by Reporter, Srikumar S. RaoCHALLENGE
Last May, Communications Manager Matt Pitchford was
hired to make his company IIRC (now TruStar Solutions) more
famous, a difficult task for a firm that at the time had an
acronym for a name and a limited PR budget.
He had exactly ten months to make measurable, significant,
The goal was to increase name recognition and trust in the
Company's target market (C-level executives in the Fortune 1000
who might make or influence the purchase of HR technology
consulting services in the six-figures).
In the past the Company had relied almost 100% on word-of-mouth
recommendations to grow. It did not have a track record or
much name recognition with people outside of its customers and
friends of customers.
Which meant it was not on the radar of trade journalists seeking
interviews or and trade show organizers choosing speakers. All
that had to change. CAMPAIGN
First, before starting a frantic PR initiative,
Pitchford stepped back and carefully conducted a baseline survey
to find out how IIRC was viewed already.
He first-class mailed a printed survey to a sample of names drawn
from the Company's database of clients and active prospects. One
week later, non-respondents were telephoned and prodded to
complete the survey.
The results showed that 72% of respondents could define what type
of services the Company offered. Pitchford knew this meant he
had his work cut out for him. When 28% of your clients and key
prospects are not sure what you do, you can be sure the rest of
the world has no idea.
Pitchford attacked the PR problem by deploying three tactics more
or less simultaneously.
-> Tactic A: Steady Stream of Press Releases <-
After identifying the appropriate editorial contacts at more than
300 print and Web-based HR publications (link below to resource),
Pitchford launched a regular press release schedule. His five
tips for release success:
Tip 1. Be regular, but vary your pitch.
"My goal was one release a month. I didn’t want to send too
often, but didn't want it not to be often enough," notes
He varied the topic of the release carefully each month as well,
figuring that reporters would start to think of the Company as a
well-rounded resource for stories. "I did financial stats one
month, a partnership agreement the next month, a famous client
coming on board one month, a release on diversity in the
workplace, a release on outsourcing staffing overseas, etc."
Tip 2. Copywrite subject lines and intro notes.
Your email for the release and the headline of the release itself
should feature a gripping subject line (No, "Press release from:"
is not gripping).
Email is a personal medium, so instead of just sending the
release alone, Pitchford prefaced each with a brief personal note
to that reporter. The note was just two-three sentences long,
and quickly explained why their particular publication's readers
would be interested in this news.
Tip 3. Do not send attachments.
Really and truly DO NOT. Many firewalls screen them out. Pitchford discovered
this the hard way when his first release, sent as an attachment, was promptly bounced by dozens of media company email security
He learned to send releases in the body of the email itself. If
further details, graphics or data were required, he would simply post
them on his site and give the reporter a link.
Tip 4. Follow-up by phone (very carefully).
Since reporters get dozens or even hundreds of releases a day,
and they are quicker to can the pitches from companies they have
never heard of, Pitchford knew conducting a follow-up call
campaign was essential to his success.
The only problem is that reporters are infamous for loathing PR people who
call up to say, ""Hi, Did you get my release?"
Pitchford carefully used three tactics to ensure his calls
were appreciated instead of hated:
o Only calling a few most targeted press. Pitchford selected
just the right two dozen or so reporters from his 300+ list
for each releases' round of calls.
o Giving additional information in the call. His message was
that he had more information to give, perhaps an angle to
the story that would fit that particular reporter's beat.
Instead of being a time-waste to a busy reporter on
deadline, his call was personal and interesting.
o Limiting to one single call only. Reporters hate being
hounded, so if Pitchford got voicemail, he left a message
with his pitch. If he heard nothing, he simply let it rest
until a future date when he had another relevant pitch for
that particular reporter.
-> Tactic B: Planting by-lined articles <-
Pitchford was lucky in that many of his Company's executives were
fairly good at writing, and full of ideas for informational
articles. His job became one of fertilizing and harvesting
the articles and then distributing them to appropriate outlets.
- Polish the piece. Executives know their stuff. They frequently
cannot communicate it well in writing. In one case Pitchford took
an article that had suffered rounds of rejects, removed some
potentially offensive references, and had it picked up
- Even if your article is fantastic, many media will not pick it up
unless they know who you are. Pitchford recommends that you
start with the small pubs, the ones that will accept almost
anything. Then when you graduate to the bigger, better known ones
you have the credibility of being a 'published' author.
