Marketing is ______________.
If you filled in the blank with “hard to get right,” “difficult to measure,” or “mega expensive,” you’re right: all of those answers definitely apply. So you’ve spent the last 6 months building your business plan, creating your website, defining your target market, structuring your USP, and generally planning the next steps for your startup – good stuff. The only thing missing?
Getting people to even know that you exist in the first place.
When we first launched Les Labs, we designed it as a school to teach people the digital skills they need to monetize a passion, start a side passion or embark on an entrepreneurial journey all in. We knew it was a cool idea and that it had a certain amount of appeal: we were talking about digital, tech, literacy, the new economy, entrepreneurship – all which happens to be some of the hottest buzzwords in the marketplace.
Short version of the long story: we received some initial buzz but not nearly enough to propel us to the levels of success we had envisioned. It was naïve to assume that simply because we had a “sexy” business on our hands (or rather, the problem you are solving is one that people are constantly talking about) the word would spread on its own. Spoiler alert: the word does not truly spread on its own.
We needed marketing, we needed PR – bigtime.
So, I set out on a warpath to gather as much attention as possible for the business – as quickly as possible. We had no money, so the visibility I was looking for was all of our favourite 4-letter f-word: free. Here are a few things I did + things I learned along the way.
- Reach out to everyone you know (in the media industry or otherwise). When I first started out chasing free PR, I reached out to everyone I knew who had some connection to media, whether it was print, digital, radio, television – you name the medium, I had reached out to someone in the space. One truth applies to any business: at the very beginning of your business, your biggest fans (if you have any at all) will be people you know. Yes, it could be close friends, family members, former colleagues or clients – anyone who knows you well enough in some capacity. While it’s encouraging for your mother to like every single one of your Facebook posts, the point is: start with your immediate circle and expand from there. Ask anyone you know who might have some connection to the media if they would be open to featuring your business. If not, ask for referrals: maybe they know somebody really well in radio and you had no idea about their contact. Start close to home, expand from there – contacts in media will begin to appear.
- Craft a really strong pitch email. Creating a really solid template of sorts allowed me to cover ground across different media forms rapidly. With one email template, I managed to get responses from over 75% of the people/companies I reached out to. Make sure your email is concise, likeable, friendly, and informative: let people know quickly what is so attractive about your business that could be of value to them in regards to featuring you. Establish your street cred: tell them who you are, your background, any standout notes about your past (a previous business, awards, previous mentions in publications, etc.) Once you establish your credibility, don’t be shy to go in for the “ask” towards the end of your email: once you’ve hooked your reader, let them know that you’d love to collaborate and that you believe your story could serve them well. Short, likeable, credible.
- Don’t be shy to cold-call. During my hunt for free PR, I cold-called and cold-emailed 3 television stations, 2 radio stations, and 2 newspapers. Not high amounts by any means (7 total); yet I got responses back from 6 of the 7, and got accepted to be featured on 5 of them. That’s not a bad ratio as far as cold reaching-out goes. Do your research first: if it’s a newspaper you’re after, research the journalist or editor who handles pieces that could align with your business or the angle you are pitching to them. Find their emails, call their office and leave them a voicemail, tweet at them – whatever it is, they will notice. Remember: PR companies leverage their relationships with newspapers for a living – so why can’t you build your own relationships for free?
- Never say no. Regardless of what the medium is, never say no to it. If someone wants to give you a shot on their channel, jump at the opportunity. It could be a podcast you’ve never heard of, a low-budget segment on a television channel you’ve never heard of, or a guest blog-post opportunity on someone’s website. Whatever it is, just say yes. Of course you want to make sure the medium you’re on is going to reflect your brand and your values, but as long as those are good to go, you should be good to go, too. The point is: eyeballs on your business are valuable – take them where you can get them.
By the time I had gone through my quest for free PR, our business had been featured on: 3 medium-to-large television networks; 1 large radio station; 1 large newspaper – all in less than 9 months. It helped sales, expanded our network, and boosted our street cred.
One key thing to remember: we are in a world where content is king, and every medium is constantly on the lookout for good content. As long as the content you are pitching is smart, easy to understand, and somewhat enjoyable, people will be interested in featuring you – they just need to know about you, first.
P.S. Some links to the recent PR we generated by following the tips above!
MATV: “Citylife” Segment: http://en.matv.ca/montreal/mes-emissions/citylife/videos/5631231754001
CJAD800: “Today’s Entrepreneur” Segment: https://www.flmontreal.com/community/todays-entrepreneur-on-cjad/
Global TV Montreal: https://globalnews.ca/video/3339374/improving-your-digital-literacy
Breakfast TV Montreal: http://www.btmontreal.ca/videos/digital-literacy-the-changing-job-market/