Many small businesses and startup businesses are strapped for cash when it comes to promoting themselves — or so they think. They think that because they can’t afford their own in-house PR department, or can’t afford to hire a prestigious PR firm as consultants, there is no chance for them to get a decent break on the publicity merry-go-round. While having a full-time PR department or an expert PR consultant to sound the trumpet for your product and/or brand is a smart idea and usually pays for itself in the long run, there’s no reason to give up on good solid PR if your company can’t afford the kind of money it takes to do those kind of things.
Do it yourself PR is actually easy to do in today’s online social media addicted world. Statistics show that all age groups, up to octagenarians, are spending more and more time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so forth. Not only that, but the prevalence of email is still supreme in the media — which is where you want to spend your best efforts to drum up homemade publicity. Whether you’re aiming for some free advertising on Huffington Post or in the New York Times, it’s really not that hard to find a reporter, or reporters, interested enough in some aspect of your startup or small business to give you at least a mention online. And it all starts with a simple email query.
But first, let’s get one thing straight: The most efficient way to get free publicity is not to start with national/international news venues, even though they’re mentioned above. No, the best place to start and the best chance of getting some media play is always going to be the local media in your area. There are literally thousands of niche media platforms that concentrate on local and regional news and events. Start with them. A google search should show you most of them, along with contact information. Once you’ve covered the local and regional news outlets with a query email, there will be time enough for the big league operators like USA Today or Time Magazine.
The query email starts with the subject line. This is the bait that hooks a reporter into reading your email inquiry. Make it short and catchy. Something like: LOCAL STARTUP OFFERS FREE T-SHIRTS TO YOUTH SOCCER TEAMS.
Once you’ve got their attention, your query (don’t call it a News Release — as journalists tend to be very picky about what they consider to be authentic ‘news’ nowadays; it’s better to phrase your story as a query, as in “would you be interested in a story about . . . “) should be short and sweet. Give specific details about it, such as “Would you be interested in our company’s efforts to promote healthier childhood activities by giving away free t-shirts to local youth soccer teams? We are giving them away this Saturday in front of Jones Supermarket.”
Last, but not least, make sure the contact information you give reporters is current and allows them to contact a real live person, not a voicemail. Nothing will kill a journalist’s interest in a story quicker than having to jump through any hoops to reach a live source.