Don’t Shy Away From Self-Promotion: The Case for Making Public Relations a Priority - Craft Your Content
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Don’t Shy Away From Self-Promotion: The Case for Making Public Relations a Priority

Entrepreneurs wear many hats—no surprise there.

Planning, budgeting, customer service, emailing, writing, invoicing, marketing—the list is endless. However, there’s one key responsibility many content creators and marketers tend to neglect: public relations (PR).

Believe me, I get it. As the founder of Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co), a boutique communications agency I started in 2016, PR is the last task I want to think about when I have a laundry list of to-dos to keep my business afloat.

However, with nearly a decade of PR experience, I know firsthand the importance of developing stories and sharing them with the media. I’m well aware of the power that a successful PR campaign can have on a business.

It’s something you should be aware of, too. Developing a PR campaign around your own personal brand and story is something every content creator should consider doing—especially since you’re likely already writing. You, unlike many other business owners, already have the tools and skills to craft a strong PR pitch.

While self-promotion may make you feel a bit uncomfortable, PR actually can make a difference, and many content creators are missing out on serious opportunities by pushing PR to the back burner.

What the Heck Is PR Anyway?

At its very core, PR is about telling stories and allowing your message to be seen and heard by the audiences you most want to reach. A PR campaign involves working directly with journalists to tell your story to their audience through their platform. PR is about relationship building with the media and with your key audiences.

Take this story on Entrepreneur about BrandYourself cofounder Pete Kistler, for example. How do you think Entrepreneur learned about Kistler? It’s possible this particular journalist stumbled upon this story on their own, but more likely, Kistler or someone in his camp pitched the story directly.

That’s PR—brainstorming compelling ideas, finding a unique angle, and identifying the right journalist to write the story.

Time for Some Tough Love: Get Over Your Fear of Self-Promotion

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“But I hate self-promotion.”

“Ugh, it feels weird to talk about myself.”

I know. Sending an email to a journalist saying, “Hey, write about me!” can feel a little bit self-indulgent.

Sometimes in our businesses, we have to conquer our fears and do things that scare us.

But here’s the truth: Everyone has a story to tell, and our stories matter. Stories can inspire, and they can make a difference. You sharing your struggles, your passions, and your lessons can be the catalyst that changes someone else’s world just a little bit.

Self-promotion doesn’t happen only when you have a product to sell or a course to fill. Maybe you’re a travel blogger helping your audience plan the perfect vacation or a budding comedian with a podcast making your audience laugh or smile throughout their day. You’re making a difference in your own small way, and that’s a story worth telling.

When you shift your mindset from “This feels icky” to “Wow, I can actually help someone here,” the idea of promoting yourself begins to make more sense.

The Case for Making PR a Priority

Here’s why PR is important for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and content creators:

  • PR builds credibility for you and your business. A strong PR campaign can help position you or your company as a thought leader in your chosen space. PR can help to enhance your company’s reputation.
  • PR is cost-effective. While advertising costs money, PR is free. Of course, you’ll still need to budget for the time it takes to do PR, but at the end of the day, no one will be sending you a bill.
  • PR can drive traffic to your website. Think about it this way: You probably have a website or blog, but your local newspaper or a site like Forbes likely gets way more traffic than you do. By earning a media placement elsewhere, you increase the chances of traffic being sent to your blog. Plus, an earned media hit can help your search engine optimization efforts.
  • PR can send new customers or clients your way. Most importantly, PR can impact the bottom line. A story in a prominent newspaper or online publication can introduce your business to new prospective customers.

It Actually Works! A PR Success Story

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What’s the old saying? “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

As a PR pro by trade, I know the importance of media relations. However, like the cobbler being unaware or unwilling to use his skills to help himself and his family, I wasn’t dedicating the time to get the results my brand needed. After a year into running my communications consulting business, I knew I had to turn my attention to my own PR efforts to share my entrepreneurship story.

But first, I needed a compelling hook.

With college graduation season around the corner, I wondered if I might find media success by hooking my personal story to a timely and newsy angle. I did research around recent grads and the elusive post-college job search. I quickly found many supporting statistics showing that in today’s work climate, new grads are actually turning away from traditional careers in favor of entrepreneurship.

Bingo! I had my angle.

The research and statistics supported my personal story of quitting a stable nine-to-five job to start a business.

Writing the Pitch and Finding a Partner

I began drafting the pitch that I planned to send to members of the media, and in the process of writing, I realized the story might be even more appealing with an added voice besides my own.

I enlisted the help of Brian Hart, a fellow business owner and PR pro in the Philadelphia area. Since we were close in age with similar stories of how we launched our businesses, I had a hunch that, together, we could make more of a media splash. (As an added bonus, Hart and I share an alma mater, helping to make our case in pitching our former university.)