(Note: The absolute top-tier pubs often do not accept any outside
articles at all, so know your media before you waste time
pitching to them.)
- Do not send the article to everyone. Lower tier pubs will
publish almost anything, but as you work your way up the food
chain, the editors get pickier about requiring exclusives. If
you have already planted an article in one place, you must let the
other publications you have offered it to know.
Pitchford started by sending articles to seven or eight targeted
simultaneously (instead of hundreds). If an editor requested
exclusivity, it was easy to ask the other publications not to
publish. (It also let them know they should grab their next
chance more swiftly.)
If no one was interested, he moved on to the next seven on his
When one of the largest pubs wanted a particular article, but
expressed its interest too late, Pitchford used the situation as
an excuse to build a relationship with the editor. Now he offers
them first crack at subsequent related stories. The offer was
accepted and resulted in many placements.
- Timing helps. Tie your story to hot news stories, but do not hold
back if you can not do this. You honestly never know what will
strike some editor's fancy and lead him or her to pick up a
- Craft your headlines. They have to offer value right away. Many
of his first headlines were ho-hum. Sometimes hours of work were
needed to make them spring alive.
- Milk each placement for all it is worth. Pitchford places each
article on the Company website and also includes a link back to
the publication's site. With permission from the publisher,
Pitchford prints copies with that publication's logo to
distributed to clients and prospects.
-> Tactic C: Speaking at industry events <-
Pitchford also wanted to plant his Company's key executives as
speakers at major HR-related events.
First he made a calendar of events and broke it into three
"A shows" are really well regarded, well attended national or
international shows. There will only be two or three of these
in an industry. You need to get in your speaking proposal up
to a year before the show happens.
"B shows" are also national but less well attended. You need
to propose your speech six-eight months prior to the show.
"C shows" are regional or extremely specialized. You can
sometimes get speaking gigs within three-four months of the
It is very tough to plant speakers from a lesser known firm at an
"A show." Just as with planting articles in publications, you have to start with the Cs and work your way to the As. Pitchford
says, "You push that snowball down the hill."
To have the best shot at landing the gig, tailor your standard
speech proposal to the specific audience. You speech can have an
"envelope" of tailored content relating to that industry around
the core of basic ideas you always focus on.
For example, by changing the title and real-life stories, a
presentation on Internet recruiting can be made to restaurant
associations, retailer associations or college recruiting groups.
To garner sales leads from your speaking session, offer all
attendees an extra piece of valuable information, such as a
white paper or useful article reprint, if they give their
business card to you after the speech. If your offer is
interesting enough be prepared for a "podium rush."
Pitchford notes that he has learned to station a second staffer in
the room with his speaker to help out if too many people are
waiting for attention at the podium after the speech. It is your
best chance to establish a relationship with a hot prospect, so
you do not want anyone to drift away before you can chat with
Last but not least, Pitchford conducted a follow-up survey after
10 months on the job to see how well he had moved the needle.
Getting lots of clippings is one thing, changing actual
perceptions is another.
This time 92% of clients and prospects knew what the Company did. That is an increase of 20 points.
- By reminding people to fill out a survey, Pitchford was able to
get 22% of his targeted list to fill out the postal mailed
survey. When he tested combining phone reminders with emailed
invitations containing a hotlink to an online version of a
survey, he got a 59% response rate.
- Pitchford spotted 55 mentions or stories generated by his press releases. He notes that he did not have a budget for a clipping service or to subscribe to many of the paid-only publications in the HR field, so the 55-figure is definitely a low-ball.
In general releases got two-six documented pick-ups. However one release was picked up much more than that. Interestingly, it
was not on a topic that Pitchford thought was all that fascinating, which goes to show pitching a wide variety of
stories can pay off unexpectedly.
- In addition to release mentions, eight journalists requested
interviews with Pitchford's CEO.
- Pitchford managed to get 32 bylined article placements. Some
were instant, others took months. You have to work away at it.
- Company executives landed eight speaking gigs at trade shows.
Pitchford says the combined PR campaigns have made a huge impact.
"The media and key players have all given us feedback of, 'Oh I
did not even realize you guys did all those other services.' As
if we hadn't tried to pound it into their heads in the past."
Pitchford's Company: http://www.trustarsolutions.com
Link to service Pitchford uses to help him locate reporters and
speaking gigs in the HR field: