There is the saying that there is no such thing as bad PR, but Connie Connors of Connors Communications says, “there is no such thing as free PR.” For a small business, trying to get PR can be tricky. Most small businesses can’t afford to hire a major PR firm. But the do-it-yourself route means you’ll find yourself on shaky ground.
Amateur hour won’t cut it with the press. I can speak from experience — as a tech writer, I need even the big guys to sell me in order to get me to write about them; telling me you’re small-time isn’t going to make me any more interested.
However, there are exceptions. In my tech journalism I mostly write about enterprise business, but a small company with something new can catch my attention. If you’re a start-up and haven’t gotten a lot of press I might want to break the news. But you need to impress me in the first 30 seconds, and trust me — I’m a pushover compared to many hardened writers.
Thus trying to do your PR can be difficult for many small businesses. You can do it on the cheap, but as Ms. Connors reminds us, you shouldn’t expect to do it for free.
The first thing you should invest in is the AP Style Guide, because having an accurately written press kit can make a difference. While you don’t need to go all-out with the company logo—most of the time I ditch the press kit about 30 seconds after I get the useful information I need—having a fact sheet is crucial. Retail sell sheets and marketing materials are good, but most writers want just the facts!
Here are a few more tips for getting the attention of the press:
- Don’t e-mail everyone on the masthead. This past month I received not one, but two such e-mails when an eager small business wanted to get in with Newsweek. Being an occasional contributor to the news weekly I was included in the list and I noticed that the person had included everyone from the publisher to the interns. This strategy isn’t going to win any points or make any friends. This is marketing spam and turns most editors off. Before you send your e-mail, call the main number and ask for the appropriate department. If you have a technology product ask for the science and tech department, find out if you can follow up with an e-mail or snail mail.
- Don’t send products randomly, especially if you have limited review samples. Most magazines and freelancers get a ton of products. I can’t review everything and I can’t even look at everything. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to try it out, but ask first.
- Create loan agreements. Most staff writers aren’t allowed to keep any products and many freelancers have a policy against accepting gifts. I typically donate a lot of the video games, toys and other products I test. The rest I try to send back. However, if you do expect the press to return the items, you need to ask for the writer(s) to sign a loan agreement ahead of time. Asking for a sample back after the fact could be a problem. If you need the samples back, make sure this is clear before you send out anything.