What happens when you see a packed row of media logos on a brand’s website? You know, logos that show all the different blogs and news sites a company has been featured on. You get that mix of “wow, they got featured there?” and “damn, I wish I could have done that.” You know that brand is visible.
But you tell yourself you can’t do it. You can’t do it because no one knows you exist. You don’t have a friend who could pull some strings and get you on national television. And the last thing you have is a budget for a publicist.
The good news is, you don’t have to hire an expensive publicist or be well connected to get press coverage. With a little guidance, anyone can do their own outreach to the press and land coverage in top publications.
Not only that, learning how to do your own publicity means personally building a foundation of support with journalists and influencers that will pay huge dividends in the longer term. You gain direct contact with established people who can help you take your business to a whole new level. And if done strategically, you don’t have to spend a dime. Here’s how to do it.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Build a Target Audience Profile (TAP)
The first step in generating powerful press coverage is to figure out your target audience. A Target Audience Profile, or TAP, is the one person your brand is speaking to. It’s the ideal customer for your product or service—your biggest fan.
This is the person your company was made to serve. They’re ready and able to follow, sign up, invest in, or buy your approach to their problem. Out of anyone in the world, this person will have the most success with your solution.
It doesn’t matter if you create physical or digital products or services, the TAP applies to any kind of business you can imagine. It’s one of the best tools for creating a truly knockout PR strategy.
By speaking to one ideal customer, you create consistency in everything you do. People want to rely on brands they love. Consistency reinforces reliability.
This can be felt through company visuals, the features of a product or service, how you handle a customer service issue, and even how you pitch journalists. Through laser focus, you give your TAP the feeling that you’re working your buns off, just for them.
Behind the scenes, a TAP gives you intense clarity on what steps you should and shouldn’t take in your business. You’ll know what will delight your customers and what will totally turn them off, no matter what’s trending or what the economy is like this week.
Finally, having a TAP removes the pressure for giant, random growth. You don’t need to generate tens of thousands of aimless followers to launch or create results. Your conversion rates will improve when you’re targeting the right people, saving you time and money while serving your ideal audience. It’s all about taking small, consistent steps to get in front of the right people.
So how do you design this godsend of a customer?
Imagine you’re writing a novel and you need to develop the main character. You want to write down as many details as possible about who this person is, what drives them, and what challenges them. By getting into their psyche, you can flesh out a living, breathing person and bring your story to life. I know that might sound a little silly, but it actually works!
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What is this person’s name? Age? Occupation? Income? Cultural background?
- What do they do in their free time?
- What is keeping this person up in the middle of the night?
- What is the perfect solution to their problem?
- How exactly does your business solve their problem?
- What does your TAP already know about the problem you solve? Doesn’t know?
- What are questions or keywords they don’t even know to look up?
- What turns them off from a product or service?
- Where does your TAP get their news from?
- Who does this person get advice and recommendations (about the problem you solve) from?
- What does this person Google when they’re looking for an answer to the problem you solve?
You can start by answering those questions on your own, but I know you want some data to back this up.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
- If you’re busy, create a Typeform and survey 20 people who fit your TAP.
- Ideally, schedule one-on-one conversations. In exchange for a free consultation or a cup of coffee, ask for 30-minute interviews from a handful of people who fit your TAP. Ask them the questions above and ask how you can help them.
We have the internet and phones, so even if you live halfway across the world from your TAP, you have no excuses, so get to it!
Be sure to note phrases that are emotionally charged or keep coming up in your interviews. You can use those same words in your marketing, in interviews, or in guest posts like this one! Using language your TAP uses to describe themselves further reinforces that your product or service was made just for them.
Xtensio even has this free User Persona Creator that lets you to visually organize your TAP and reference it whenever you want!
Before we move on, you might be wondering What if I have more than one TAP?
It’s great if your company serves more than one type of person. But if you don’t take a stand, you don’t have a brand.
