June 11, 2004
Want your Blog to be more famous? We asked real-life blogger Kent Pingel (aka Wi-Fi Guy) how he's gained 2,000 unique visitors per month and growing. Plus, he shares specific tips on landing interviews with local press (useful even if you don't write a blog.)
With blogs sprouting like mushrooms on every topic imaginable, getting traffic to and media coverage for your small slice of the universe is not easy.
A unique media angle helps. Kent Pingel, otherwise known as the Wi-Fi Guy, sees between 400-500 unique visitors a week to his blog (link below.) We talked to Pingel about how to use a PR stunt to snag media coverage, and other techniques to increase blog traffic.
Technique #1. Tie a PR stunt to your blog -- then write about it
Beginning on April 19 in Amarillo, TX, Pingel began the Wi-Fi Guy road trip, traveling across the country in a bright orange Ford Expedition, checking out wi-fi hot spots, and blogging about the experience.
"Step one is to create something people will be interested in," he says. "Step two is to promote it." Pingel courted the media every step of the way, landing stories about his tour and the blog in the Washington Post and San Diego Union Tribune, among others.
Here's how he did it:
--Step a. News release to every city on the tour
Pingel sent a release to the major newspapers in every city he'd be visiting before he went on tour, then hit the road.
--Step b. Another release 2-3 days before he arrives in each market
Pingel sent the release to business and high tech editors via either email or fax (he called to find out which they preferred).
The email included a personal note to the editor, something such as: Hey, Mrs. Smith, the Wi-Fi Guy will be in your town on Friday. Thought you might be interested in this blog….
He included a link and attached the press release.
(Note: contrary to what we hear from editors, Pingel says he has never had a problem with editors not opening attachments. He attributes that in part to the fact that he uses a "good, descriptive subject line, something like, 'Wi-Fi Guy is traveling the country and will be in Sacramento such-and-such a date.'")
--Step c. Personal phone calls
"I have lots of driving time, so I get on the phone," Pingel says. Beyond letting each editor know he's on his way and will be available for interviews, he asks about *them*.
"Any time you contact a journalist, it's a good practice to say, 'What's news in Seattle today?'" he says. "They love to tell people what the news is, and it also lets you know what you're up against."
Pingel arrived in Phoenix the day Pat Tillman, who gave up a chance to play football for the Arizona Cardinals in order to join the Army Rangers, was killed in Afghanistan. "I knew the news would be covering that and didn't waste their time pitching them," he says.
"I did go to the stadium where they were filming and sat around and chatted with them," he explains. "Every TV station was there and they had a lot of free time where they were just sitting around. I tried to be diplomatic, just said, 'Hey, I know you're on this story now but maybe in a few days you'll have some free time and you'll be interested in me.'"
--Step d. Local media alert
The day Pingel arrived in a city, he sent a heads-up to editors. The note reminded them that he'd be in town and was available for interviews. He also mentioned that from a journalistic standpoint, he'd love to meet and hear their thoughts on wi-fi.
"People are people," he says. He likes to "go one-on-one, have a cup of coffee and ask them about the wi-fi spots they're aware of, and not be 100 percent pitching my story. I'm curious to see what they can tell me, and it's human nature that they like to tell what they've found."
--Step e. Links to previous media coverage
When Pingel started getting serious press hits (on Wi-fiplanet.com and Washingtonpost.com, for example) he'd include links to the coverage.
"Sending links is a judgment call," he acknowledges. "Some press might think, 'Well, that's already been covered.' You have to speculate whether that's going to rub them the wrong way."
It's relatively safe to send links to regional newspapers, because they want a local angle and generally don't care if another city covered it. The exception might be big city newspapers with national distribution.
Trade magazines, on the other hand, want to know that other trades *haven't* covered your story. (But you already know that, right?)
Technique #2. PR without a PR stunt
You don't have to do a giant stunt to get journalists to cover your blog. Pingel mentions another wi-fi searcher who was traveling in a much smaller geographic area, "and he got some press on it," he says. "If it's a creative idea, you can get some press, but the more ambitious the project, your odds go up."
On the other hand, it's not necessary to do a stunt at all. "Content is key, that's rule number one." If you've got a strong blog, you can publicize it the way you would anything else: distribute a press release and contact journalists.
Pingel used PR newswire to distribute his release nationally. Make sure you show statistics, he suggests: "X amount of people are going to my blog every day, I was contacted by a users group, other people think it's cool," he says. "It's like an unofficial endorsement."
Technique #3. Chat rooms
"This is probably the most accessible way to promote a blog," Pingel says. "Go to chat rooms, drop a mention."
Can you do this without being blatantly self-promotional? Yes, but you have to be careful. "Give some good information. I might say, 'Hey, if this isn't too self-serving, you might be interested in my site.' I'm not apologetic, but I try to give them something they're interested in as well."
Technique #4. Other blogs
Find a few top blogs that cover your area of interest, and search their archives. Have other bloggers contacted them and mentioned their own blog? If so, was the response positive or did the new blogger get flamed?
As with any medium, "Do your homework," Pingel says. "If I'm going to pitch the Wall Street Journal, I'll read who's writing about blogs and what they're saying."
Once you identify blogs open to mentioning other blogs, offer useful info along with your site.
Technique #5. Find a sponsor
Pingel had the idea for the Wi-Fi Guy for some time before he launched the blog and tour. "Every time I was at Starbucks using wi-fi, strangers approached me about it," he says. "Nobody was telling people about wi-fi."
He pitched his idea to the PR team at T-Mobile. "They told me they thought it was a good idea," he says. "That's the last I heard from them."
But, as with most bloggers, Pingel works a day job -- as Director of Media and Public Relations for CI Host.
The company's CEO had backed guerilla marketing stunts in the past (bidding $7,000 on eBay for the right to tattoo the company's logo on the back of a man's head), so Pingel approached him.
"He said, 'Hey, that's a great idea, let's do it,'" he says.
As the sponsor, CI Host provided the Ford Expedition and giveaways for the trip. It also hosts and lends an air of credibility to the blog.
Technique #6. Good old-fashioned word of mouth
Don't underestimate it. "I tell everyone, 'Tell a friend, visit the site,'" Pingel says. He recently met a woman who had a friend who lived in one of the cities he had visited. He suggested that she tell her friend about his blog, where she could read about his trip to her city.
"The friend sent me an email, saying, 'Hey, I like what you wrote about Boise, I like the city, too, and when will you put the photographs up?' It's friend to friend, peer to peer.'"
Basically, Pingel says, "I went out and knocked on doors." And it's working. Every time a story hits a newspaper, Pingel watches his blog visits increase.
Wi-Fi Guy -- http://www.wifi-guy.com/