You’re an Internet start-up looking for the headline that may open the floodgates to fortune and fame. You’re financed, full of spirit and brilliant ideas. You deserve recognition for those endless hours of hard work.
But unless you understand the fundamentals to good public relations, you may come across as a rank amateur to that sought-after editor at your favorite media outlet. After all, your first audience is with the press. How do you present yourself and your company as polished and professional? Start with the following six steps:
The idea. In clear, concise English — not business jargon — describe what makes your company and services unique, or at least important, to the readers of the publication. Why should they care about you? What can you do for them? How is this news? Focus on new developments, the impact you will have on a specific industry, a trend or much-needed solution to a problem. Don’t claim that you’re the next Yahoo, but make the effort to distinguish yourself from the pack.
People. Who are the key people in management? What is their professional and educational background? It is OK to name drop: “Joe is a Harvard MBA. Mary came over from Amazon.com.” The Internet industry is still new — people with a proven track record draw attention. Determine who will be the best company spokesperson for a given audience. Don’t push the chief financial officer for an interview with a marketing publication. Present someone who has a compelling story or an industry strength.
Research, research and more research. Even if you are crunched for time, you must be familiar with the media outlet you approach. Read the articles, find the writer who is interested in what you have to say, then write a compelling, one-paragraph pitch letter. A journalist is deluged daily with story ideas. If you sound well-informed and genuinely interested in his beat, you may very well capture his attention. Even if he doesn’t use your story idea, chances are he’ll remember you the next time.
Communicate. Start with an e-mail. Use that pitch letter. Do not send unsolicited attachments. That is a sure way to get your pitch deleted before it even hits the screen. You may offer to send additional info after you have made initial contact with a writer or editor. Wait a few days for a response and then place a call. Be prepared to leave a message. Speak slowly and be polite. Your message may be a shorter version of your original pitch. Repeat your name and phone number at least twice.
If you don’t get a callback and are convinced that your stuff would be great for this publication, do more research to identify someone else who may be interested. Do not get in touch with the entire editorial staff. Remember that very often, reporters all sit next to each other in a small space. Be aggressive, but be selective.
Follow through. You have reached a receptive reporter or editor. You’re on his radar screen, and you have promised him additional information about your company, the industry or your CEO. Listen to what he has asked you and send him the specifics within 72 hours. Do not send him the same old press kit, which he most likely can find on your Web site, unless that is what he requested. Respond to his needs. If you mention an article in The Wall Street Journal or a case study that sparked his interest, send it along — it’s a nice touch.
Build a bridge. When reaching out to the press, remember to demonstrate a solid grasp of the issues at play. Engage in meaningful dialogue about your company and industry issues. Offer yourself as a resource even when it might not benefit you directly. You will benefit in the long run. Create opportunities for ongoing updates and conversation. The best media contacts are long-term relationships. Make the effort to cultivate and maintain these connections, and you give yourself the best opportunity to gain the media exposure you desire and deserve.
The more time you take to plan your media strategy, refine your ideas and express yourself clearly and concisely, the better reputation you will have with the press. Maybe next time they’ll call you for a story.
• Ane Howard is founder and Lauren Albert is account coordinator at media relations agency AhMedia Inc., New York. Reach them at [email protected]