How to Get Media Exposure for Your Startup: The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide
You’re in a startup. Your idea is solid. You’ve got products or services ready to go. You have a feeling that if people only knew what you were offering, they’d be all over your company.
Now, the only question is, how am I going to make this thing visible?
Your biggest problem now is exposure, and the solution is marketing. More specifically, your solution is media exposure, a cost-effective and universally practical shortcut to get more visibility for your startup, and fast.
Here’s your ultimate, step-by-step guide to getting media exposure for your startup.
Ready? Here we go!
Table of Contents
+ Why Media Exposure Is Important
+ Phase 1. Build a Foundation
+ Phase 2. Collaborate with Journalists & Editors (Or Become the Journalist)
+ Phase 3. Create a Media Kit
+ Phase 4. Ongoing Relationship Management
+ Key Examples of Successful Media Coverage
+ Parting Thoughts
Throughout this guide, I’ll introduce you to the ins and outs of media exposure, why it’s important, how to get it, and most importantly, how to be effective with it. Along the way, we’ll be seeing examples from our good friend SMB Sam, and his small startup, Red Diamond Coffee.
As always, be sure to scope out our table of contents and skip ahead to the sections that are most relevant for you and your brand.
I should also note that most of the advice in this guide isn’t strictly limited to startups, though this is the intended audience. Almost any company, at any stage of development and in any industry, can gain from media exposure—just in different ways, with different keys to success.
First, I want to review what media exposure is, why it’s important, and what you can hope to get from it as an addition to your marketing strategy.
Definition and types of media exposure
The idea behind media exposure is relatively simple. You’ll take some action, and as a result, your brand will be featured in some way on some media, resulting in increased visibility for your brand among that medium’s audience. If this sounds confusing, it’s probably because I’m using ambiguous language, but keep in mind that “media” can refer to many things, including news sites, magazines, online publications, and even TV. For most of the purposes of this guide, we’ll be looking at news sites and online publications.
It may be easiest to illustrate this with an example—take a look at Crain’s Cleveland, or any other news website. Immediately, you’ll see at least a few stories featuring brands in the headlines. You can bet that, positive or negative, these stories will have a positive effect on brand recognition and (probably) revenue for each brand.
(Image Source: Crain’s)
You can also see this on the evening news, where businesses may be the center of controversies, profiles, or may even be casual contributors to a conversation.
You can get media exposure in a number of different ways, such as doing great things and hoping to get noticed, wooing journalists for coverage, or simply making your own stories, all of which I’ll be exploring in this guide.
Benefits of greater media exposure
What does it matter if you’re featured in some news publication? How does that affect you?
- Third party credibility. First, you’ll earn authority by proxy. Just being featured in a headline on a major news source can lend some instant third-party credibility to your brand. Imagine SMB Sam is starting up his coffee shop, but doesn’t have any customers. One day, he’s featured on the front page of a local news outlet. Suddenly, his coffee shop matters to the residents of his hometown—simply because it mattered to the newspaper. This applies on larger scales as well, and as you find yourself featured on a larger number of more reputable media sites, you’ll find your own reputation growing in tandem.
- Brand visibility. Next, the sheer amount of visibility your media exposure can generate is significant. This is especially important for startups, which by nature start out with zero visibility. Imagine getting on the front page of a website that gets around 100,000 visits a day—you can expect at least 5,000 to click on the article, read about your brand, and thereby become familiar with it. The other 95,000 will still see your brand’s name in the headline, even if they don’t click on the headline, and recognize it with more familiarity the next time they see it, starting a compounding chain of increasing value as you expose your brand to broader audiences.
- Direct traffic. Almost invariably, whenever your brand is featured in a media story, there will be a referral link pointing back to your website (or some other destination that you specify in advance). Anyone who learns about your brand and is interested in learning more can follow this link, resulting in direct traffic for every new piece you’re published in. When you first get started, navigating the local circuit, this won’t amount to much—maybe a few dozen to a few hundred visitors—but again, as you get featured in bigger publications, this can skyrocket to tens of thousands (the nature of the story is also a factor here).
- Inbound links and SEO. Those links I just mentioned? They also serve another function. Provided they aren’t marked with a “nofollow” tag, you’ll earn an increase in domain authority, which is a qualitative measure of your site’s trustworthiness, provided by Seattle-based marketing company Moz. Domain authority has been shown to correlate strongly with Google search rankings (higher domain authority sites consistently show up higher in search results), so we can use domain authority as a reference and also a goal. Over time, this means your website will show up in more search results, leading to more traffic, and of course, sales.
- Ongoing potential value. Finally, there’s the ongoing potential value of your media relationships. Though it doesn’t scale or compound the same way content marketing or SEO do, there is some increasing, ongoing value that you can attain simply by continuing to pursue the strategy. For example, as you practice these tactics, you’ll gain more and stronger connections with journalists working for various publications, and as you become more recognized as a brand, you’ll have an easier time getting media coverage. The fact that it links into your other marketing strategies is another bonus.
