April 04, 2008

How to Do Your Own PR Campaign: 8 Steps & 3 Mistakes to Avoid

SUMMARY: As the head of a startup company, you might not have the cash flow needed to hire a PR agency or consultant for your first campaign. So, you might be thinking: Is PR really necessary? To resolve your quandary, here is a step-by-step guide on how to do a basic start-up campaign in-house. Plus, three pitfalls to avoid.
Contact Information
Charles Epstein
BackBone Inc.
20404 Hacienda Court, Suite 1
Boca Raton, FL 33498

Epstein is President and Founder of BackBone Inc., a marketing, PR and business development company. Before starting the company in 1996, he was a Partner and Sr. VP Marketing at Internet Partners Inc., a business consulting and integration company.

Epstein’s articles and comments have appeared in publications, such as Sales & Marketing Management, Employee Benefits News, Workspan and eSchool News. He also co-hosts a nationally syndicated sports radio show.

Eight Steps to Creating a PR campaign
Announcing the birth of your company or a new product or service to the world for the first time might seem like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. As with most things in life, the simpler it is, the better.

“It shouldn’t be a big scary thing,” Epstein says. “With some basic guidance … you can pretty much, for several months, take PR in-house and see some pretty good results.”

-> Step #1. Define your company

First things first. Sit down with your CEO or President (this could be you) and your key people and decide how you want to define your company. Hint: It’s important to define the company the way your potential customers would define it. Let’s say you’re a peanut butter maker. Define yourself in plain, clear language. Don’t say you’re a peanut grinding and creamery company because it sounds more professional. Think about yourself in a pithy way.

“People want a quick handle to identify you,” Epstein says. “The quicker, more succinctly, more compellingly you get that across, the better.”

-> Step #2. Crystallize your message

Next, decide what your company’s core message is. It should explain what problems your products/services address and how they do that.

Again, you should think of how your customers would describe you. Look at your company from their point of view. Think about what would strike a chord with them.

Tip: Get written testimonials from customers if you can. Write case studies on how your product/service helped a client. This can help to crystallize your message.

-> Step #3. Keep first press release simple

Your first press release shouldn’t be filled with too many details -- especially if it’s announcing your company. You can get into more detail in the second and third press releases when you speak to something a little more concrete, Epstein says, such as a new product or partnership.

The first press release should achieve three things:
o Let people know what you’re offering
o Let people know what problem you can solve
o Let people know why your solution is better than anything else

For the writing style and format, look at examples on PR Newswire, PRWeb or at pieces from the top PR firms. Note where the first quotation is placed, etc.

Tip: Think about what is going to happen during the next 3-6 months. What initiatives, new products, new partnerships can be announced? Come up with a rough schedule so you can plan when you will release the first, second and third press releases.

-> Step #4. Prioritize your markets

Does your product/service appeal to several industries or markets? Then your press releases should target those verticals. But first, you need to decide which verticals to target. And if your product or service solves a different problem in each industry/market, you might have to change the wording to reflect that.

-> Step #5. Identify media targets

Ask your PR group: “What do you read?” “What publications would you like to get into?” There are always going to be the big industry publications, such as the tech world’s InformationWeek.

The best way to target these publications is to look on their websites and see how they prefer to receive story pitches and press releases. Or, better yet, find the reporter who covers the beat for your business. If the publication includes their email address, send your release directly to the reporter.

Or, you can read all of Sherpa’s previous PR interviews with journalists ranging from CNBC to The New York Times. We’ve done all the work for you! Click here:

“If you have a vertical application, you want to get into those vertical publications,” Epstein says.

Consumer marketers might want to send press releases to those publications your customers read. It might be Cosmo. It might be Better Homes and Gardens. The same rules apply.

Tip: You can post your press release on PR Newswire, but it will cost hundreds of dollars (plus a membership fee) to get a single 400-word press release distributed nationally. Epstein suggests PRWeb as a cheaper alternative. The benefits of posting: Your press release could turn into a story, it could get mentioned on a Yahoo! News or Google News portal, it could become easier to find on search engines.

-> Step #6. Identify industry pundits

Every industry has influential people who blog, write monthly columns in key publications, or send out newsletters. They are the sought-after speakers – the experts in the industry. You want to start a dialogue with those people, Epstein says.

When you see an interesting blog post, article, email or column, respond to it. But vet your comments first with other people in your company who can check it for tone and mistakes.

-> Step #7. Follow up with reporters and editors

This is the most important step. And follow-up isn’t just asking if a reporter or editor has received your press release.

Epstein suggests following up with something of value to the publication, such as a relevant study, statistic or trend. Your press release might not be newsworthy, but if you send an editor or reporter some information that is newsworthy, you might have a better chance of being mentioned in an article.

Epstein suggests contacting a reporter two days after you send the initial release. Make sure you attach an announcement, news, or something about your company to the study, statistic or trend information you’re sending.

Tip: Occasionally it’s a good idea to let the CEO/President do the follow-up to a press release. It might get you greater notice or response from a publication.

-> Step #8. Check out editorial calendars

PR is opportunistic, as well as proactive, so you need to know what’s going on in the publications you’re pitching to. One way to do this is by keeping up to date on their editorial calendars.

Most publications have special topics they focus on each month or special annual reports. You can find editorial calendars on the publication’s website, either in the advertising section or in the media kit. If not, ask for it.

Three Pitfalls to avoid
Doing your PR in-house can have a few disadvantages. Here are three common pitfalls to avoid:

-> Mistake #1. Send angry comments to editors and reporters

Stay calm when you don’t like something you read. People often send angry responses, Epstein says, and it can damage relationships with a publication in the long-term.

-> Mistake #2. Don’t involve CEO/President in the whole PR process.

This is a critical mistake. The CEO/President knows the company, its history, its products and its performance the best. S/he might not be the most articulate, conversant or media-savvy, but this exec’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the company can overcome that.

Tip: Use an outside PR agency as a referee if you’re squabbling over the first two mistakes. An in-house staff should be able to “speak truth to power.” Still, it depends on the circumstances.

-> Mistake #3. Be overly aggressive in your follow-up.

Don’t use someone on your staff who isn’t polished or who follows up in a very aggressive fashion. This is not going to create the results you want and could chill your company’s relationship with a writer moving forward, Epstein says.

Why PR Is Important
Getting early media exposure is good for a startup company. It can validate your firm in consumers’ minds. “Any company can tout how great it is,” Epstein says. “But if you can get someone else to bestow virtues, it’s more credible and impactful.”

That someone else could be a writer, a columnist or a pundit. In general, an article in a trade publication, for instance, has the same weight for customers as three ads in the same publication.

Useful links related to this article

PR Newswire:

PR Web:

BackBone Inc.:

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