It doesn’t mean that people who aren’t your TAP won’t love what you’re doing. You don’t have to turn down business from those people. When it comes down to it, you need to reel in your TAP to have a successful publicity or marketing strategy.
If this is your first PR campaign, do yourself a favor and make things easy.
Focus on one TAP, and give it 100%. As you go through the process, you will get feedback from actual people and can adjust your description. This might mean that you can combine what you thought were a few audiences into one, or make super clear distinctions between the types of people your company serves.
Step 2: Discover Where To Get Press Coverage
Just as it is important to narrow down your target audience, you also want to define which outlets would best suit your campaign. The goal isn’t to “get a ton of press” or spam 300 writers. It’s to get laser-focused write-ups and features that will help you accomplish tangible goals in your business.
Since you’ve already done the work, make sure to note any publications people mention in your TAP survey. These are excellent places to look into for media coverage.
Find Media Outlets to Pitch Using Social
One of the easiest ways to find places to pitch is to follow similar brands on social media. On Instagram and Facebook, follow your TAP’s favorite brands. Start a list of outlets where those brands are landing press coverage and identify which hashtags and keywords are popular.
Keep an eye on who these brands are collaborating with, how they interact with their followers, and what they’re commenting on. Then, loop back through those related accounts and add any new outlets you’ve found to your media list.
While you’re on social, be sure to check out #PRrequest and #journorequest on Twitter. These are hashtags that writers regularly use to find sources in a range of genres.
While you can also explore related brands on Pinterest, its search engine capabilities make it the perfect keyword research tool. In the top search bar, type a keyword and you’ll get a list of related categories and people that you can look into.
Find Outlets to Pitch Using Keywords
Keywords aren’t just for SEO and marketing. They happen to be super useful in guiding your media research, too. Having the right keywords will help you develop a focused pitch and show journalists that you know what you’re talking about.
When you do a search using the right keywords, you’ll be able to efficiently find media publications that cover your niche.
Instead of just googling “business blogs,” get clear about what you do, who you’re targeting, and the problem you’re solving. You need to get into the mindset of the person looking for your product or service. Keywords are a simple way to connect what you offer with what your target audience is looking for. They help you find the publications that would most effectively communicate your message to your target audience.
Use these questions to help you brainstorm keywords for your niche:
- What do you do? VR development, digital book publishing, social media management, etc.
- What do you call yourself? researcher, coach, blogger, mentor, chef, trainer, etc.
- What problem do you solve? increase revenue by optimizing sales funnels, corporate event planning, on-demand transportation, skincare, etc.
- Who are you targeting? Millennial travel bloggers, new mothers in the midwestern United States, female tech entrepreneurs who taught themselves how to code, etc.
If you’re researching publications that relate to an industry term, look it up in a dictionary and make sure you’re using precise language. You’ll have better luck finding media outlets that are already writing about your niche when you use the correct keywords. For example, there are differences between an event planner, event manager, and event producer. They all sound the same to me, but they’re different jobs and different people will be searching for each one.
Before we get into a list of keyword research tools, I suggest you take a moment and plan so you avoid getting overwhelmed. Especially if publicity outreach is brand new to you, trying everything at once will feel impossible, and that’s ok.
I suggest you choose one tool out of the list below and try it out. Remember, the end goal is to create a shortlist of high quality media outlets, not a sprawling database.
Answer The Public: This is one of my favorite keyword research tools. Simply type in a topic and this nifty site shows you what questions your TAP is searching on Google and Bing. You can look up those same questions in a search engine, find the top results, and add those media outlets to your outreach list.
It’s also a great tool to generate guest post ideas and topics that you can discuss in interviews and features.
Traditional keyword/hashtag planning tools are also useful in this case. Check out Ubersuggest.io, keywordtool.io, Hashtagify.me, and Google Keyword Planner. To do some digging on the go, give the Hashtagger mobile app a try. It’s a breeze to use and helps you find related hashtags on Instagram. And it’s totally free!