Relationship to other marketing strategies
Your media exposure strategy isn’t going to exist in a vacuum. It combines elements of other strategies you’re already pursuing, and both benefits and is benefited by your ongoing efforts in those areas. Take a look at how a media exposure campaign relates to the following marketing strategies:
- Content marketing. In some cases, you’ll be writing your own press releases and your own stories to submit to publishers; in this context, media exposure is simply an extension of your already existing content marketing strategy. But there’s another important relationship here—increased media exposure can increase the relevance and prominence of your content campaign. For example, you can produce a piece about a recent newsworthy event in which your company partook, and you can use that as the destination for referral links in your media coverage of said event. This will attract more visitors to your blog, which in turn will grow more popular through social sharing and even more inbound links.
- SEO. I’ve already mentioned some of the SEO benefits of increased media exposure, most of which revolve around earning new inbound links from different online publishers. Each news source you consider will have a domain authority score, and the higher that authority score, the more authority that source is going to pass to you. Higher authority sources are harder to get featured on, naturally, so you’ll have to carefully balance this degree of difficulty with the potential payoff as you navigate your way up the echelons of brand reputation. The increased exposure will also attract links from other third-party sources if they choose to reference the piece on their own, resulting in more free inbound links and additional coverage—but only if your story is worthy of it.
- Social media marketing. Media exposure contributes to your social media efforts on several different levels. Whenever a piece is published on a news source with sufficient traffic, even a local news site, you can pretty much guarantee it will have shares on social media. Take a look at this piece from Cleveland.com as an example.
(Image Source: Cleveland.com)
It isn’t especially shocking or noteworthy, but it’s generated 256 shares in less than 24 hours. National-level publishers often see share counts in the thousands. On another level, getting featured in major publications gives you a good reason to post on your own social media profiles, lending fuel and strength to your social campaign.
- Email marketing. You’ll have to go a bit out of your way to make your media exposure work for you in your email campaign, but it’s worth it. Depending on the significance of your event and the noteworthiness of your publisher, you could send out an email blast to your list celebrating your company’s feature. On the other side of the strategy, you could use the new media exposure as a traffic funnel to earn more signups to your email newsletter. Depending on the friendliness and flexibility of your source, you might even be allowed to reference your email campaign; for example, SMB Sam might be using his email list to send out exclusive invitations to the grand opening party. This could be deemed newsworthy, and could give Sam hundreds of new signups.
At this point, you should have a solid understanding of what “media exposure” is, how it benefits your brand, and how it’s going to affect your overall marketing campaign and direction. Now, let’s take a look at how you’ll actually build this strategy—from the ground up.
Before you go off trying to get media exposure for your company, you need to build a solid foundation—meaning you have to develop your brand and your online presence to a sufficient degree in order to support your media efforts.
Why? For starters, media outlets need a reason to feature you. If you don’t even have a website, or a fleshed-out brand, they’ll be unlikely to cover your story. Even if they did, where would all your newfound visitors and brand enthusiasts go? There would be no website or base of operations to which you could funnel them.
The strength of your foundation will dictate your ease of entry in the media world, and help you realize the benefits of your efforts.
Telling your brand story
First, you need to have a grasp of your brand story, which many media sources will use to judge the strength of your potential coverage. Journalists are incentivized to write stories that people want to read—so is your brand exciting? Is it relevant? Is it different?
These are the qualities that will let them know:
- Mission and vision. First, your company mission and vision need to be in line. This is more than just what you do as a company; for example, your company mission can’t be to “sell an effective time tracking platform.” Instead, explain what you’re doing on a broad scale, and a short version of why and how you’re doing it. If you need some inspiration, take a look at the mission statements of Fortune 500 companies here. You’ll also want to come up with a vision; what does the future of your company look like? How do you anticipate growing over the next several years? This is important information for journalists and readers to know.
- History. As a startup, you aren’t going to have much history, but you can still tell a story about how your business came to be. Major brands with an extended life, like Nestle, are able to use this to their advantage, showcasing how they’ve evolved over the decades; you won’t have this advantage, but you have an even better one to make up for it—personal involvement. Talk about how your startup came to be on a personal level. For example, did the idea come to you in a flash of inspiration? Have you been working out of your garage for the past year? These are interesting tidbits that can hook people.
(Image Source: Nestle)
- Differentiating factors. In some ways, your mission, vision, and history will distinguish you from the other major players in the market, but you’ll still need to find a solid angle for differentiation. Competition is fierce in the startup world, and there are likely at least several other businesses doing what you do. Why would a press outlet cover yet another SaaS tool? That’s your job to find out, and make the case for. If you have a unique value proposition (UVP), which you should, you can start there. What can you offer that none of your competitors can? From there, look internally; how is your business structured differently? How do you treat your workers differently? Find more ways to stand out, even if it’s somewhat superficial.
- Public appeal. Next, think carefully about how you might appeal to the public as a brand—and this goes deeper than simply how you’re going to sell to your audience. This is about how a news article is going to angle your brand, or how your media outlet of choice is going to generate interest in your feature. For example, Google is appealing on a product level because it helps you find what you’re looking for online, but on a brand level, it’s appealing because of the way it treats its workers.
