- Hiring someone to handle your small business’ PR can be costly and ineffective.
- Doing your own PR starts with setting realistic and clear goals from the start.
- Then figure out where your audience is and what expertise you can lend to content creators.
- This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.
From the outside, it can feel like there’s a lot of gatekeeping in the media world. So when small-business owners are thinking about getting press as part of their marketing strategy, it’s understandable that many look to hire someone with existing connections in the field.
The bad news is that can be cost prohibitive for many small businesses. The good news is that it’s totally doable for founders to manage their own PR until they have bigger budgets.
“I was bootstrapping, I did not have anyone to outsource to, but I was still able to get over 100 different press opportunities,” Candice Smith, a serial entrepreneur, said of her former business, an intimacy subscription box, which has since been shut down. That experience ultimately inspired her to start French Press Public Relations in 2020, and shortly after that, the Hustle Accelerator to make PR knowledge more accessible to founders.
When Jessica Spivack Lowenstein, the head of platform at the VC firm K50 Ventures, was looking to get press for both the firm itself and its portfolio companies, she first tried a costly but unsuccessful engagement with a contractor. Then, she told Insider, she went through the Hustle Accelerator and was amazed by how feasible the DIY approach is. “It’s not as scary as it seems,” she said.
Spivack Lowenstein and Smith shared the steps they took that any small business can use to start getting their name in the press.
Make your goals clear from the get-go and set realistic expectations
The first thing any business owner should do, Smith said, is understand their goals with PR. “Having an understanding of what general direction you’d like to go in and what story you’d like to tell will put you in a really good position from the start,” she said.
These goals should be rooted in a realistic understanding of the return on investment of PR — building brand recognition, credibility, and a pipeline of future customers, rather than driving immediate sales — and not be too broad. “Think about it more strategically than ‘We want to be in the news,'” Spivack Lowenstein said.
“Success is about more than immediate return — it’s about getting your name out there and gaining champions of the brand,” Smith added. “Don’t get lured in by this idea of wanting a quick win. One of the worst things you can do is go after one publication at a time instead of thinking through a solid visibility strategy. PR is a marathon, not a sprint.”
For Spivack Lowenstein, she thought about K50’s goal of connecting with founders and potential founders so they’d consider reaching out when seeking funding: “We wanted to meet them where they are, what they’re already reading, which is largely tech outlets.”
Research the right mediums, timing, types of stories, and publications for your expertise and audience
With a solid goal in mind, you can then spend time researching where your voice will best fit into the media landscape. Smith said to ask yourself: “What story angles are being talked about in media outlets that have to do with your industry?”
Smith also recommended taking a look at how your competitors are being featured: “Are they doing a lot of podcasts? Are they focusing on providing quotes and expertise on particular topics? Are they getting into gift-guide roundups if they have a product?”
When Spivack Lowenstein did this exercise from a VC perspective, she noticed articles about top startups or trends to watch, stories with founders giving opinions on news in the business world, and roundups of new companies in different industries. “It was a really interesting exercise to think about: What’s the story we want to tell, what is it bucketed into, and what’s the timing when we should pitch that?” she said.
As you’re building a list of stories and publications to chase, don’t just set your sights on the major names. Smith recommended thinking about media outreach like applying to colleges, with a few reach outlets and plenty of safety options. “Don’t forget the niche publications, the local TV stations, and the smaller podcasts that may have really dedicated audiences that will be excited to hear from you,” she said.
Focus on being helpful, not your own benefit
When you’re ready to start pitching ideas, don’t reach out to publications’ general inboxes — you should be reaching out to specific journalists and content creators. “When you’re doing that media-landscape research, try to figure out who’s writing the articles that you want to be in,” Smith said. Then, she said, “laser focus in on five to 10 folks that you would love to build a relationship with.”
In your outreach, remember that it’s not about your company and what the writer or content creator can do for you, but about what you can do for them. “My biggest learning is that you want to be helpful to journalists,” Spivack Lowenstein said. She found success in inviting journalists to coffee to talk about how she could support their work with expert sources from K50’s portfolio companies.
Instead of sending a generic message about the story behind your business, “personalize it enough that you let the person who you’re reaching out know that you are familiar with the type of content they like to write,” Smith added. She suggested keeping it short with bullet points describing your specific story ideas and why you’re the perfect expert to cover those topics.
You should also consider who you’re writing for and why they’d be excited to read your story. “A great way to not add to the noise is to speak to your ideal client avatar,” Smith said.
“One of the worst things you can do is send out a blanket email,” she added. “A personalized approach is a longer-form approach, but it does work in the long term.”