TOOLBOX: How to make national headlines with your start-up

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, you wear many hats. Sometimes, maybe even too many.

You are the CFO, CEO, COO, Marketing Director, IT department, customer service department, and custodian all at once. Between doing actual work, budgeting finances, managing operations, networking, and business development, where is the time for doing any kind of media outreach?

While they may seem like the last priority on your list, public relations efforts are essential to the prosperity of your business. By managing the communication between your business and the public, you can ensure success through a good public image, whether it’s with your customers, fans, media, investors, or other businesses.

Even if you don’t have the time, manpower, or funds to execute an extensive PR strategy, there are still ways to promote yourself and stay in a positive light in the public eye.  Below are some tips and resources that can help you become your own publicist, and create traction with the media.

Use social media to build relationships with national publications

While we all know that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In have been essential resources for expanding one’s customer base, and sometimes even business development, they can also be key tools in building relationships with people in the media.

Getting the attention of journalists or reporters will be difficult if you haven’t already established a relationship with them. And, unfortunately, Louisiana isn’t known for national media sources, so building relationships with people outside of the state might be a bit of a bigger task. However, not impossible.

Twitter is a great way to start the relationship. Follow your favorite publications, bloggers, and writers who are reporting about topics that pertain to your business and industry, and be sure to read their tweets often to find opportunities to engage with them. For the most part, writers prefer that you interact with them in a genuine way, rather than ambushing their already-overflowing inboxes with e-mails. You can typically find twitter handles on the publication’s websites and blogs.

Free and inexpensive media relations tools

If you want to distribute a media advisory or press release to a wide range of media sources, there are several online tools that are free or inexpensive to use that allow you to post your press release on the site, and answer inquiries from reporters looking for leads.

Sites for press release distribution

  • Free Press Release. Free Press Release offers paid and non-paid services to help you distribute news about your organization to different media outlets.
  • PRLog. PRLog is a free press release distribution and submission service.  You can also create free news alerts to easily monitor the media for news on your organization or opportunities in your market.
  • PRWebPRWeb distributes your press releases  to every major news site and search engine on the Web. You can also track your news with detailed analytics. The site is helpful for those who have never written a press release before, as helpful tips and advice are offered to help you create your announcement.
  • Marketwire. Another paid service that offers press release distribution, media contact management, multimedia, media monitoring services and other workflow solutions for public relations, investor relations, journalists and other communications professionals.

Sites for media inquiries and reverse pitches

  • HARO.  It stands for Help A Reporter Out and is a free service that sends its members three e-mails a workday with journalists looking for sources to interview. If you have a source that fits what they are looking for, you simply reply to the reporter with the relevant information.
  • Reporter Connection. Reporter Connection is a free online service that connects experts to reporters. Register as a member of the media or an expert available for media to receive the free daily email.
  • ExpertTweet. Created about two years ago by, ExpertTweet is a free tool with which you can tweet your request for additional resources. The message goes out to about 3,000 ExpertTweet followers, although the number of members is still growing.  It’s a similar concept to HARO, but limited to the ExpertTwitter realm.
  • NewsBasis. This resource works to help journalists improve their targeting of sources. As your media relations tool, however, you can create a profile on the database and position yourself for more interview opportunities.

Pitch Emails

While pitching publications through e-mail is traditional and time consuming, it’s also an effective way to reach different reporters and journalists. You can often find their e-mails on the publication’s mastheads online; however, being efficient and following up are key to getting a reporter’s attention. Otherwise, you won’t get any traction and will waste a lot of time. Below are some things to remember when pitching reporters with whom you haven’t already established a relationship.

  1.  Catch their attention with the subject line – Journalists receive hundreds of press releases and pitch e-mails a day, so if you don’t capture their attention with the subject line it will get lost in the abyss of their inbox. Make it enticing but avoid generic sales words such as unique, amazing, viral, state-of-the-art, solution, free, and, ironically enough, NOT SPAM.
  2. Don’t send a mass e-mail – Mass mails are highly offensive, so personalize the e-mail by addressing the writer by name, and make sure that you are e-mailing a writer who reports on a beat that aligns with your pitch. It helps to mention briefly how your story or product aligns with their objective, and refer to one of their previous pieces that pertains to your objective.
  3. Follow up with a phone call – If you don’t follow up, your e-mail may be overlooked, so pick up the phone and call directly.  It makes an impact, shows that you have initiative, and gives you a chance to interact with the reporter and tell him or her more about your pitch. It’s harder for you to get rejected over the phone than over an e-mail, but don’t completely shut down communication with that writer if he tells you he’s not interested in your story; this is only the first step in establishing a relationship for further outreach in the future.

 Look for Opportunities

Always look for opportunities by doing consistent news sweeps of your industry. Set up Google alerts for key words that pertain to your business and industry, and stay up to date with your favorite writers and publications.  Even if you don’t think you necessarily have anything to report, look for ways to get involved, establish a new partnership, or continue a conversation from a newsworthy story.