- Significant events. This goes along with the “history” element of your business, but try to stake out landmark events in your company’s past, or significant events you hope to achieve in the future. In the past, these will serve as anecdotes and touchpoints for your media stories to develop. In the future, these will serve as potential opportunities for coverage. For a startup, this often means getting acquired, going public, or otherwise marking your success.
(Image Source: Wall Street Journal)
Website and landing pages as destinations
Once your brand “story” is developed, your next biggest concern should be where your readers are going to go once they’ve read about you in a media piece. Surely, you’ll receive some referral traffic, but how you handle that referral traffic can make or break its value. For most startups, this will be your main website, but you might also create specific landing pages as destinations (or target specific internal pages).
In any case, your design and copy need to be tight. They need to accurately portray your brand for an unfamiliar public, and appeal to them with new angles and extended descriptions. Remember that your media coverage will likely only skim the surface of who you are and what you do. You’ll also need to focus on your conversion strategy, which is going to help you turn these barely-familiar web visitors into leads or customers.
For this, you’ll either need to point your visitors in the direction of your products or services pages through use of your web design, or else present them with signup opportunities throughout the site. Run some AB tests to optimize your conversion efforts before you start seeking media coverage; otherwise, that traffic could go to waste.
It’s also worth noting that a dedicated website isn’t the only place you can funnel media traffic, especially as a new startup. For example, let’s say SMB Sam is working on a new type of beverage to bring his usual coffee drinkers, but he needs capital to be able to fund it. He creates a page on Kickstarter to attract donations. Clearly, there’s an incentive to get people to his website, but for the moment, what he really needs is more donors; this makes his crowdfunding campaign page a higher priority.
Crowdfunding pages aren’t the only alternative destinations you can consider. For example, you might also funnel people from your media outlets to your social media profiles, or an example of your work somewhere else.
Before you get involved in any media interactions, you should have a blog in place on your website, complete with many posts that show off your thought leadership and expertise. There are three main reasons for this:
- Authority and establishment. First, your blog is going to be one of the first places a prospective journalist will look when surveying your brand for potential coverage. Here, they’ll form an impression of your authority, credibility, and how long you’ve been around. If you don’t have a blog, or if it’s empty or full of weak content, your brand may come off as amateurish, compromising your chances of getting covered.
- Visitor retention and conversions. A strong company blog is also important for keeping new web visitors interested, and moving them closer to a conversion. Again, this is an effort to maximize the value of each new visitor you earn through your media relations.
- Cooperative potential. Finally, there’s the potential to interlink your onsite content strategy with your offsite media development efforts; without a blog foundation, this becomes considerably more difficult (more on this in a future section).
Starting a blog demands a heavy upfront investment, as it’s not something you can gloss over, but it’s worth it if you want your media campaign to make a bigger impact. For help starting or feeding a blog, see the following resources:
- The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy
- 101 Title Ideas for Your Next Blog Post
- 101 Content Ideas for Your Website or Blog
You’ll also want to consider creating or utilizing a personal brand, rather than just a corporate brand, when trying to promote your business. Essentially, a personal brand works just like a corporate brand, except for you as an entrepreneur; you’ll create an identity standard for yourself, build recognition and popularity, then reap the benefits by using your personal brand to also promote your company.
There are a handful of advantages here for media relations. First, people tend to like stories about other people more than stories about brands or companies. As the leader of your startup, you’ll serve as a figurehead for your company, representing both the business and the personal side of things. You’ll have an easier time working with journalists, since you’ll be able to form a more personal connection, and you’ll seem less self-promotional since the corporate branding takes on a secondary role.
It’s also worth noting that any media exposure you get as a personal brand will last longer than your startup, extending beyond the context of any one business. If you plan on starting multiple businesses, this is crucial.
Take a look at how Elon Musk has developed his own personal brand—he has his own section on Popular Mechanics as well as Entrepreneur.com, and his name is recognized more than any of his individual companies.
(Image Source: Popular Mechanics)
You probably won’t achieve this level of fame, but your benefits will be similar.
Social media following
For both your corporate brand and your personal brand, you’ll want to start building a bigger social media following. You can do this by promoting your on-site content, sharing the work of others, engaging in conversations relevant to your industry, and reaching out to individuals who might be interested in your work.
A bigger, more relevant social following will help you in the following ways:
- Higher relevance to publishers. Social media is another place journalists and publishers often look when researching potential stories to cover. If you only have a handful of followers, or worse, you don’t have any social media profiles at all, you’ll seem irrelevant or not worth covering. On the other hand, if there are thousands of people already following and engaging with you, you’ll appear more relevant, and you’ll have an easier time getting coverage.
- Greater publication reach. Once a piece is published in a media outlet, you’ll have the power to promote that piece further, giving you greater visibility and reputation values. The bigger your social media audience is, the better benefits you’ll see from this. Simply sharing the new press release to a few thousand followers can instantly raise its traffic and popularity.
- New opportunities. Once you hit a certain threshold, you’ll find that new opportunities for media exposure will start presenting themselves. Some of your followers will take note of your work and either ask you for an engagement opportunity, or may feature you in a work of their own. It’s like putting your media exposure campaign on autopilot.
