A common misconception about PR is that businesses need a huge budget to get the word out. Experts might tell you to shell out big figures, hire an expensive PR consulting crew, and pay for a pricey television or radio spot.
But would George Constanza do that? No. He'd look for the cheapest way to get traction. He'd look to pinch pennies wherever he could.
We don't recommend that you stop paying your bills, but we do think you can get awesome PR on a tiny budget.
Hiring a big PR firm = saying goodbye to a big sum of money
Every so often, you will come across a startup or small business generating immeasurable traction on almost zero budget. How the heck do they do it?
1. Connect With Reporters to Join The Right Conversations
Every so often, you may come across a small business like yours that was featured in a major media channel like The New York Times or Forbes.
Sometimes, media coverage is luck, but more often it's planned. There's a service called Help a Reporter Out (HARO) that functions as a matchmaking service between reporters and experts who want PR. Subscribe to the list and watch it daily. Respond to reporters -- and give them compelling information about your brand and how it fits with what they want want to write about.
That's how Speak2Leads, a small San Diego-based business, was featured in an Inc Magazine article about why your business needs an app:
Another opportunity to join conversations is through guest blogging. When you write for media channels with an existing readership, you amplify the audience you're reaching.
You Try It:
Subscribe to HARO to connect with journalists who need sources. Pitch your story consistently, and send ready-to-use quotes. Journalists on HARO receive many pitches, so make the process quick and easy.
Identify 3 companies or blogs that cater to the audience you're trying to reach. Figure out who manages the blog and send them a personal message. Ask to submit a guest post or see if there are opportunities to get featured. Make sure your message is personal - no spammy emails or pitches!
Reach out to editors, business owners, or marketing managers that you already know. Ask them for their ideas or if they'd be willing to partner with you to get visibility.
2. Win the Race With Strategic Planning
There is more to a viral video than what you see upfront. Take a lesson from Karen X. Cheng, the girl who learned to dance in a year. She's working on building a company called Dance in a Year to help people manage projects they’re passionate about.
Even though Karen's company has not yet launched, her story has become a viral hit, amassing more than 3 million views on YouTube.
There's a bigger story behind this video-- a strategic plan.
Karen's video went viral because she put together a marketing plan that incorporated a mix of distribution, syndication, and blogger outreach. She timed the release of her video to Tuesday, chose the right viral title, kept the video short, and told an amazing story. She didn’t just make a cool video- she planned its promotion.
Now people can’t wait to get a slice of Karen’s company when it debuts.
You Try It:
Come up with a strategic plan. If you plan out savvy promotions, you don’t need Coca Cola’s budget. Choose compelling titles for your campaigns, make roadmaps, and decide who you'll reach out to and when you'll do it.
Strive to be creative. Create amazing pieces of content that pull on people's heart strings, tickle funny bones, or elicit some other emotional response. Be yourself, but find a cool and creative way to do it.
Share with the right people. Get out there to find communities, people, experts, and fellow bloggers that are experts in what you have to say. Pitch your stuff.
3. Develop Key Strategic Relationships
As GetPublicized founder Jane Boland points out in an interview for American Express OPEN Forum, PR is a broken field.
'Many agencies are still buying very expensive 'media lists' and blasting our press releases and pitches to hundreds of journalists at a time,' explains Boland, who has spent several years running her own PR agency for technology firms and startups. 'It's amazing how often I hear from the PR industry that it is too hard to track and measure the value of what they do.'
As Onboardly co-founder Heather Anne Carson points out, the solution is not to blast your marketing message to hundreds of journalists. Instead, focus on developing key strategic relationships.
'What's more beneficial from a PR perspective is knowing your 2-4 stories in and out,' she says. ' Focus on hustling hard for the small, one-off mentions. These arise naturally from your organization's business development and partnership initiatives.'
You Try It:
Develop longterm relationships and prioritize people over PR. When you meet someone, foster the relationship. Share stuff with them. Even if there's no opportunity today, there might be one tomorrow.
Get BuzzStream, a service that allows you to figure out whose talking about what...and when.
Create your stories. Come up with a few cool pitches to talk to reporters about- have them down pat. Make sure you understand how and why they’re relevant to the reporters you’re talking to.
4. Be an Expert and Teach What You Do
Storytelling and human relationships are the heart of PR. One of the strongest ways to establish these bonds is through in-person relationships. Speaking and teaching engagements can help build awareness around your brand.
As an example, check out one of General Assembly, a company that connects teachers with learners as part of its mission to democratize entrepreneurship. Instructors like Chrissie Brodigan teach classes in their respective areas of expertise. Christie, who has specialized in user research for over a decade, teaches classes in UX, design, and growth hacking. Every time she teaches her class, she inadvertently reps her employer, GitHub.
By hiring an employee base of teachers and exceptional leaders, you'll position your company as a leader too. Encourage team members to get out there, speak at conferences, and teach to their hearts' content.
Other avenues for teaching include webinars, co-working spaces, local events, meet-ups conferences, and lectures for college classes.
You Try It:
Identify 5-10 channels where you or your teammates may be strong fits for guest lecturing or speaking. Pitch your time, free of charge, to these opportunities.
Ask to be featured in email lists or on the event websites. You never know who may say yes.
Consider local options-- elementary schools, universities, Rotary clubs, and sports teams.
5. Syndicate Your Blog Content
Audience-building is one of the toughest aspects of starting a blog. It takes significant heavy-lifting to get past the '0 readers' mark. One way to get your strategy off the ground is to syndicate your blog content with larger media channels.
Syndication, in a nutshell, means re-publishing. This technique is leveraged by large media companies as well as small businesses who are looking to increase their visibility and exposure.
A common fear is that syndication is harmful for SEO. These fears can be remedied by following two best practices: (1) waiting a few days to syndicate your content so that the material lives on the original website first and (2) linking back to the original article.
In the articles, make sure that you include a short bio about your business and link back to pages on your website to drive traffic.
You Try It:
Dig through publications to find editors and authors who might be interested in showcasing your content. Contact them directly with personalized pitches.
Try to get your own content published on third-party channels such as Business2Community and SocialMediaToday, both of which aggregate content from other places.
See if your favorite blogs, news sites, and media channels re-post articles. Reputable news sites such as the Huffington Post regularly adapt and repost articles if they're well-written and relevant.
Final Thoughts: Be Authentic
Whatever you do, be true to your brand. Show your human side, and have a little down-to-earth fun. If you're a faker, your audience will instantly know. Build trust, and people will listen.
Your Turn: What did I miss? What are some of your favorite PR strategies and campaigns?