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How to secure media coverage on a small (or non-existent) PR budget

How to secure media coverage on a small (or non-existent) PR budget – Five tips and one uncomfortable truth from a former journalist

By Sean O’Meara – CEO of Essential Content, an independent PR and content agency.

Earning media coverage for your brand or business is always nice. At the very least, it’s something to show friends and family. At best, it can revolutionise your business. Media coverage brings with it a variety of benefits that can have a direct impact on morale, sales profits and growth.

All media coverage amplifies your brand presence and means, in simple terms, that more people have heard of you. But it’s always better to get positive media coverage.

That said, even negative or neutral media coverage can lead to more people knowing about you and possibly buying your product or service.

Protein World acquired hundreds of thousands of new customers in just a few days after their brand received reams of – albeit, mostly negative – press coverage, for their infamous ‘beach body ready’ campaign.

Media coverage also builds trust. You can use your own media coverage to enhance brand trust in a variety of ways. A common one is called an “authority bar”. You’ll have seen these. You arrive at a website and you’re greeted with a banner that proclaims proudly “As seen in Forbes, Esquire, Men’s Health” etc.

These tend to enhance trust and improve the conversion rate of a website.

So how do you achieve media coverage?

It’s not easy, and it’s not always straightforward. In fact, here’s an uncomfortable truth that a lot of publicists don’t tell their clients.

Hardly anybody cares about your product or your business, even if it’s great.

Unless you’re Apple or Uber, journalists (the gatekeepers to media coverage) need more than “this product exists” or “we’re launching a new app” to get their readers excited.

They want research, data and expertise. In short, you need to tell a story.

 So how can you get high impact coverage without spending thousands on PR?

Here are six tips that might help.

Tip 1. Tell stories, don’t promote products

Modern journalists are judged in part by how many people read their content. At some newspapers, they’re judged EXCLUSIVELY by how many people read their stories. So they are always interested in stories that will get their readers engaged and sharing.

What is the one subject guaranteed to get a person interested?

It’s quite obvious when you think about it. Everyone’s favourite subject, whether they admit it or not, is themselves.

People love reading about themselves.

This doesn’t mean pitching thousands of stories about individual people, that would be impossible and highly boring. It means telling stories in which people can see themselves.

For example, one of the first big PR stories I worked on was about people stealing from self-service checkouts.

This story was covered widely. It even made it onto Australian TV.

Why? Because pretty much everyone has an opinion on it.

They have a personal experience relating to the topic. It’s about them. Self service checkouts aren’t inherently interesting, but everyone has skin in this game. Some of us have done it and won’t admit it, some of us are open about scanning an avocado as an onion, some of us are outraged at the very idea – but 99.9% of us will have an opinion.

This story in the Daily Mirror for a Manchester surveillance and cyber security company about people secretly taking photographs of strangers was another example of telling stories about people. Everyone’s either done it, had it done to them, or thought about it.

Tip 2. Be useful

A journalist may not care about your product (yet), but they may be interested in hearing your take on how Brexit is going to impact to Manchester tech scene, or how GDPR will influence banking, or how Facebook’s new approach to data privacy will harm small online businesses.

Use the #journorequest Twitter hashtag to connect with journalists who need experts in real time.

Journalists also need data, images, case studies and help with research. Look out for journalists who talk about what they’re working on and get in touch offering some assistance.

They may not need it, but it’s always worth trying and nine times out of ten, they’ll welcome the approach.

Tip 3. Be cynical (in a good way).

You’ll be much more likely to get media coverage for your brand if you can work your way into a broader, emerging conversation.

Having relevant talking points prepared ahead of time is a really good way of doing this. Know the news agenda and predict when and where you can be useful.

If you don’t feel like you can add to an existing conversation, steer the conversation in a new direction.

West London removals firm Kiwi Movers did this brilliantly in November 2016, shortly after Donald Trump won the election.

Kiwi Movers had noticed a spike in enquiries to their website from America, so they did some digging around and found that lots more Americans than usual were researching moving to England.

Packaged up nicely, there’s a definite “Is Donald Trump making people want to move to England?” story here.

Because they were smart, they secured great media coverage in The Times using nothing but their own Google Analytics data.

Tip 3. Be specific.

Go deep, not broad. You can’t own broad conversations, but you can own niche ones.

If you’re a new fashion brand, you’re not going to dominate the entire fashion landscape. Laser focus your efforts around specific things relating to fashion.

Style Compare, a London-based fashion discovery website do this very well. Last year, they opened up a national conversation about workplace dress codes. They used polling data to explore the career impact, the financial impact, the mental health impact and various other factors related to the concept of workplace dress codes.

Tip 4. Be precise. 

Target your media carefully. In our experience, you’ll get 80% of your engagement from 20% of your coverage. And you’ll get 80% of your coverage from 20% of your outreach. Identify where your efforts are going to waste and cut that effort out completely.

Don’t waste time pitching to anyone who updates their blog twice a month or doesn’t have any Twitter engagement. And don’t be afraid to aim high. The Guardian, Times, Forbes and the like all need to content ideas and are happy to consider well thought-out PR pitches.

Tools such as Google Analytics, Buzzsumo, AHREFS and Moz.com are great for measuring and tracking coverage. Tools like Gorkana/Cision and Response Source are great for getting in touch with journalists. Twitter is also useful for this, but be careful about appearing ‘spammy’.

Tip 5. Be practical.

The nuts and bolts of PR are so important. It’s all well and good having a great story, but if you make it hard for a journalist to do their job, you’re lowering your chances of success massively.

Back when I was a journalist, I received a phone pitch on behalf of a new author. It was 4.30 on a Friday afternoon, very close to deadline. The publicist was pitching a new book, written by a man about his dog. Nothing groundbreaking there, but intriguing. We had the space to include it (this was back when print was a thing and space mattered), so I invited him to send over more info.

He then emailed a PDF press release, which included an extract for us to reproduce and images that were too small to go into print. Copying from a PDF has always been a nightmare, so I rang the PR back to ask for higher resolution images and a press release in a format I could copy the extract from.

I got his voicemail, so I emailed him and got his out of office message.

I decided to ignore the pitch and write about something else as I didn’t have time to chase it up.

One year later, the book he was trying to promote – Marley And Me – was at the top of the bestseller list and on its way to becoming a feature film. I was furious that I’d missed the chance to cover it before everyone knew about it.

Although I’d missed out, this lesson proves something very important about being practical as a publicist. It doesn’t matter how good the product is – his book was a demonstrably good product – if you make it hard for journalists to do their job and write about it.


Thanks Sean for sharing! Find out more about Essential Content