Here’s a perfect example of how a strong social media campaign generated media exposure on its own:
(Image Source: ABC News)
For help growing your social media following, see 101 Ways to Get More Social Media Followers.
Connecting with journalists
Early on, while you’re still building your foundation, it’s a good idea to strike up relationships with journalists you feel might be relevant to your brand. A major factor for success in the media exposure world is the strength and reach of your connections, so the sooner you initiate these connections, the better.
There are many places to look for journalists, some of which are more obvious than others. You can generally find their contact information on their respective publishers’ sites, but a better way to find them is to meet them through social networking sites or in-person networking events. You can even find them in journalist-specific meetups. They likely receive an overwhelming number of queries through their professional emails, so you’ll stand out more if you meet them in person.
You don’t have to do anything special when starting a connection. Simply introduce yourself, ask them about their position and about their work, and leave the door open for future interactions. If you really want to stick in their memory, help them out in some way or take them out for lunch or coffee in the near future.
Creating a watch list
In addition to hunting down some journalists, you’ll also want to create a kind of “watch list” for news sources and publishers who may wish to publish content related to your brand in the future. This will make things much easier when it comes time to shop around a potential story.
You don’t need anything fancy here; a simple spreadsheet will do. There are four things you’ll want to record, in addition to any special notes you might have.
- Title. The title or URL of the publisher is a must, for obvious reasons.
- Niche. Take note of the niche the publisher occupies; this will help you filter your pitches in the future. For example, let’s say SMB Sam is remodeling his entire coffee house; this is a topic that fits especially well with local news sites. But let’s say, instead, he’s experimenting with a new blend of coffee; this would fit better with coffee specialists. Understanding the niche of each publisher will help you pitch more appropriately, and increase the likelihood of your stories getting in front of the right audiences.
- Authority. You’ll also want to note the relative authority of each publisher—consider using a domain authority checker here. The higher the authority of the site, the more value you’ll get from being featured there (but the harder it’s going to be). I recommend you eventually sort your spreadsheet based on authority; when you first start out, you’ll be circling the bottom of the list, but you’ll gradually climb your way upward to the more valuable publishing opportunities. Here’s an example of how to rank your publishers by domain authority:
(Image Source: Adam Sherk)
- Relationship. You may also want to take note of any special relationships you might have with the publisher, such as a journalist you can contact or a method of engagement or submission that is of particular importance. If you’re submitting your own work, editorial guidelines will also be helpful. This will become increasingly necessary as you engage with more publishers.
Leveraging the power of influencers
Finally, you’ll want to start tapping into the power of influencers, if you can. Influencer marketing is the process of engaging with noteworthy, high-authority individuals (usually strong personal brands or other thought leaders in your industry) to gain exposure or authority for your brand. The best way to do this is through ongoing relationships with key influencers, such as regular conversations, content collaborations, or other exchanges of value. The earlier you scout for and build these relationships, the more power you’ll be able to tap, especially later on.
Influencers will help your content and social media campaigns grow, multiplying the benefits of these foundational elements (which I’ve already covered above). They may also be able to help you find new journalists and new publishers, as they tend to be well-connected in their respective industries.
With all these aspects in place, your foundation will be more or less complete. From there, you’ll be able to start doing the work of attracting and creating media exposure opportunities.
Once you’ve got your foundation in place, you’re ready to start communicating with journalists and publishers.
Start by identifying which publishers to target. I covered seven essential quality metrics for evaluating publishers in my article at Search Engine Land. One of those, Google PageRank, has since been discontinued. Here are the other six:
- Domain authority
- Unique referring domains
- Alexa score
You may already have an idea of which media outlets you want to get covered in. If not, Alexa.com has a fantastic list of publishers, listed in order of the amount of traffic they get, and you can break them down by category. If you don’t know where to start, start here!
There are many different types of news outlets, and many different ways you can approach your delivery of news content related to your company. These include writing and submitting your own press release, pitching a story, and collaborating with others for a joint project. I’ll be exploring each of these in turn.
DIY press releases
Your first option is the easiest (and the most approachable for entrepreneurs unfamiliar with garnering media exposure). In this process, you’ll use a newsworthy event related to your company and distribute it to a host of potential news sources using a service like PRWeb, Cision, or just about any PR firm. Those sources may reject, edit, or publish your piece directly on their sites, giving you potential exposure across the web.
- Find a newsworthy event. Your first job is to find an event that’s truly newsworthy, and this is harder than it might seem. First, it has to be timely; you can’t pick a significant event that happened a few years ago. Second, it has to be relevant to a wide audience; nobody is going to care that it’s your accounting assistant’s dog’s birthday. Third, it can’t be inherently self-promotional, though there is a blurry line here. For example, let’s say SMB Sam is offering a sale on his specialty coffee beans; this is self-promotional, because it isn’t out of the ordinary, and is of no interest to anyone other than prospective buyers. However, let’s say SMB Sam decides to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by offering green-tinted, mint-flavored coffee and a free shamrock pin with every purchase. This is more newsworthy because it’s a timely, interesting, spirited, local event; not just a sale or promotion.