Moz Keyword Explorer: If you want to meet your audience where they already hang out, take this tool out for a spin. Keywords with lots of recent searches are hot topics, aka press opportunities. You might also find related search terms that aren’t really popping right now, but you can plan to overtake them in the future. To keep things simple, start by adding publications with the highest ranking results related to your chosen keywords to your media list.
SEMrush: This one helps you find top keywords for other, similar brands and their main competitors just by typing in their URL. You can use this site to identify which keywords competitors are using and paying for. This tool also shows you a handful of their paid ads, so you can understand the tone they’re using with target their audience. This is useful when you’re trying to figure out the right balance of serious/professional and friendly/approachable for communicating with your TAP. At the bottom of the page you can also check out which sites link back to your competitor’s site—if they’re news outlets, add them to your list!
BuzzSumo: Having a TAP really comes in handy with BuzzSumo. This site identifies social sharing stats for articles in your niche. One publication might get more Facebook shares and another might get more on LinkedIn. Decide which network is a priority for your business goals and for your TAP and reach out to that outlet first.
Google Alerts: Another useful tool is good ol’ Google. Set an alert up for each of your TAP’s favorite brands and get notified of new articles as they’re published. This way you can start following the writers and outlets who publish them.
Throughout your search, write down key questions you can answer during an interview, in a guest post, or your own blog.
Turn Brand Envy Into New Opportunities
During the course of your research, it can be easy to get caught up in brand envy. You know, that feeling that everyone else is already doing things so well, so what’s the point of starting?
The truth is, you can turn envy into opportunity. Thank these brands for spending tons of money on professionals who did the heavy lifting for you!
Take a look at the dates on a feature written about a competitor. If it’s over six months to a year old, that’s a press opportunity! Reach out to the writer or editor about writing an updated post on the site, or you can pitch a different or better angle to a competing outlet.
Keep an eye on content quality. Can you write a more detailed post than the one you’ve found? Do you have more up-to-date data? Can you provide a powerful graphic? These are all opportunities.
Maybe your approach is different. Do you disagree or have a way to improve a strategy? That’s an opportunity.
Are you doing something new in your particular location? Another opportunity.
Step 3: Create a List of Qualified Contacts
You’ve found your chosen outlets you want to target, so now it’s time to figure out exactly who you’re going to pitch at each publication.
Many outlets like The Huffington Post or Entrepreneur rely heavily on outside contributors to create new content. Many of these contributors, especially in the business space, are active entrepreneurs. If you’re looking to be featured on one of these publications without doing the writing yourself, it makes sense to start direct relationships with these contributors.
You can send them new data to refresh a previous post they’ve done, help them find a lead they might be looking for, or make yourself useful in other ways. These contributors might decide to add you to a post where they quote a handful of experts about a particular topic. They might be able to pitch/write a feature on what you’re doing. Or, they might be able to connect you to the editor or other contributors for press or business purposes.
Why not go straight to the editor? The editor does make the final decision of what goes live, but it can be easier to build a relationship with a contributor. It’s more natural to start a direct conversation about how you relate to their active business, instead of trying to do the same with a busy editor who’s focused on managing an outlet. Just like any other editorial post, contributor pieces are not paid and are not sponsored pieces. You may need to work with the editors at times, but it can be easier to get your foot in the door by connecting with the publication’s contributors.
Contributors tend to also write for numerous related outlets, so if you can connect with someone who writes for HuffPost, they might be able to help you get into Forbes, etc.
How to Build a List of Qualified Prospects to Pitch
At this point, shouldn’t you just try to reach as many writers at each outlet as possible? Nope!
Qualifying your pitch prospects saves time. When you only reach out to people who would likely want to write about your story, you get higher email open rates and increased chances of getting a response.
You need to qualify these contributors first, so you don’t waste time reaching out to those who would never be interested.