We co-wrote a short email pitch, cited recent research, briefly shared our stories, and included a call to action to interview us on the topic. Most importantly, we positioned our story as a trend piece—we didn’t simply email journalists asking them to share our personal stories with no purpose in mind.

For content creators looking to share their story, finding a fellow writer to partner with may make sense. I recommend seeking out someone whose story is similar enough to yours in scope that it proves your angle is a newsworthy trend, but different enough that you’re not necessarily promoting your competition.

As an example, say you’re a food blogger focused on making delicious desserts who’s hoping to pitch your story to media in the Philadelphia region. Partner with a fellow local food blogger, but make sure they focus their content on something entirely different from desserts, like slow cooker meals or vegan dishes only. Your partnership makes sense, and you’re not in direct competition with one another.

When seeking out a pitching partner, focus on finding someone already in your network. PR is too important a task to simply find someone you don’t yet know on LinkedIn or Twitter. If no one is coming to mind right away, consider sending the pitch yourself, and focusing your efforts on building your network for future pitches.

The Pitch

Here’s the pitch Hart and I jointly distributed to select members of the media.

Subject line: It’s Graduation Season! Why More Millennials Are Opting for Entrepreneurship

Hi X,

College graduation season has arrived, and all over the country, newly minted grads are searching for jobs. However, not all of them are looking for traditional work.

According to a 2016 analysis from the Kauffman Foundation, startup activity in the U.S. is on the rise, and women and millennials are leading the charge. In today’s work climate, where turnover is high and job satisfaction is low, it’s not surprising that millennials are opting for entrepreneurship.

Jessica Lawlor, a 29-year-old from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania in Montgomery County, is one such millennial who left behind a stable nine-to-five job in public relations to follow her dreams of running a boutique communications agency.

“It started with my blog, Get Gutsy. The blog led to freelance opportunities, and before I knew it, I was waking up every day at 5 a.m. to pursue my side hustle before work,” said Jessica. “I reached a tipping point in 2015 where it was no longer sustainable to juggle a full-time job and a growing business. I quit my job and started Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co).”

Brian Hart, 30, worked in financial communications post-graduation, until he realized that there needed to be a change in the traditional public relations model. In 2014, at the age of 27, Brian created his own Philadelphia-based public relations and digital marketing agency, Flackable.

“Leaving a stable job to launch your own business is like jumping off a cliff,” says Brian. “But I knew that the temporary pain of failure would be nothing compared to the lasting regret I’d have for not trying.”

Adweek recently recognized him as an emerging communication leader in their annual PR Industry 30 Under 30 article.

Jessica and Brian are part of a group of more than 18 million independent workers in the U.S., a number that is expected to grow to approximately 40 million by the year 2019.

I’d be happy to provide more information about this growing trend and set up an interview.

Thank you for considering!

Hitting “Send”

Together, Hart and I created a list of our top media targets.

Our list included local newspaper publications like The Philadelphia Inquirer, along with publications from our alma mater, Temple University, and digital business/entrepreneurship- focused websites like Business News Daily and The Penny Hoarder.

We divided and conquered, each sending out a handful of pitches one by one, personalizing each message along the way.

And then we waited.

The Results

Here’s the not-so-sexy part about PR: It takes time.

Hart and I sent the pitch to about 10 journalists on May 24, 2017. The first media hit that went live was published on July 3, 2017—nearly two months after first sending the pitch. The latest story was just published in March of 2018, almost a year after hitting “send” on the initial pitch!

PR requires patience, but the results are often worth the wait.

The story appeared in Business News Daily, Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication online publication, The Penny Hoarder, and Temple magazine.

One media hit in particular packed a punch: This profile from The Penny Hoarder written by author Jamie Cattanach. The story was viewed more than 23,000 times the week it was published and shared nearly 500 times on Facebook.

This one media hit had a major impact on my business:

  • My website was flooded with traffic from The Penny Hoarder.
  • Fifty new people joined my email list the week the post was published.
  • I received dozens of congratulatory emails and notes from people in my network, giving me the chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues.
  • I also received emails from a handful of new folks, leading to conversations and potential business opportunities down the line.

A Step-by-Step Guide for Landing Your First Media Placement

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Now that you understand why PR is important, it’s time to plan your first pitch. Follow this step-by-step guide for landing your first media placement.

1. Brainstorm Story Angles

First, you’ll need to come up with an angle for your pitch.

What is the story you’re hoping to tell?

From there, you’ll need to determine if there’s a timely hook (like college graduation, in my case), recent research supporting your story (more college grads are turning to entrepreneurship), or a local angle (I’m a business owner from Philadelphia, where I did the majority of my pitching).