- Draft an objective, informative release. Once you have your topic, you’ll need to draft the actual release. If you’re used to content marketing or writing in a personal brand voice, you need to know that press releases demand a more conservative, matter-of-fact tone. Keep your sentences concise and to-the-point, and try to avoid colloquialisms and conversational language when you can. Avoid the use of first-person or second-person, and remain as objective and neutral as possible in your descriptions. Your goal here is not to promote your company; it’s only to provide information.
- Include a relevant link to your website. Depending on how you distribute (see the next point), you may have an opportunity to include a link in some formal way, such as including it in a form field. Otherwise, you’ll need to include it in context of your press release, such as when you mention your brand name for the first time. Link building is a complex strategy with many considerations, but there are a few basic rules to follow for press releases; make sure your link makes sense in context, avoid using keyword-stuffed anchor text, including only one link, and avoid making it promotional (with language like, “check out our site!”).
- Submit to a distribution network. Once your draft is complete and edited, you can submit it to a distribution network, which will distribute your work automatically among hundreds to thousands of different publishers. Using a tool like PRWeb (which I recommend), you can filter out various publishers to better target your audience. You’ll also receive a full distribution report at the end of your action, showing you which publishers have decided to pick up your work.
If this process seems easy, it’s because it is. Just don’t count on every publisher you encounter to run with your piece.
Collaborations and exclusives
Collaborations and exclusives are different types of news stories, and they don’t rely on the manual submission of articles to be published. Oftentimes, this is the joint work of a journalist and a personal brand/entrepreneur/individual, so you’ll need either a pre-existing relationship with a journalist, or a strong enough reputation to earn these pieces on your own.
You’ll get varying degrees of exposure and reputation boosts depending on the type of collaboration you choose. These are just a few:
- Interviews. Interviews are great because they give your personal brand tons of exposure, and you get to control the content that goes into the piece with how you respond to the journalist’s questions. Unfortunately, they’re also notoriously hard to earn for startups, because you probably haven’t had time to develop much of a reputation. When a journalist looks to interview a leading authority in a given industry, they tend to look from the top down, meaning an entrepreneur more popular than you will probably beat you to the punch. Still, be on the lookout for interview opportunities, especially when it’s a “mass” interview with multiple authorities on one topic.
One fantastic way to do so is to sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which will put you on an email list that will send you opportunities that may be of interest to you. Basically, reporters who need sources for their stories can solicit them via HARO, and if you find a story for which you think you could be a good source, you can contact the journalist and offer your assistance. It’s free, and it’s a great way to connect with journalists who write about your industry.
(Image Source: HARO)
- Profiles. Profiles tend to be short, but close examinations of businesses, organizations, people, or establishments in the city. Reviews often fall into this category, though reviews often deviate from the standard of “news.”Instead, imagine that our friend SMB Sam has been developing Red Diamond Coffee for about a year, but has suddenly seen a huge surge in popularity among certain segments of the population. A journalist might take this opportunity to examine the motivations behind this economic boom. Again, this is a hard collaboration to come by, because it requires that you already have something powerful to offer.
- Contextual participation. Contextual participation is a clunky term for a broad category of different news pieces that all share one thing in common; they rely on contributions from a number of different sources. For example, something as simple as a traffic report could have quotes from everyday citizens explaining what traffic issues they faced, or something more complex like an industry report could have a number of different experts weighing in with their opinions.Obviously, you want to shoot for the latter. One good way to do that is to conduct original research and publish a research report that analyzes the results to draw some interesting conclusions. This is the approach we, at AudienceBloom, took with our What Works in Online Marketing report. After publishing the report, we received a lot of great coverage of the results, with journalists referencing specific data from the report, all while mentioning AudienceBloom and linking back to our website. You can do this, too!
- Real-world events. You can also earn exposure in a collaborative piece simply by participating in real-world events. For example, let’s say your city is hosting an event on entrepreneurship; you could sign up to be a speaker and give a presentation about your company. You’ll get tons of networking opportunities, and brand exposure at the actual event, and you can also count on at least one journalist to be present, documenting the event as it unfolds. This is more a secondary benefit of event attendance than it is a standalone strategy, but it’s one to keep at the forefront of your mind.
Press release submission demands that you create your own material. Collaborations require that you have either something important, valuable, or knowledgeable to say, or have a pre-existing reputation.
Pitching, on the other hand, mandates neither of these requirements; you don’t have to do the writing (unless you want to), you don’t have to have a newsworthy event in mind, and you don’t need to have a pre-existing reputation.
The idea here is to come up with a story that news readers would want to see. It could be an industry profile, a review of local businesses, or (depending on the source) something more niche along content marketing lines, like business strategies or economic tips. Then, contact a journalist and pitch your story. It could either be a story idea, or the full written story itself. If the journalist likes what you pitched, they’ll reply.
As always, the stronger your relationship with the journalist you’re pitching to, the better chances you’ll have of seeing your story written and/or published. And no matter who you’re pitching to, or what you’re pitching, there are a handful of strategies that will help you be successful:
- Be concise and straightforward. Journalists are busy, and they can tell when you’re being intentionally ambiguous or when you’re trying to manipulate them. Instead of beating around the bush, be concise and straightforward. Keep your request simple and to-the-point. For example, including in your subject line some indication of your motive, such as “Idea for a piece on ____,” and explain why you’re writing in the first paragraph. When it comes to cold pitch emails, the shorter your email, the better.
