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Jul 08, 2003
How To

7 Guerrilla-Publicity Tips for Businesses

SUMMARY: How does a fairly small, unknown company in a non-exciting field get more than 1,000 press mentions? In the past three years, Vivek Wadhwa has gotten his company's name everywhere, so we called him up to ask how he did it without a PR budget. The answer is media relations 101 -- nothing earth-shattering. What's earth-shattering is how few marketers follow Wadhwa's example. Here's how to begin...
Despite the fact that Relativity Technologies doesn't have PR budget, nor is it in a red-hot field for news, over the past three years more than 1,000 stories have appeared in the press about the Company.

Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Business 2.0, BusinessWeek ... the top business journalists in America seem to constantly call Relativity's Founder Vivek Wadhwa for quotes.

How does a small company get so much press attention? Wadhwa shared his seven PR tips with us:

Tip #1: Read dozens of business publications

"I read 40 to 50 pubs to get a sense of what is hot," says Wadhwa

Any time Wadhwa reads a piece he likes, he looks up the journalist's name and other stories he/she has written in order to gain a sense of that journalist's beat, approach and biases. Then he occasional sends the journalist personal emails suggesting story angles that he or she might find specifically appealing. This type of guerilla story-pitching is a lot harder than simply sending out a general press release to a few hundred or thousand outlets. But, over time it can provide far greater results.

Tip #2: Hook into the journalist's needs - not yours

"I wanted them to write about my company and how good our product was," says Wadhwa ruefully. "It didn't work." Then he consciously schmoozed journalists to provide data or quotes for stories they were working on -- even if the stories weren't directly related to his Company's technology.

"I met a journalist from US News & World Report who was writing about immigration," says Wadhwa, "So I went out of my way to put him in touch with some of our immigrant employees."

While the story may not result in sales leads for your firm, it will definitely help you build a relationship with the journalist who may call again when they're working on a story closer to your niche.

Tip #3: Give the journalist a news hook

Find some way to tie in what you do to the big news story of the day. "Last year all the pubs wanted to talk about homeland security," says Wadhwa. "So I went to our client roster to see if I could dig up something relevant." It turned out that the Department of Justice in the State of North Carolina was using Relativity's software to overhaul their systems in preparedness for increased security needs. Bingo!

Wadhwa emailed journalists with this angle and got picked up immediately.

Tip #4: Don't ignore small or regional pubs.

"Journalists for tiny regional publications wear many hats and get dumped on a lot," says Wadhwa. "They remember you if you are particularly nice to them and they give you lots of good ink. You make a huge mistake if you scorn this because of small circulation. The biggies look at everything. I've had Wall Street Journal call me to follow up on comments made in a community newspaper."

It's like an avalanche. Get enough small press and the big press will follow, especially if you are there to give well-timed nudges.

Plus, remember that smaller outlets are often training grounds for larger publications. Reporters often take their best contacts list with them when moving up in the world.

Tip #5: Be available (even when you're busy)

Respond fast. Wadhwa gets pulled out of meetings so he can give journalists the sound bites they need. He responds to emails in minutes, even seconds. "A journalist who needs something may approach half a dozen sources," explains Wadhwa. "If you are first and give her what she needs, you are in."

The vast majority of technology company execs can't be reached in seconds for a quick quote on deadline -- so they don't get quoted as frequently as Wadhwa does.

Tip #6: Honesty

"Journalists are smarter than most businesspersons," Wadhwa declares. "They know when you are bullshitting them and they can sniff out hype. Don't try to con them."

This is especially important when it comes to damage control.

Wadhwa got a call from a local reporter when Relativiy's then- President defected to another firm. Unfortunately, Wadhwa was in the middle of raising financing and the last thing he needed was a story in the press about high-level executive turnover.

"Here's what really happened," he told the journalist, "Please work with me to see that you don't damage us with the venture capitalists." The story was marginally negative and a positive slant in it was picked up by the Wall Street Journal.

Tip #7: Reveal strong opinions

Be provocative, even as you are being totally honest. Color definitely helps. Wadhwa was outspoken about the herd mentality of Venture Capitalists and that they didn't do their due diligence and didn't understand the companies they funded and controlled.

"There must be an informal list of 'persons to call if you are doing a story on Venture Capitalists'" jokes Wadhwa and I got at the head of that list."

Final thought:

Remember, says Wadhwa, it doesn't matter how boring your company or industry is. There is something there that, suitably packaged, will make journalists sit up and take notice.

For example, some of Relativity's Russian programmers had once worked for a company that had received contracts from the KGB. So Wadhwa talked about former KGB programmers now making good in capitalism. Major outlets, including Forbes, picked it up.

As this story proves, it's possible to get press coverage even when you don't have a big announcement to make.
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