Ditch the Press Release: 12 Free PR Opportunities for Your Brand

By Kathryn Hawkins. PR
Looking through aperture of camera lens
Looking through aperture of camera lens   Credit:  Marek via Pexels  License: Pexels

Generate media coverage through these 12 strategies instead of using a press release or hiring influencers.

Media mentions are a coveted marketing tool for almost any business, as their third-party credibility presents a “halo effect” that paid-for media can’t match. But as the media world contracts—today there are reportedly six PR people for each journalist—catching the eye of a reporter can be harder than ever. And press releases tend to go unnoticed more often than not, unless you’re a major brand that reporters are eager to write about anyway.

While you can generate buzz by investing in influencer marketing, those fees can add up quickly—what if you could generate free PR that will enable those influencers to discover your brand on their own?

We’ve put together a dozen creative ways to earn free PR for your business or personal brand that might take a little bit of legwork, but don’t rely on outside advertising

If you’re not familiar with these platforms, get to know them ASAP. That’s because writers use these sites to send out source requests, which means that they are looking for you, rather than you just looking for them. Of course, not every opportunity will be worth your time, but when the request is a good fit for your expertise, a carefully crafted response might secure coverage for your company and literally “help a reporter out” just when they need it most.

Similar to connecting with journalists who send out a HARO or Profnet request, turn to social media to find writers who might be looking for a source. Bloggers and reporters often post to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook in search of a relevant source for an article. Often they will use a hashtag such as #journorequest or #prrequest or tweet a phrase like “seeking source” when looking for relevant input. Likewise, use hashtags in your own posts to align with content they might be looking for.

If you have identified a media list of certain beat reporters who are particularly important to your company or industry, follow them on social media and scan their feeds frequently to see if they might be working on a story to which you can contribute.

Journalists love data and appreciate how a newsworthy survey stat will punch up their piece. But just any random survey won’t work; you need to find a topic that dovetails well with what you do. For example, if your company sells mortgages, conduct a survey on the top misconceptions that consumers have about mortgages, which can help spotlight your company’s ability to help your clients wade through their choices. Or survey real estate agents about something related to your local market, building bridges to this important source of referrals.

Once you’ve collected responses and performed the initial analysis, think of creative ways to package it, such as making an infographic that journalists can use. Either independently or with the help of a PR agency, create a focused distribution plan that targets high-profile journalists and bloggers in your space who might find the data useful, using automated drip campaigns to schedule in several follow-up attempts for those who don’t respond immediately. You can test out your subject lines and copy to see which ones generate the best response rates, and optimize for success.

Since most writers only want to use the most recent statistics, consider updating your survey annually, which allows you to offer current data and also draw comparisons of how opinions or actions have changed from year to year, offering another story line.

Most public relations efforts often focus on pitching the big “feature,” as in a story that focuses exclusively on your company or products. However, many other opportunities exist, whether it’s pitching your product or service as part of a bigger trend; offering your SMEs in regards to trends in the news (also known as “newsjacking”) or working with a CEO to write an op-ed piece on a topic that’s important to your audience and then placing it in a local or trade news site or publication.

Another strategy is to partner with one of your clients to offer a case study. Say you offer a software that solves a specific challenge—rather than just pitching the benefits of your software, offer to introduce the writer to the head of a manufacturing company that was able to streamline its inventory system using your solution. Journalists are always looking for real-life applications, so letting your customer tell your story through their experience will offer more weight with media outlets (and has the added benefit of further building your relationship with your customer, as you help promote them). Always seek permission, naturally; but most clients will appreciate that you are helping them with their own PR.

Got a team member doing something newsworthy in their outside life? Pitch a profile to media outlets, even if it isn’t directly related to your business. For example, a story on the sales manager who heads up the local cancer fundraiser shows your clients and potential employees that you are a company that cares about your team, not just the bottom line. In an era when it is harder than ever to attract and retain employees, showcasing your company’s positive values and enthusiasm for your team creates a halo effect.