- Use your relationships to your advantage when you can. Draw upon the power of your relationships whenever you can. For example, when you’re pitching an idea for a new piece with a journalist you’ve helped before, call attention to this fact with something like, “Hey ____! I had an idea for a new content piece. I remember how well we worked together on the industry profile a few months ago, and figured you’d be perfect for the job.”If you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with the right journalist, show that you know the reporter by referencing some of his/her past works; even if you don’t know him/her personally, it will come off as sincere and respectful.You could even take it a step further, and differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other pitch emails in the journalist’s inbox, but sending a hand-written letter or box of goodies to the journalist’s office. Don’t be afraid to get creative to stand out and really make an impression!
- Focus on providing value. Remember, news publishers have their own goals; they want to make money, and for that, they need to attract lots of readers. When you pitch your story, don’t focus on how it might benefit you; instead, focus on how it’s going to benefit your source.Explain why and how it’s relevant for the publisher’s target audience, and what kind of a lasting impact it might have on the community. If you can quantify this in any way, such as with statistical preferences of certain demographics, do so.
- Compromise when necessary. Many of your pitches will be outright ignored or rejected; try not to take this personally. Most of your other pitches won’t be accepted as they’ve been presented straightaway; instead, your journalist and reporter connections are going to make revision requests.Try to be flexible and accommodating here. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy the new direction a piece takes, there’s value in building a reputation of being easy to work with—and increasing your potential to secure future collaborations with the journalist or publication.
- Follow up on missed opportunities. Just because you don’t hear back right away doesn’t mean the opportunity is lost. If you don’t hear back after two or three business days, reach out again with a simple follow-up like, “I didn’t hear back from you, and was hoping for a chance to talk about this. Let me know when you can!” I don’t recommend following up more than twice; if you hear nothing in a week, it’s time to move on.If you use Gmail, you can use Boomerang for Gmail to automatically remind you to follow-up with a journalist who hasn’t replied after X days. It’s the #1 tool I can’t live without.Industry veteran and journalist Sujan Patel has a ton of good and bad examples of pitches in his blog post What I Learned from Receiving 3,751 PR Pitches which is definitely worth checking out if you plan to take the pitch route.
***Self promotion alert!***
At AudienceBloom, our core business model is to help our clients get media exposure by building relationships with journalists, editors, and media publications so that we can pitch them stories that are beneficial for their audiences as well as our clients. When these stories are published, our clients get media exposure, mentions, and SEO benefits, while our media partners get awesome content for their audiences. If you think we could help you get media exposure, don’t hesitate to contact us!
My favorite way to get media coverage is simple in theory, but difficult in practice – become the journalist. You can do so by becoming a guest contributor, or even a regular columnist at your publication(s) of choice.
The general idea of guest blogging is to use your personal brand as a way to post your content on external publications, building exposure, reaching new audiences, earning links, and earning a more authoritative reputation in the process.
Guest blogging is how I became a contributor at dozens of online media publications, including Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Search Engine Land, and more. It’s a phenomenal tool for markers and shouldn’t be ignored.
However, it’s a subject that requires a guide of its own (trying to distill it into anything of value in this little section wouldn’t do it any justice), so you can read my guide on guest blogging here: The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.
Traditional media (TV/radio)
Most of my tips in this section have been focused on online publishers, which are the most prominent, and generally the easiest to access. However, be aware that most of the strategies here—including pitching ideas and helping reporters with one-off contributions—can be applied to television and radio as well.
These mediums are more appropriate for some brands (such as retail and traditional industries) than others (like startups and tech companies).
Once you’ve started building a foundational reputation through media collaboration, and you’ve established a reputation for yourself online, you’ll start receiving press inquiries from journalists.
That’s when a media kit comes in handy. A media kit doesn’t have any formal requirements. Instead, it serves a simple purpose; giving potential journalists and publishers all the information and assets they need in order to represent your brand appropriately in their material.
Some brands have a .zip file of this information, while others simply consolidate it onto a single page of their website.
Your first job will be to introduce your media kit to prospective users. Again, you have a number of choices when it comes to presentation. In your early stages, a simple standalone page of your website will do fine; include it in your footer, and design it to show off the key elements of your brand in an engaging way. Eventually, media demand or your brand reputation may be such that it demands a more formal distribution system.
When making pitches or engaging in collaborations, it’s also useful to send your media kit along as an attachment or a referendum. In some cases, it may serve as a type of resume to show off your brand authority. The mere fact that you have a media kit shows that you’ve had exposure in the past, plan on exposure in the future, and are prepared enough to address these situations professionally. It sets a good tone for the future of your journalistic relationship.
Your media kit needs to tell your “brand story,” which I touched on a bit earlier. Here, you’ll need to present this information with a bit more formality, so it’s clear to the average user where you stand.
