your news to press contacts”. It sounds too good to be true because it is. It’s worse: newswires will hurt your brand.

  • Media databases:

Media databases will provide you with millions of press contacts worldwide. This is their selling point. My point: do you need millions of press contacts? Probably not. Invest two days of work into finding yourself 100 super-targeted, high-quality press contacts. It’ll work so much better. 

  • Monitoring software:

Monitoring tools tell you exactly where you’ve been published, by whom, and show you where you’re being mentioned on social media. Heck, they can even tell you what the sentiment of your brand on social media is. While this sounds wildly exciting, this is all data that you won’t need in the early stages of your PR strategy. If you want to see who picked up your story (which you most likely want), use Google Alerts, it’s free and works like a charm. Another way to see if you’ve been published is by keeping an eye on the Referrals tab in your Google Analytics account. If you’ve been covered and they added a backlink to your website, your clippings will appear here.

Do I need a media database? 

There are different ways of obtaining a media database. The quickest solution is to simply buy one. A database can range anywhere from €200,- to €2000,- per month. So if you have the budget to spend, but no time to spare, buying a media database can help you get started with media relations. However, we must advise that buying a database of contacts is not a shortcut to coverage. While it does provide a list of journalists and their contact information, it does not guarantee you will be published by them.

We argue that a media database is more than just contact info on a spreadsheet. It’s all about cultivating a human relationship with the people behind the email addresses. Here’s how to build a media database for free. 

Can’t I just send a PDF to journalists?

PDFs are a useful way of sharing information. The problem is when you need to share them via email and they’re way too heavy to open. Also, remember that journalists on the receiving end might require software like Acrobat or Preview reader to visualize your PDF. Another downside of sharing information with journalists through PDF is that once it’s sent, you can’t amend any errors you might have committed. Online newsrooms, on the other hand, can be constantly fine-tuned. 

PDFs are simply inconvenient. Don’t take our word for it, listen to what Remy Ludo Gieling, Journalist and Editor in Chief, Sprout, and MT, had to say about receiving PDFs. 

“The worst thing you can do is send us a PDF. They’re not easy to preview, it's a hassle to download them, and you can’t use any images straight from PDFs. Our team prefers emails with the full press release in the body of the email, and with links to the full press release in your newsroom. The link is important for us because that makes it easier to share with colleagues on Slack.” 

What's something most startups do wrong? 

We often see that startups don’t invest in photography. That’s a missed chance. Sending quality images with a pitch is such an easy win: a journalist will perceive you as more professional, so will want to collaborate with you again. The other advantage is you get to control how your brand is being portrayed. Because in all likelihood, random stock photos chosen by someone who doesn’t know your brand are not going to do your image any favors.

Taking away annoying tasks for journalists like sending endless email chains requesting images, or hurriedly scouring image libraries for something that fits, will push you into the PR major leagues. When you build a reputation for being thorough, helpful, and reliable, media contacts will want to pick up the phone and call you in the future. 

Can I send a bulk email to my press list? 

When was the last time you actually entertained the idea of buying something in a phone call with a telemarketer? 1995? Never? Well, the numbers don’t lie: the days of intrusive messages and stale marketing tactics are long gone. Journalists, well, they’re just like us. The old ‘spray and pray’ method will no longer work in this day and age, and understandably so. It’s no secret that journalists feel both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by pitches.  According to recent studies, 28% of journalists receive over 100 pitches every week, which mostly end up in spam or trash due to irrelevance. 

The only way to get coverage today is by doing your research right and showing that journalist how your story can add value to their audience. 

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