Ideally, you don’t just want to find a publication that covers your topic. You want to find the specific person who does. This way, you can reach out to them directly and personalize your pitch based on the person you’re speaking to.
When I first started working in PR, my boss would have me reach out to entire departments of random writers at different publications. This led me to sending out tons of unanswered emails, following up with hundreds of uninterested people, and very few results. These days, I focus on finding one person for each outlet who specifically covers what I am pitching.
Taking this extra step to qualify your pitch prospects also keeps you from getting overwhelmed. It’s much easier to manage a list of 20 journalists you can recognize than a random database of hundreds of writers. It also helps you stay organized. Having the ability to respond quickly and follow up in a timely fashion are key PR skills.
You don’t have to do it all at once, but qualifying writers is a great habit to get into. You can spend 15 minutes per day researching and eventually sending out pitches. This approach gets you to actually do the work instead of avoiding one big project.
Most importantly, you can gain momentum. Getting press coverage builds your credibility with writers and encourages them to want to write about you. After you get your first few press placements, things will only get easier.
So this is how we’re going to qualify your pitch prospects:
1. Choose the top 10-20 publications you found in your research
2. Research writers from these publications
In your research, you want to make sure they’re actively writing, and that they cover your area/field/genre, specifically.
3. Set up a Google Sheet with the following columns:
a. Publication Na
b. First Name
c. Last Name (optional
e. Email Address
f. Recent related article link
g. Submission Requirements
4. Read an article about your niche from each publication and add it to the spreadsheet. Make sure you write down the author’s name. Take note of what you think about the article and any pitch/submission requirements they might have.
Step 4: Find Email Contact Information
One of the biggest stumbling blocks entrepreneurs come across is getting contact information for their pitch prospects. This is something I get asked about practically every week, so I’m here to share some good news! You don’t need to invest in databases that are $600+/mo to get quality contact info. Amazing, right?
Here’s how I go about finding contact information for writers at media outlets:
First, I get into the detective mindset. When I find the right article, I check the publication site first. Look for an author page, about page, contact page, masthead, or staff page.
Ideally, you don’t want to send a pitch to a general outlet email address. It’s hard to customize an email when you don’t know who’s going to read it, and it makes follow up tricky. Unless submission guidelines clearly state that pitches will not be accepted through any other email address, track down an individual to pitch.
If I come to a dead end, I look the writer up on Twitter and try to find an email address in their bio or previous tweets. It’s also totally acceptable to tweet or DM them asking where the best place to send a story would be. I make sure to limit the number of these tweets so it doesn’t look like I’m spamming up a storm.
Another good place to check is a writer’s personal website. This works well for writers who are freelancers or who write for a handful of publications. Also, don’t forget about your personal network. If you’re part of a listserv, Slack channel, or Facebook group for entrepreneurs, you can always ask to see if you could get an intro.
If you still can’t find a direct email address, try using an email finder. My favorite is called >Hunter. It gives you 150 free searches per month and has saved me dozens of hours. Similarly sites with free tiers are Voila Norbert (50 free searches) and FindThat.Email (50 free searches per month). The handy folks over at Big Picture created the completely free Email Finder, but its features are a bit more limited.
When using an email search tool, keep in mind publications that fall under umbrella companies don’t always use the name of the magazine or blog for their emails. For example: most Elle Magazine emails don’t end with @elle.com but with @hearst.com. Also, keep an eye on first name only emails: if the format is “[email protected]” make sure it’s the right Lauren!
If you’ve taken all the above steps and still can’t find the email you’re looking for, it’s time to move on or look for someone else at that publication.
Step 5: Set Up A Press Kit
A press kit, also known as an EPK or media kit, gives a writer all the information they need to write an in-depth article about your brand. In my experience, it’s usually a one-page site with your bio and links to downloadable content. Press kits are especially useful when you’re just starting out, because writers might have a hard time finding information about you from other sources.