- Mission/vision. You’ve already got an idea of what your mission and vision are, but now you’ll need to boil them down to a pair of concise statements. Both cover your goals and describe your business, but try not to overlap them or confuse them with one another. These are distinct ideas, and should be treated as such.Mission and vision statements are more important to your media kit than a tagline or a company description, because they’re focused on how your business operates from a conceptual standpoint.
- History. You don’t need to get into detail here, but there should be some kind of timeline for your business present in your media kit. Your date of founding is essential, as are any significant moments (such as going public or getting acquired).
Be sure to back these significant events up with links to relevant content, such as previously published press releases, or even blog entries if you have them.
- Leadership. Your media kit should also contain information about your company leadership, including a demonstration of your personal brand (especially if you’re the entrepreneur who created the business).Any prominent partners, creative leads, or noteworthy personnel should also be listed—this will help broaden your perceived influence, and may provide more press opportunities based on connections of connections. Brief bios should also be included, along with information of your previous expertise.
Statistics and information
Journalists love to cite facts and figures, so the more objective data points you can include about your brand, the better. This also further incentivizes them to link back to your site, as they’ll need a citation for the statistical data meaning it can help your SEO campaign.
To give you some ideas for what types of data to post, here are some suggestions:
- Date of founding. The date of founding is a given, and any other important dates should be prominent.
- Customers and/or revenue. Listing your number of current customers (or clients, or subscribers) gives a sense of scale to your business, as does your operating revenue (though you may not wish to disclose this information for privacy reasons).
- Growth. Even if you aren’t comfortable posting exact revenue information, you should still be able to post your growth rates as an expression of a percentage. How much has your business grown, year over year? How fast do you expect to grow in the near future?
- Readership and following. Any information about your readership or following is helpful. Your number of email subscribers, followers on social channels, and blog visitors are all great stats to sample here.
- Publisher relationships. You’ve been published before, both on news sources and niche sites, so show off that experience! Make a list of the publishers you’re affiliated with, showcasing logos whenever you can—it makes a big impact.
- Brand/client relationships. You can also ask permission from any major clients you have to include their names in your media kit. The logos of Fortune 500 companies make a big impression.
It wouldn’t be a media kit without media, right? But the media I’m referring to here is different from the “media” as it describes news sources and publications. This is the visual sense of the word “media,” referring to tangible elements that a publisher may use to enhance or supplement their coverage of your brand:
- Brand assets. Once you get to the higher echelons of reputation, you’ll almost certainly want to include your brand’s logo, in a few different variations (such as black and white, or in a “stacked” alternative version). This will ensure that any external publishers who cover your brand will present it accurately, as brand consistency is imperative to building both brand recognition and customer loyalty.If you have other brand assets, such as a specific typeface, a mascot, or other signature elements of your identity, these might be good to include as well.
- Images. Images are more for your benefit than for the publisher. Your media contacts will want to include some kind of visual element in their stories, so if you provide them with visual material proactively, you’ll have a greater degree of control over what gets placed in the final publication.
Use images that fall in line with your brand identity, and show off your company’s capabilities if you can. For examples, images of your team in action, or of your physical location with a line out the door can benefit your overall public image.
- Videos. Any videos you showcase should follow most of the same rules as your images. You can host them onsite, or offsite on a channel like YouTube. The latter may make it easier for publishers to embed your video on their content. As you might imagine, shorter, more informative videos are better here than long or promotional ones.
Policies and agreements
It’s also a good idea to include instructions and policies about how, exactly, people are allowed to use this information. You could hire a lawyer and draft up a formal agreement that digs into detail about how your assets and statistics are to be used, but this is generally more trouble than it’s worth.
For most brands, an informal, even conversational request is more than enough to make sure your information is used appropriately. Besides, all your brand assets are protected under general intellectual property laws, so you don’t need to worry about plagiarism or theft.
As a great example, check out MailChimp’s brand assets page. They take some time to show exactly how not to use their brand, clarifying some common misconceptions, then make a few simple statements about when you can and can’t use their information. It’s simple, to-the-point, easy to follow, and doesn’t demand that your external publishers get legal representation before giving you free media exposure.
There are some ongoing considerations you’ll need to bear in mind as your reputation grows, and you start striving for higher goals. Media relations aren’t something that can be initiated or executed as one-time events; they demand management and refinement over time.
Journalist and influencer relationship management
You’ll need to manage your relationships with journalists, influencers, editors, and publishers on a regular basis. If you lose contact for too long, you could lose them from your network entirely; here’s how to keep your contacts happy and engaged:
- Always be polite and respectful. This should go without saying, but even when you find yourself in a professional disagreement, you need to remain polite and respectful at all costs. Along these lines, you need to respect your contacts’ time, and never burden them with excessive requests.
- Contribute content or ideas at least monthly. If you want to keep contacts within your circle, aim to have a touchpoint at least once a month. This might mean submitting an article for publication, or it might mean simply reaching out with a question or an idea.
- Never ignore a message. Whenever your contact reaches out to you, via email, phone, or any other medium, don’t let them go without a response. Even if you have to deny a request, or don’t have much value to add, a simple acknowledgment of receipt will let them know you value them.
