Early Stage PR

with Julie Crabill

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Putting the 'relations' in public relations

Julie Crabill

Founder & CEO, PR Expert

Lessons Learned

Pick 5 to 10 reporters and spend some time getting to know their stories and building rapport.

Play hard to get with journalists to pique their interests. Engage but do not talk about yourself.

Pay attention to the output, deadlines, and processes of each outlet and journalist.


Lesson: Early Stage PR with Julie Crabill

Step #9 Reporters: Putting the 'relations' in public relations

There are a lot of things that you can do to prepare yourself to be really, really great at PR before you even consider hiring somebody or getting outside help. First of all, don't go down this path that a lot of company's go down, which is creating a massive media list of 150 people and then spamming them with every little thing that you're doing. An email blast saying, "Oh, we're about to launch this. Check it out." Journalists don't like that any more than you like being on a list of 150 people getting the same thing that looks awful and their name is inserted in a different font than the rest of the text. It's ridiculous. I would say pick five or ten people that you think will actually get your story and figure out a way to naturally get to know them.

So, that seems a little bit less intimidating and difficult. You're not spamming people on a list, which makes you look unprofessional and like you just started your company yesterday. And with those five or ten people, watch what they write about, comment on their stories, send them an email when you read an interesting story and you have something to say about it. Don't ever say anything about what your company is doing for maybe the first three months of interactions with them. Just get to know them. I guarantee you that at least one out of those ten in that period of time will start to ask you, "Who are you, what do you do, what is your company all about?" Because your lack of telling them what you do will make them want it even more.

So, maybe it's sort of like playing hard to get. If you're at a bar and you run into a journalist, just try this: The next journalist you run into, immediately pitch them your story. Tell them what you do, tell them your story and why your company is cool. And then the one that you run into after that, say nothing. Just say, "Oh yeah, we're working on this little thing, it's not a big deal. I'm not really ready to talk about it right now," or, "We're kind of in stealth mode." Or, "Yeah, one day when we're ready. I just don't want to bother you with it now. What are you up to, what are you writing about?" And ask them more about them and play kind of coy on what you're doing and watch the difference in the reaction of those two journalists.

I guarantee you the second one that you're more coy with will be more interested in what you're doing, whereas the first one won't even hear you past the first sentence. That's what they get all the time. They're totally used to that. It's like ignoring the hot chick at the bar. She's not used to that, she suddenly wants you. All the other guys are trying to buy her drinks; she's not interested. The guy in the corner that's not interested in her, she suddenly is like, "What's up with him? Why isn't he noticing me?" So play a little hard to get.

You have to start to understand the lives and the requirements that these reporters are living under. So I don't even know all of them; I've been in this business 15 years. But here are different types of media. There are media who can pick their own stories, write their own stories, and post their own stories. They don't need anybody's permission. There are very few of these people but they are out there.

Then there is a set of people that have editorial oversight. They have somebody who has to read their article, review their article. As much as you pitch them your story, if they like it enough, they have to go to their editorial meeting daily, weekly, monthly and pitch, "Here's what I want to cover. Here's what I'm writing about," and have a room of people look back at them and say, "Yeah, that's awesome," or, "Are you serious? There's no way that we'll put that in our publication or on our website. It doesn't make any sense for us."

I actually had a reporter at Mashable once tell me that she got a pitch from somebody that said, "Could you post this on the blog?" As if Mashable was just somebody's blog and they were just hanging at their house, posting stuff. "Could you just throw this up on the blog?" You know, very casual. You have to understand that there are oversights at these places, so it's not like that. I think that trying to act like you completely understand the inner workings when you haven't done your research is a really, really bad idea.

And then in terms of the deadlines too, look at each person you're talking to. I think Dean Takahashi at Venture Beat is probably writing 75 stories a day. He's a machine. I don't know how he does it. But I think that you have to be mindful of that. If you're pitching somebody like Dean who is turning out a lot of stories, yeah he's putting out a lot of content, so there's a chance that he might need more leads for good stories, but you still have to be, A, worth the time to talk to; B, you have to have your story packaged well. So, you can't pitch him and say, "Hey, Dean, I'd love for you to write about this,” and then have him ask you three questions and you only have the answers to one of those questions ready for him. You need to move fast.

Then there are other reporters that you see write a story a day maybe and you should assume that that reporter, then, is taking a lot more time doing a lot more deeper dives on things. It might take them longer to write that story, but they might be a great person for you to work with, but you have to be ready to give them that access and to take the time with them. Over time you get to know that certain outlets have fact-checkers and certain ones don't. They do their own fact checking.

If you're working with somebody who does have a fact-checker, then you're going to need to go through that process of, "I pitched to you, I talked to you, you like the story, you collected everything you needed." Two weeks later but before the story actually goes live, I'm going to get this call from this person who's going to give me, frankly, a lot of insight about what's going to be in the final story because they're going to ask me questions to verify these facts that are written.

They're never going to give you access to look at the story, so don't even ask. It's a ridiculous question a lot of people ask. No. But you can get insights by what they ask. I've heard, "How do you spell this investor's name?" Well, they're going to include that investor in the story if they're asking that question. So some of it is obvious but it can give you a lot of a sense as to what's going to appear in the final article.

There are a lot of types of media these days, even down to the influential people on Twitter and the social channels that you have to keep in mind. But I think even the more traditionally thought of types of press, there's the business press, the tech press, other verticals. I think of tech first just because of where I live and breathe. But other verticals—aerospace, semi-conductor, those kinds of things, the trade press, so I think sometimes those fall into the vertical space, but I think the trade press is more specifically like the ad trades or the marketing trades, or whatever it might be. And then I think there are broadcast and radio and those kinds of folks. There is a lot of overlap these days. So, there can be a tech reporter who's also business press now. So, there's a lot more of blending of the lines than there used to be.

There can be a business press person who has a personal blog that's a total foodie. So you have to keep in mind all of the different nuances of these people's lives. In terms of who's more important, I think it's less about the type of media, and more about the person themselves. So much as today it's less about your company and more about your personal brand, your company story is certainly important but your personal brand has to lead the charge. I think the same is true for media.

The most important guy at the New York Times, maybe he is important because he writes for the New York Times, or she is important because she writes for the New York Times, but the more important element is what are they personally into? What do they want to write about? Yes, they're going to pitch their editor to make sure that the story is something that the paper wants to run with or they want to put up on the website, but they're going to pitch that much more passionately and be much more likely to have that story to get through if they're into it. So you have to understand how they work.

I think earlier on in your company's growth story, the one thing that you have to be mindful of is that you're going to be slightly less enticing to the business press, because what they're looking for, in most cases, is a ticker symbol that they can attach your story to. So, if you're trying to tell your story to the guys at Bloomberg and you're a startup, you better make sure that in your pitch you can talk about how this affects the app market, and they can use APPL in their story, or how this is about targeted pay-per-click advertising and they can use GOOG in their story. So you've got to look for ways to attach it to the publicly tradable markets.

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