Having a press kit saves a writer the trouble of asking you for different types of content as they write, making you a much more appealing prospect for press coverage. You’re also sending them all of your press materials in one link instead of clogging their inbox with high-res photos or videos. Keep in mind, many publications have filters in place to send you straight to the spam folder if you have attachments.
Setting up a press kit also ensures that writers always have your most up-to-date information, because you can regularly update it on your end. The content can change while the link stays the same.
An EPK keeps you organized and allows you to be ready for press coverage at the drop of a hat. Let’s say you meet an awesome journalist at a conference. You can send them a link to your press kit from your phone, no need to scramble for all your PR materials. That might be a connection that brings you a life-changing opportunity.
Here’s what your press kit should include:
- 3 types of bios. Write a short, one-sentence bio that describes who you are, who you help, and the special way that you solve your TAP’s problem. Then, write a medium bio that can be used at the bottom of a press release or to introduce you during an interview or speaking engagement. This should be about 3-5 sentences long. Finally, write a 3-5 paragraph bio that gives writers everything they need to know about the project or launch you’re publicizing. Include the longest bio in the body of your press kit site.
- Links to your website and all your social accounts. Which networks does your TAP regularly use? Maintain an active profile on the networks that matter to them. Most writers and publications have active Twitter accounts and they tend to post the same article several times per day. It’s a good idea to set up a profile that links to your site, so if you do get tagged in a post, people can find your website. For tagging purposes, I also recommend you set up Facebook and Instagram profiles with a handful of posts and your contact information.
- Downloadable press photos. These don’t have to be fancy, but they do need to be clear. Phones have excellent cameras these days, so you can’t avoid publicity because you “don’t have a good camera.” If you’re the face of your brand, find some diffused lighting or go outside and snap a few photos. Avoid using filters or turning up the brightness too much. My favorite camera app is called VSCO, and I love that it gives you such precise control over photos.
- Optional: Statement. Depending on your niche, it might make sense for you to prepare a mission statement, artist statement, or a statement of ethics. In my experience, most art and design blogs ask for an artist statement in your pitch, so if your brand falls into that category, you can save a ton of time. If you deal with legal issues or social causes, make sure you have a mission statement or a brief statement of ethics.
- Optional: Sample Questions. It’s a good idea to include a list of sample questions an interviewer could ask you, especially if you’re looking to book spoken interviews or podcast appearances. You can even include a list of past failures and how you overcame them. Hint: overcoming failure is a classic story type that will never go out of style.
- Optional:Previous press coverage. If you happen to have more than four or five pieces of media coverage, select the best quotes from your top three to include in your press kit. Link the rest of your posts to media outlet logos that point to the article or recording.
I know this is a lot of information! Keep it together by popping your press materials into a cloud folder like Google Drive or Dropbox. Ideally, make a webpage that has your bio, socials, and a link to your cloud folder with the rest of the information.
If you’re not tech-savvy, use drag-and-drop services like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. You can even work some magic with WordPress by using a drag-and-drop plugin like Visual Composer> or a theme suite like Divi Themes.
To keep your press kit in tip-top shape, follow these pro tips:
- Make sure the permissions on your cloud folder are set to “available to anyone who has the link.” The last thing you want to do is send someone your press kit with a link they can’t access.
- Save your bio as a word document. Either include your bio in the body of your media kit webpage or add a word document to your cloud folder. The reason being, copy/pasting text from a PDF can make formatting really weird, and it’s annoying to deal with when you’re writing an article.
- Make sure your media kit webpage looks good on all devices. As much as all the drag-and-drop services tell you everything will pop perfectly into place, it’s a good idea to check your site on a variety of screen sizes. You never know if a title is getting cut off or something is hard to read on certain devices.
- Don’t embed high-res press photos into your webpage. By all means, add a small photo so people know what you look like. But for your high-res photos, include a prominent, written link on your page that goes straight to your cloud folder. This allows you to change out your photos periodically and massively reduces load time on your page.
