If you’ve ever tried to lose weight (or know someone who has) this phrase might be familiar:
‘I’ll start my diet when...I’ve been on holiday/moved house/joined a gym*.
I’ve noticed people - small business owners, in particular - often talk about PR in the same way.
‘I’ll start doing some PR when I’ve…got more clients/hit six figures/can afford to hire a PR company*.
Or (for bigger organisations):
‘We’ll do more PR when we’ve got this launch out the way/hired a new team member/moved offices*.
So just as you might delay starting a diet until you have the latest exercise equipment or diet book, you end up putting off PR until you have a press release (or a costly distribution service) or the cash to hire a professional.
But you don’t need a string of qualifications - or even experience - to get coverage in a newspaper or magazine, or on radio or TV. In fact, you already have many resources at your disposal - that won’t cost you a thing (or certainly no more than the price of a posh coffee).
Getting media coverage is all about understanding what journalists are looking for and offering stories that are perfect fit for their audience. This means studying the publication or programmes you’d like to get coverage in, over a period of time, so you can get a feel for the (a) audience and (b) the kind of content that is typically covered.
While this might seem time-consuming, investing time upfront, to do this kind of research will save you time pitching ideas that journalists are never going to run with.
Let’s say you’re keen to get coverage in a leading business magazine. Your initial idea might be to offer a first-person interview with yourself or your CEO. But after studying a number of back editions, you notice that they never feature this kind of article...which means pitching this would be a complete waste of time. They do, however, have a regular opinion column so you suggest an idea for that instead, giving yourself a much better chance of success.
Most publications and programmes now publish most (if not all) of their back content online (if they don’t or it’s behind a paywall, there’s more about what to do below) which means it’s perfectly possible to do this research online.
You can also use the internet to find the email addresses of people you want to pitch ideas to (although the phone is usually quicker) and connect with journalists on social media platforms like Twitter.
Tip: If you can’t find TV/radio programmes online, you can often find clips on Youtube.
Libraries and cafes
If the publication you want to pitch to is behind a paywall, you can get copies of most magazines and newspapers in libraries. Some cafes - particularly those attached to big bookshops - are happy for you to thumb through their newspapers and magazines (as long as you buy a coffee).
Even if you can get access to everything you need online, it’s a good idea to ‘get your fingers grubby’ from time to time, as it’s often easier to get a sense of the structure of a newspaper or magazine from the print version and identifying regular slots or sections you could suggest ideas to.
If you’ve got thousands of pounds to spare, you can buy databases of journalists’ contact details, but in my experience, they are often out-of-date and don’t give you those little bits of information that can make all the difference to your pitching (that x editor is on a sabbatical or covering x journalist’s maternity leave for example).
While you might get the odd grumpy comment (newsrooms are generally busy places), and get passed around a bit before you find the right person, the information you get from a quick ring-round is usually far more useful than any database. And the conversations you have can often lead to coverage.
If you love your business or organisation, it will show. Most journalists would much rather talk to a passionate business owner or CEO than a PR exec handling various clients/accounts who has to keep nipping off to get information...so use this to your advantage.
*delete/replace as appropriate