You’ve been working hard on your company (or on your art), and you’re ready to share something with the world. Congratulations! Getting to the place where you feel prepared, and proud enough, to do this is a big step. It can be hard to self-promote, but including PR into your overall plans and objectives is imperative to reach a much wider audience.
Key elements needed
- News story angle
- To answer this think of why it matters now. Was there a new release? Did you secure some funding? Maybe there’s something that coincides nicely with an annual event or cultural movement. Find your hook.
- A press release
- Even if you plan to only do targeted outreach (which you should) or stick to paid media, the process of putting a press release together can be a great step to help you identify the key messages.
- A media list
- Do your research. Find journalists at publications that write about the type of work you’re doing, and then compile a list of the names and contact information of specific journalists based on their previous work, aka a highly curated media list. Twitter is a good way to do this.
- Outreach emails
- Journalists get a lot of emails so if you want to make sure you catch their attention, make it personal. Reference pieces of theirs directly. Keep the email short and snappy.
- Define key target audience and media; aka who do you want reading more about this and where
- Set some goals to outline what success will look like to you
- Formulate key messages
- Choose your platforms, the PESO model below can help guide you
- Write and publish a press release
- Send targeted emails that are both concise and personal
- Follow up emails three days later which are simple, not pushy
- Measure, review, redefine as needed
It’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve before you start putting some of the key elements together. Maybe your goal is a review, perhaps it’s an increase in social media engagement or follows. Different goals require different approaches, and so taking the time to think this through will help you work in a smarter, more focused way. The SMART goals approach is a great place to start.
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound
The PESO model
In her book, Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich proposed a new kind of model. The PESO model stands for paid, earned, shared, owned. It offers a pretty comprehensive breakdown of what can fall under the different segments.
Dietrich argues that there is an order of priority, but also that all elements must interoperate for the best results.
Owned media is where you control the narrative and, thus, have creative control, and that’s something you should strive for. Owned media can be a blog post, a podcast, songs, graphic designs. It can be reviews of your book or album, or testimonials from your customers. Apart from the time and energy put into the creation of owned media, it doesn’t come at a cost, and you can reuse it, recycle it into different formats or whatever else you please.
This is where your social media platforms and your website or blog come in, if you have one. It’s important to find the social media platforms that work for you instead of feeling like you have to be on all of them. Don’t be afraid to try new ones as they emerge, or abandon old accounts that aren’t serving you.
Just because the word paid is in the title, it doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. This can be as simple as throwing some money towards a sponsored or promoted post or as big as paying and potentially travelling to an event (whenever those come back).
This is where we come back to reaching out to journalists or influencers, in hopes that they will write about you, talk about you, and promote you on their own channels. Dietrich puts this last because, as she writes, “These relationships take time, trust, and due diligence, so earned media may not give you immediate results—which is why it should be just one part of your PR strategy. Just like you want them to drive leads for you, they want you to drive website visitors and page views. Without shared and owned media, you’ll lose to someone who has those things and can help the journalist or influencer.”
Press releases can feel daunting and outdated, and I’m not here to argue against either of those points. But, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it can be a great exercise to help you identify your key messages. A press release should have a news article type of headline, something descriptive but also catchy. Other must-haves are a lead paragraph that includes the what, why, where, how and who of the story, at least one quote and media contact information.
Some companies, including Amazon, even circulate press releases internally before announcing anything publicly as a way to not just refine messages, but help them decide on what should be added to the roadmap at all. They take a reverse engineering approach and instead of building a product and then trying to market it to customers after the fact, the press release is used as a type of sniff test. If it can’t be explained succinctly and provide clear value, it doesn’t go any further. Read more about the working backwards approach here.
Once you get to the email stage, most of the hard work is done, but there are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Have a very descriptive subject line, something that relates closely to the title of your press release, rather than something vague or overly casual
- Include some kind of interesting statistic or fact right away acts as a strong opening. It could be the form of a question, along the lines of ‘Did you know…’ or stated as a simple fact
- Don’t waste time. Your second sentence should be actionable: “Please find attached a story about [insert your angle here]
- Reference a related piece (or two) of theirs to show you’ve done your research
- Mention that the press release is included below, and by included I mean copied and pasted. Do not attach the press release as a PDF or other format because this simple act can get your email flagged and dropped into their junk folder
- A friendly sign off with the offer to speak directly or provide any additional elements that may be of use to them including photos, tracks, bios etc.
If you don’t hear back immediately, wait three days before sending a follow up message. This follow up should be even more concise than the first one. Check in and ask whether they’ve had a chance to read your story about the [insert your angle here], and if it was of any interest to them. That’s it. It may be tempting to try to do more pitching at this stage, but your efforts will be better spent elsewhere.
A word on mental health
I had an entire post prepared for this topic but upon further reflection (twice), it felt more personal than prescriptive. As much as I do enjoy treating this site like the early 2000s blog of my dreams, I want the content to be helpful. With that preamble, for anyone reading this who finds themselves on the press side, or alternating between both like myself, we need to be thoughtful about the words we use when covering people. People is a key word here. It’s easy to forget that the mega stars—be it musicians, politicians, founders and CEOs, or actors—are in fact real people with real feelings.
This video resurfaced of Hunter Biden being interviewed by ABC reporter Amy Robach. When Biden mentions his own struggles, she references him being “in and out of rehab” and he stops her and says “Say it nicer to me. Sought treatment.”
Britney Spears recently lost her bid to remove her father as conservator of her estate, a position which has essentially granted him complete control over her life since 2008. The media’s portrayal of her during that time can not be excluded from the subsequent events. She is a 38 year old mother of two with an estimated net worth of nearly $60 million who isn’t allowed to drive a car or hire her own team or travel freely. There’s a nice breakdown in The Cut about the details of her conservatorship and Even the Rich devoted their eighth season to the #FreeBritney movement and it’s definitely worth listening to.
Kanye West is another prime example, and while I do think his Twitter rants are intended to create chaos in some form—you can listen to our podcast episode Creating Chaos and Destigmatizing Mental Health to hear us discussing this more—he is also clearly struggling.
There’s a sense of Schadenfreude that comes with watching the mighty fall, but why? When we label these people—people who have amassed huge amounts of wealth, adoration, awards, and whatever else—as crazy or when we publicly laugh at their struggle, we make it harder for other people to feel ok admitting they too may be struggling and need help. These types of events should only remind us that we all need to be more mindful of our mental health and the mental health of others. This may seem like a capricious way to end this piece but it’s all connected, just like we are all connected. Whether you’re working a press strategy or writing about any industry, artist or trend, just remember one thing: words matter.
Carly Sheridan is a writer and editor passionate about technology and the arts, and the intersection of the two in a digital world. Her experience over the last decade has ranged from working as a journalist in Canada and South America for lifestyle publications, to the Director of Content and Communications for a digital art blockchain company in Berlin, and as a consultant to several startups across Europe. A storyteller at heart, she is forever trying to finish her first novel.