2. Craft Your Pitch

Time to start writing. Keep these important points in mind when communicating with the media:

  • Keep your pitch concise. Journalists are busy, and many receive hundreds of emails in a single day. A short pitch (think 2-3 paragraphs or under 300 words) will help a media pro quickly determine if your story is a fit. For comparison, my pitch with Brian was about 330 words. You’ll have the chance to share more details later if a journalist expresses interest. Also remember to include plenty of white space for easier reading.
  • Personalize your pitch. When asked why they immediately reject otherwise relevant pitches, 22 percent of journalists cited lack of personalization, according to Muck Rack’s Annual Journalist Survey. (Quick disclosure: Muck Rack is one of my clients.) Use the journalist’s name, point to other pieces they’ve written, and explain why your story is relevant specifically to them.
  • Include a call to action. Don’t forget that the point of this exercise is to entice a journalist to want to have a further conversation with you. Be sure to include a call to action at the end, whether that’s an interview or offering to send over a supporting video, business website, or writing sample.

3. Identify Your Media Targets and Send the Pitch

Now that you’ve finessed your pitch, you need to identify your top media targets. Who do you want to tell this particular story?

Think about the following categories:

  • Local publications. Your town newspaper or geographically close-by media outlets may be most interested in your story because you offer a local perspective.
  • National/international publications. Depending on your line of work, you may work with national or international clients, so it might make sense to research publications elsewhere, too.
  • Business outlets. If you’re a fellow business owner or entrepreneur, you likely want to connect with some of the more popular entrepreneurial blogs, websites, and publications.
  • Your alma mater. Don’t discount your alma mater, no matter what that may mean to you! Many high schools, colleges, sororities/fraternities, places of worship, and professional associations have publications that are constantly looking for content. Because you already have a personal connection, your story is that much more appealing to these outlets.

Here’s an important tip to keep in mind as you consider who you want to tell your story: The right journalist for your story isn’t necessarily a top business reporter with Forbes or a high-profile anchor on CNN. Be realistic about where you are in your business; there’s no shame in pitching a smaller niche blog or hyperlocal newspaper.

Quality over quantity matters. Just because a publication has millions of readers doesn’t mean those readers are interested in your specific topic or story. Instead, identify the audiences that will actually make a difference, and base your journalist research on those criteria.

Finding media contacts can be a challenge if you don’t have access to a media database, but a simple Google search, checking a publication’s “contact us” page, or scouring Twitter can often help you find the email addresses you’re looking for.

Once you’ve identified your media contacts, hit “send” on your pitch.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply from a reporter right away. Following up is an important part of a successful PR campaign. I recommend waiting at least a week to send a follow-up, and if you still don’t hear back, it may be time to move on from that particular reporter.

4. Promote Your Media Clips

Landed a media clip? Congratulations! Your work isn’t over yet though.

Earning a media placement is great, but the real benefit comes from sharing the article with your network, customers, clients, and community. Plus, journalists are often evaluated by the reach of their stories, so you’re continuing to nurture that relationship by helping to spread the word about their work.

Share the article on your social media channels, send it out in a newsletter, and of course, share it on your own website or blog.

5. Tell Your Story on Your Own Channels

Unfortunately, as strong as your story may be, your PR efforts won’t be a slam dunk every single time.

However, there’s still power in telling that story through your own channels—this is called owned media.

If you’ve determined that no journalists are interested in telling this particular story, consider publishing it yourself on your website/blog or a free site like LinkedIn or Medium.

As with any piece of content, you’ll want to make sure you enlist a trusted writer friend to edit your piece, and let you know if the story strikes the tone and packs the punch you intended. Treat this piece of content as importantly as you would if a member of the media were to cover it on your behalf.

After you’ve self-published your story, don’t forget to spread the word through social media and share it with members of your network, so they in turn can share it with theirs.

 

Make It Happen

As a content creator often tasked with telling the stories of others, it’s easy to forget that our own stories matter, too.

And no doubt, sharing your vision with your audience through the media can be extremely beneficial for your business’s growth and success, helping you to make new connections, grow your audience/readership, and even find new clients.

PR is a strategic way to authentically tell your story through the lens of the all-important third-party endorsement.

While PR takes time and effort, with practice, patience, and creativity, you’ll begin to reap the benefits and see positive results for your brand’s bottom line and reputation.

About the Author Jessica Lawlor

Jessica Lawlor is the founder and CEO of Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co), a specialty communications agency focused on content management and creation and public relations. She's an accomplished writer, speaker and personal branding expert in the Philadelphia area. Check out her blog, focusing on the ins and outs of running a business, productivity and stepping outside your comfort zone.

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