This is how you get media coverage as a startup

So ‘National Pizza Day’ rolls around (it’s 9 February, in case you forgot to celebrate), and so does ‘World Teachers Day’, closely followed by ‘Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day’ – and you happen to be the founder of a pizza-making SME which serves them in funky bubble wrap and offer a discount to local teachers – well, you might think, what an easy PR win.

Surely every online and print newspaper in the land is going to want to write thousands of words about your company on these auspicious days – and better make sure there’s parking because the TV vans will be here any minute, right?

Or maybe not. The burgeoning number of ‘national days’ means they’re no longer the useful news hook that some once were. And the rise of social media and surging number of entrepreneurs means it’s really not easy to cut through all the noise to get your start-up in the press.

Work out what works for your business

What promotional events are worth jumping on? How can you connect with journalists? How can you maximise PR when you’re running a small business on a very small budget, and don’t want the pursuit of publicity to encroach too much on your (limited) time?

A good place to start is by considering your own expertise. If you run an IT business, for example, and are very knowledgeable on some of the tech security issues that are frequently dominating the news, then that’s an opportunity for you to become a go-to expert for journalists to approach the next time there’s a big data leak or hacking. You just need to get in touch with them.

“Set up a couple of Google alerts so that you can get notified immediately of the things that are affecting your sector, and start to build a ‘target list’ of journalists and publications that are writing about such matters,” suggests Rebecca Smith-Dawkins, senior digital PR account executive at Impression.

“Spend some time exploring these publications to see whether there are any ‘content gaps’ whereby you can offer an expert comment piece on – you’ll be surprised by how many journalists will take you up on that offer.”

How to make contact

It’s usually best to email (rather than phone) journalists, briefly explaining your background, your business and your expertise, and be ready to respond very quickly if and when they do get in touch. Look out for their shout-outs on social media too: reporters will often be scouting for experts – you just need to know where to look.

“For extra visibility, it’s worth adding those you’ve identified as a ‘target’ to a dedicated Twitter list,” Smith-Dawkins adds. “Also, check the #journorequest hashtag two or three times a day to see whether any journalists are looking for expert commentators in your field – a lot of the nationals use this hashtag too, so there are definitely some gems to be had.”

Be selective about any stories that you try to promote yourself, advises the eponymous boss of Andrea Sexton PR. “Before you send something to a magazine or newspaper ask yourself, ‘is this really news?’ Remember not to write an advert, but tell a story, whether it’s about new award wins, community or charity work, case studies about clients or staff and expert opinions.”

Be the expert in your industry

However, don’t bombard any press contacts you do make with daily missives. Chris Gibbs, director of PR agency Volume Four Communications, says it’s important to only get in touch when you’ve a really great story, and to be realistic: “The media landscape is at its toughest point I can remember in almost 20 years of PR – fewer publications, fewer journalists and less space for stories. So unless you’ve cured the common cold or solved world peace, you’re unlikely to get into national media with a story about you starting your business.

“Instead, start with industry media where you have relevant news and insights and build up. If you’re targeting consumers, then take a laser-like focus on who you want to reach.”

Those cut-backs in the media do, however, mean that editors are often looking for free “content” to fill their pages or websites too – and if you have stand-out views and expertise, you could provide it, helping to raise your SME’s profile too.

Sally Bratton, MD of Bratton PR, advises her clients to pen “opinion articles and top tips” as, “if these articles or advice columns are published, there is often a link back to the startup or small business’s website – which can raise awareness of the company’s offering and yield a pipeline of new sales leads.”

Lucy Tobin is a senior writer at the Evening Standard, author and blogger.

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