Journalists will return to a great, responsive source again and again, and freelancers are especially eager to find sources who respond quickly and completely. That’s because unlike staff writers who work set hours for a specific publication, freelancers typically pitch all their own story ideas and then are only paid for completed stories. Therefore, while quality and accuracy are always paramount, they want to file their story quickly so they can move on to the next one. Since they usually write for many different publications, freelancers can be a goldmine because building a relationship can pay dividends over and over.

Another way to endear yourself to a freelance writer is to respond to all of their inquiries, not just ones you perceive to be top-tier. They might be writing for a trade publication today, but tomorrow it could be a coveted national outlet, and they will remember the sources who helped them out with the smaller stories. Also make the effort to connect them with a source, even if it doesn’t directly benefit you at the moment.

To establish solid freelance media contacts, follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn to stay on top of the stories they might be working on, and don’t hesitate to send a short email periodically asking what they have cooking. One day it might be a short piece for Cats Today; the next it might be The New York Times.

PR is traditional thought of as being “earned” media, as in, media outlets saw the value in writing about your business. But another important prong of PR can be “owned” media; that is, assets you create yourself.

Having a robust blogging program is useful because it provides fresh information you can use on your social media platforms, but it can serve another important secondary purpose by helping to increase your SEO rankings. That means that if a journalist is searching for a source for a story on vending machines, for example, your company might show up first in a search if you’ve been regularly blogging about that topic, increasing your chances they will call you as a reputable industry source. You might also consider creating a podcast as part of your PR strategy, which can help you engage with industry leaders and make yourself part of the story by association.

It’s surprising how many companies seem to hide their PR contacts. That’s a mistake because deadline-challenged journalists seeking a source might put in a search like “plumbing companies and media contacts,” if they are working on a real estate-related story about home improvements, for example. If your company pops up, they are likely to reach out because they automatically assume that someone who has a whole page devoted to media contacts is likely to promptly and completely answer their inquiries—crucial when they are wrapping up a piece.

Having a complete website is important to show credibility to potential clients, but it is also is likely to improve your search ranking. Make it a priority to build out a detailed press kit linked to your homepage that include your company story, biographies of key executives, samples of your past media coverage, copies of press releases and blog posts, to name a few pieces of content that help elevate your website.

The days of staying neutral on issues are over. Today’s customers expect your brand to take a stand in regards to newsworthy issues that dovetail with current events—think Nike aligning with athlete Colin Kaepernik or Patagonia actively participating in elections.

Not only might you earn the spotlight based on an issue in the news, but reporters are more apt to reach out to your leadership team for industry stories as they always prefer someone who will give an opinionated interview rather than stick to bland messages. Pay attention to Google News to see what issues are trending and if there’s anything you can say as a business leader, whether in a blog post or a tweet. If your opinion is unique and interesting, it may result in press coverage or interview requests.

Most companies are focused on earning coverage in consumer-focused outlets, but trade publications can be another smart avenue for earning reporter attention, even if you’re not a B2B brand. That’s because beat reporters often turn to these publications to learn about new trends or find experts when they are looking for sources to share industry insights.

Most marketers and SME knows It’s important to attend industry events to learn about trends and issues and build relationships with your target audience. But so as long as you are there, why not participate as a speaker or panelist? You can use the presentation as the basis for content for your own website in the future, but also pitch your CEO to the journalists in attendance as well as the conference organizers for their own publications. However, the value lives on past the conference itself, because writers who are looking for industry sources often visit association websites to see who has participated in recent conferences, and a speaker post offers instant credibility.

Journalists hate nothing more than getting slammed with irrelevant pitches—but they’re happy to consider a brief, well-considered query that ties in directly to their work. Cold media pitches can work, but don’t send a run-of-the-mill press release. Instead, take the time to build a targeted list of the journalists who are most likely to be interested in your work, and write personalized letters that reference their work and why your company might be relevant to them. Sure, you can’t scale this strategy as quickly as a generic press release, but it’s far more likely to yield a positive response.

There’s no question that PR remains a crucial marketing tool, but it’s important to get creative in how you approach it. By looking beyond the press release and exploring these options, you’ll be able to build brand awareness far more quickly.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than 16 years.

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