An Editor Tells You How to Really Get Your PR Efforts Noticed

on May 4, 2018

I have been writing a small business column question and answer column for USA TODAY for 20 years. As a result, I hear from two kinds of people a lot.

First, I hear from a lot of PR people. I probably get at least 10 pitches a day. But I say yes to only very, very few of them. Second, I also necessarily hear from a lot of small business people and entrepreneurs. One of the questions I get from them most often is, “Hey Steve, how can I get some publicity for my business?”

It’s a great question because getting someone to do a story about your business can make all the difference. Why do you think we heard a story about Amazon’s futuristic drone delivery (even though they don’t deliver that way yet) just before the holiday season? Right, because even Jeff Bezos knows that publicity is priceless.

A story about your business is not you saying what your business is great, it is someone else — an independent third-party no less — saying that your business is great, worthy of attention. That is fantastic.

So, why do I say yes, and far more often no, and how can you get someone to do a story about you or your business? Here’s how, in four easy steps:

1. The first thing you must do is come up with a unique angle for your story. As we say in the journalism world, “dog bites man” is not news, but “man bites dog” is. What you want to do is come up with something different, unique, special and creative about your business.

Note: your angle/pitch should not be about the business itself, because no one wants to give you a puff piece about your business. That’s the ticket.

2. Next, you need to find the right blogger, reporter, writer, or producer — someone who will be interested in that story and that angle. I can’t tell you how often I hear from people who pitch to me, not because they have a great small business story, but because they found my name on some list. Small business is what I write about; I am not interested in a story about a new healthcare product. So, you need to find the person whose beat is something related to your business/angle.

3. Next, you need to craft a short, snappy, intriguing email. Don’t send just a press release because most journalists are not interested in reprinting your press release. The email must have a great subject line, not be too long, and this is number four, you need to make it personal.

4. Your pitch is made to a human being. You need to know their name (not “Dear editor”), know what they cover, and maybe you even say something nice about something they have recently written.

I received a pitch recently where someone said, “Steve, I loved that great article you wrote about why you hire English majors.” Yes, my ego liked that, but also, I knew that that person knew what they were talking about. Then I read the pitch. It was short and snappy, was something new that I had not really covered before, and in the end, was something that I did end up writing about.

There’s a good lesson there.