Having run a small, local magazine for the better part of a decade, I can unequivocally tell you that if you are a small business outsourcing your PR to a small, local public relations firm or individual consultant, you're not getting enough value for your money.
It's honestly a bit shocking to me how poor most of these small firms or individual consultants perform, how little they actually do for you, and how much better you could do on your own if you just invest a little bit of time into it.
Before I go into detail, let me first say that for some organizations, working with an established, reputable PR firm with great media connections can offer a lot of value. But for most SMBs, you either can't afford to work with those companies or simply don't need to. And if you're in PR and you read this and say, "That's not how we do business," then good for you, but I have yet to see proof that you exist.
In my experiences in the publishing industry working with and covering local small businesses, I've been contacted by countless numbers of these firms. Not ONCE did I receive a decent pitch. Seriously; over seven years of getting pitched multiple times every single day, not one. Think about that for a second. That's AT LEAST 3,000 requests for coverage (the real number is probably double), and not one of them was any good.
On the bright side, if you want to start a small, local PR firm, you can do it tomorrow without much trouble. Decide on a business name, call yourself a "boutique agency," find an email address for every print and digital publication in your area, add them all to an email list, pick up a few clients and tell them how good you are and how much outreach you'll do for them. Once a week, write an email with some generic, uninteresting information about your clients, and mass email it to everybody on your press list and hope someone is desperate enough for content to bite. Then just sit back and respond to anybody that may just be that desperate to reply to you.
Ok, so I know I'm being a bit harsh here, but think about how much animosity gets built up over seven years of being pitched garbage over and over again every single day. If you know me, you know my mission is to help SMBs maximize their resources because they're that precious, not throw them away. So it honestly makes me angry knowing that hard-working business owners are paying good money for something they could be doing better themselves in the same amount of time it takes them to communicate with their PR firm and pay their bill every month. Do you know how many of these PR firms simply maintain a Constant Contact or MailChimp account with a list of press outlets? How lazy is that! Unsubscribe.
If you want to take a small but meaningful step up from hiring one of these firms, here's a step-by-step guide to handling your own PR in minimal time with better results than you'll get from one of these agencies.
Head to Upwork or Fiverr or any of the other numerous places you can go these days to hire a research assistant on the cheap. Spend $20 and have them put together a spreadsheet of all of the local publications in your area along with contact information for the editor or writer that's most appropriate for your business. Craft an email in a text editor without a salutation and make sure you're sending something that's actually interesting and worth covering in it. One by one, create an email addressed only to one recipient at a time, with a greeting individualized to that person (a simple "Hi Jane," works just fine) and copy and paste your text into the email. This is a big step because there's an indication to the recipient that you've put at least a little time into thinking about them and not just yourself.
That last sentence is the key to taking an even bigger, more meaningful step up from hiring one of these firms. Think about who you're pitching to. What value does covering your story bring to them? It's amazing to me how infrequently this occurs in the world of local PR. There seems to be a complete disregard for the news outlet and the fact that they are also running a business that needs to be succesful and make money. The person you're pitching needs that story to do something for them. Maybe you have 10,000 Twitter followers that you're going to share it with once it's written. Maybe there's some information only you have that you can offer as an exclusive. If you craft your pitch individually to each outlet thinking about what value you bring to them, you'd be surprised how much value you'll end up getting out of it in return.
Want a practical example? This is a tweet that was sent to us at NextStop Magazine recently (sorry guys, I love you but I have to call you out on this one):
Where to begin ... First, you think it's time that I go out of my way to study you? Really? Have you ever advertised with me, promoted me, or given me a reason to go out of my way for you? What are you going to do for me that I should invest my time and my money promoting to promote your business? Not only that, but you're asking me to go out of my way to email you so I can do the work to get the information needed to provide you with press coverage? This was my response:
@Brewology295 what's in it for us?— NextStop Magazine (@NextStopMag) March 23, 2016
Not only did this not get replied to at all, they actually favorited the tweet! Come on guys, step up your game.
I'm going to be honest and tell you that I crafted my response that way specifically because I knew with 100% certainty that there wouldn't be any follow up. I was thinking about writing this article and knew it would be a good example to prove my point. Seven years in this game has given me a perspective on local publishing that I didn't have before. It's always "me me me," never "here's why writing this story is a win for both of us." Focus on the latter and I promise you'll see meaningful results.
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