- Be willing to do favors. You don’t need to bend over backward to keep your contacts happy, but if you can do them occasional favors, you should try to. It helps keep the relationship mutually positive.
You’ll also want to take advantage of any cross-promotional opportunities you can find. Usually, this involves supporting a press release or coverage article on an external publisher by using your own marketing campaigns.
For example, you might share a positive press piece on your personal brand’s social media channel, or email it out to your subscribers. Refer to my introductory section on media coverage’s “relationship to other marketing strategies” for more ideas.
Showcasing your new authority
Finally, don’t forget to take ownership of your latest publication opportunities by showcasing your affiliation with major publication brands. On your website, you should have a rotating list of publishers, or a collage of different logos of those publishers, to demonstrate social proof and make your reputation known.
Similarly, you’ll want to reference your partnerships and previous coverage in every new pitch or every new relationship you create; this will help you land even bigger and better opportunities in the future.
I want to close this guide with a list of examples of companies that have successfully leveraged media exposure for their brands. This has proven difficult, as there’s little transparency into the outreach strategies and journalistic relationships available to various companies, and there’s even less evidence of early-stage startups making their breakthrough via manually submitted press releases or content pitches.
Instead, I want to focus on some bigger companies, as a demonstration of just how much power a single news story can have on the public.
Jeff Bezos and Washington Post
In 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder CEO of Amazon, purchased the Washington Post. The world hasn’t really stopped talking about it since. Even though much of the reaction has been negative, complaining of the newspaper leaving local control and expressing concerns that Bezos may strive to profit from the purchase, therefore biasing the publication, it’s gotten Amazon, the Washington Post, and Jeff Bezos himself a ton of exposure. In fact, the New York Times recently did a follow-up piece on this very subject.
(Image Source: The New York Times)
This is a fantastic example of how a personal brand can transcend a corporate brand, even a powerful one like Amazon, as Bezos is the center of these forms of media coverage, not any one company or organization. These major publications have also had a cascading effect, trickling down to smaller, less authoritative publishers as “newsjackers” and other publishers attempt to benefit from the story’s publicity.
Y Combinator’s Startup Revelations
Y Combinator is one of the most sought-after startup accelerators in the country. Why? Because of the sheer access it has to media publications. Everyone’s watching Y Combinator during Demo Day, when all of its startups present their ideas to potential investors (and a leering public).
TechCrunch and other niche tech publications go crazy for Demo Day, and it often ends up being a top viewed and top shared article for almost all of them.
(Image Source: TechCrunch)
This is a good example of how even being a marginal contributor, like being only one company in the hundred or so presenters of Demo Day, can give you a massive boost in popularity. Not all startups get access to relationships on the order of Y Combinator’s influence, but you can start small and work your way up to something analogous.
Red Bull Stratos
I mention Red Bull Stratos because it’s, quite frankly, one of the greatest publicity stunts of all time. It even has its own Wikipedia page.
(Image Source: Red Bull)
In the project, daredevil Felix Baumgartner flew almost 40 kilometers into the stratosphere, leaving Earth’s atmosphere, and diving a full 10 minutes back to ground—all while sporting Red Bull branding. Media coverage was rampant, including forecasting and announcements in the weeks leading up to the event, ample streaming and coverage during the event, and analysis of the impact of the event for weeks after.
Why is this such an interesting example of media exposure for startups? Because this was a contrived event. You may not have the budget or the reach to stage such a massive stunt, but something like SMB Sam’s St. Patrick’s day promotion is certainly within your reach.
Sometimes, the news we create for ourselves ends up being more interesting than “real” news—and you can use that to your brand’s advantage.
Lyft’s DeLorean Rides
Finally, there was Lyft’s free “DeLorean” rides, offered in October of 2015, in celebration of the date Marty McFly goes to the future in the movie Back to the Future 2. Passengers in New York City were given the option of going into “McFly” mode. When in this mode, users had a chance of being picked up by a DeLorean for a free ride of up to 15 minutes.
(Image Source: Lyft)
This story was powerful because it held an inherent value to readers—awareness of a free ride—and it also differentiated the once-startup from its major tech competitor, Uber. This is also further evidence of the fact that created news stories can be powerful.
Media exposure manifests in so many different forms, it almost can’t be categorized in a coherent, singular way. Press releases and guest posts are very different strategies, but they can be leveraged together as part of the same path to greater brand exposure.
For a startup in the early stages of development, with few customers and not much to build on other than a central idea, the approachability, cost effectiveness, and scalability of media relations makes it one of the most effective marketing strategies you can pursue.
Its power is multiplied even further when you use it in conjunction with other powerful online marketing strategies, provided you’re following best practices throughout.
There’s no single list of takeaways I can leave you with here, other than to keep in mind that everything in brand exposure and external publications boils down to your relationships. The better you build and maintain relationships with your customers, journalists, editors, and even the general public, the better you’re going to fare.
Media exposure is very much connected in a self-perpetuating feedback loop, so the more visibility you earn, the easier it will be to obtain future visibility—but the only way to gain that initial visibility is by instilling trust in your earliest relationships. Maintain a brand and a strategy with integrity, remain passionate, and stay committed; the rest will come in time.
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