Step 6: Write Concise, Powerful Pitches
The most successful pitches are often sent to people you already know. It’s easy to ask your friends a question or a favor, right?
When I first started doing my own publicity, my day job was selling popsicles on the streets of NYC. I had no connections to the things that I wanted to publicize. Every pitch was a cold pitch, and because I’m really stubborn, I learned how to connect to people quickly and clearly.
These days I’ve worked with writers who cover business, technology, art, design, culture, music, and everything in between. I’m able to take on different projects because I don’t just rely on my “industry connections.” I’m constantly forging new connections with every campaign.
You never know when someone will leave a publication or if you’ll need to get press coverage on short notice. You need to be ready to send out a solid pitch no matter what.
First things first, get to know the writer you’re pitching. What’s their usual tone? Is it scholarly, critical, inspiring, casual, or funny? Some people might be very casual on Twitter and incredibly serious in the articles they write. In that case, you want to pitch them in a friendly tone, but make sure that your press kit materials have a strong sense of professionalism.
If you’re trying to help your audience get to know you, an on-camera or podcast interview might be your best bet. Does your journalist do those? If you want your TAP to trust how amazing your new product is, a product review might be more fitting.
Ask yourself, what brings value to this writer’s audience, and how are you going to provide it to them? Knowing these answers will only strengthen your pitch process. If you’re feeling a little stuck, try a tool like Crystal. Although their database is still growing, this site gives you insight into how tons of writers prefer to communicate.
Pitch Email Format
After you have a sense of who you’re pitching, it’s time to write your first pitch email! Let’s start with the subject line. It’s the first thing someone is going to see, and it’s also the gateway to the rest of your email. No pressure!
My most effective subject lines include the person’s first name and are super clear about what’s in the email. It’s actually that simple.
Here’s an example: Hi Carolyn! Exclusive Preview of Yoga with Cats Book
If you were Carolyn and you wrote about cats and/or yoga, you would probably want to open this gem of an email.
Moving on to the body of your pitch email:
First, start with a greeting that repeats the writer’s name. In the first sentence, establish a connection. This can be as simple as commenting on a recent article. If you have them, mention mutual connections, a shared location, etc.
In the second sentence, state your purpose and follow that with a description of your upcoming launch or press-worthy event. Be sure to explain why this news matters to them/their audience, and specifically, why now? If you have impressive and clear data or statistics, you can use that to back up your why.
You want to keep your entire email between 100 and 300 words. While it doesn’t have to be as short as a sales email, you’re essentially selling an idea, so keep things to the point. Close your email with simple question.
Be sure to link to any external sites, but don’t paste the hundred-character URL. Proofread your email to avoid typos and fix any broken links.
Here’s a sample cold pitch template that you can customize for your own brand:
I read your article about and .
I’m writing to see if you’d be interested in writing about for .
Please click here to view my press kit for photos and more info. << include link to media kit
Do you think this is something that your readers would like to learn about?
If you really want to up the ante, establish a connection with a writer before you pitch them. Regularly comment on their articles and share their content as it comes out. This helps you better understand their audience because you’ll probably end up interacting with them directly. Shoot them a non-pitch email and see if you can help them with anything. If your first contact isn’t selling your idea, it’s easier to build trust and forge a genuine connection.
Don’t forget to ask your network for a warm email introduction. You never know when those connections can save you months of outreach time.
If you get a “no” response, ask them what you would need to do to turn it into a yes. That might mean sending over a story from one of your colleagues, or pitching them at a different time.
Finally, make sure you respect people’s boundaries. Follow posted submission guidelines and make sure you include the content they request. Some writers or outlets don’t like follow ups, so give them the time they need to review your submission.
Congrats! Now you know what it takes to run your first PR campaign.
But reading and thinking about this isn’t going to generate media coverage for you. Leave me a comment below with the following:
- One step you will take today to start getting press coverage for your brand.
- One question you will ask your network for help with.