How to Win Free Press for Your Business or Nonprofit
Publicity helps small businesses and nonprofits guide the narrative about their brand. This channel of communicating with the public can spread awareness, develop market positioning, and grow goodwill. In today’s world of digital marketing and social media management, leaders sometimes assume that a viral video or a top-tier SEO strategy are the only ways to become part of the cultural conversation. Generating press around your business is still a powerful tool that often blends with these digital strategies.
Free press is often ripe for the taking. The process requires some digging and a thoughtful approach, but it’s possible for any brand no matter how big or small. As long as you have a story to tell, your brand is worthy of press coverage. You just need to ask. Keep reading to find out how you can go about winning free press for your small business or nonprofit.
The first step to winning free press is scouting opportunities. The goal is to develop a list of publications, organizations, or media outlets that are likely to reach your target audience with their communications. Depending on your business, a few examples might be Inc. Magazine, HuffPost, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or your local morning show.
Start with your industry or niche. There are trade journals, websites, and blogs for just about any industry or interest area. This is particularly useful for B2B businesses whose target audiences might be getting their industry news from these publications.
Next, think locally. Local publications are helpful, especially if you serve a specific community. From city papers to neighborhood magazines and newsletters, these can be effective avenues to reaching the community surrounding your business or nonprofit. Local publications are usually more accessible as they are motivated to support other members of the community.
You can also use HARO (helpareporter.com) which is a service that connects journalists with sources. Journalists post requests for experts on specific topics for their stories. If you see a relevant request, you can volunteer your expertise.
Don’t limit your search to traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines, and television stations. Sometimes alternative spaces will be easier to approach and produce better results. Small blogs and e-newsletters develop strong, personal relationships with their readers. Recommendations from them sometimes mean more. Same with podcasts and web series. Hosts are trusted. Their support is meaningful.
You can also extend your search to organizations that might have sway with your audience. Membership organizations for a specific profession, hobby, or special interest often have email newsletters, blogs, or popular social media channels. A simple mention in a newsletter or on social media has the potential to send many high-quality leads in your direction.
Think about your network. You might find an opportunity that you haven’t considered before. Does one of your vendors have a popular blog? Or do you happen to have a client with a podcast? Having an established relationship makes reaching out with a request more comfortable.
As you create your list of opportunities, grab contact information for each target. For organizations or publications, identify a specific person to reach out to rather than going for a general email address. You want to find the person who will be writing the article (like a journalist), posting on social media (like a communications director), or doing the interview (like a podcast host). These individuals are in the position to help you.
Pro Tip: Follow your media targets on social media. Don’t just follow, though. Make sure to interact. Help them become familiar with you or your brand. Then, when you come knocking, they will already have some awareness of you already.
What to Ask For
Now that you know who you want to approach for free press, you need to decide exactly what you’re asking for. This will depend on what you’re hoping to get out of the free press–whether that’s a simply broader awareness of your brand, launching a new product, or attracting a new audience group. You will need a story that will help you reach the goal of your communication.
Here are some ideas of stories you can tell through press coverage:
- Introducing your business or nonprofit, if you’re just starting out
- Introducing a new product or service
- Expanding your business into a new location or new industry
- An upcoming or recent event
- A new initiative or results from a new initiative
- A business milestone like an anniversary
- A change in the business like a new partner or leader
Depending on the story you’re hoping to tell about your brand, some of your contacts might be ruled out. For example, if you’re hoping to show off how a new product works, you might prefer media outlets that incorporate video, like a local television station or web series on YouTube. These opportunities will create clips that are great to share on social media after the fact.
When reaching out to written publications like newspapers, magazines, and blogs, the hope is that the publisher will tell your story in an article or a post. Podcasts and other nontraditional media platforms will vary in the sort of coverage they can offer you, from an hour-long interview to a simple mention of your brand.
Knowing what you’re looking for from a media outlet will help you when you get around to reaching out. Sometimes the most effective method is simply asking for what you want. Many organizations will be happy to help!
Pro Tip: Your story needs to be exciting enough to convince your contact to pursue it. If a journalist doesn’t consider your story newsworthy, they won’t be motivated to cover it. Try to find an angle that people outside your organization will find interesting, impressive, or appealing.
How to Reach Out
When trying to win free press for your brand, you are essentially asking someone to do you a favor. That’s how you should approach the process of reaching out. Be forthcoming and complimentary. Express your appreciation for the hard work they do as members of the media.
In the case of traditional media outlets like newspapers and magazines, reaching out with a press release is routine. You can learn more about writing a successful press release here. Whether you decide to approach a journalist covering your beat or an editor, they know what you want. Organizations approach them all the time for press coverage. Simply copy your press release into the body of an email (never attach!) with a short note and send.
Sometimes, publications will have a system set up for accepting press releases like a form on their website or a press release email address. If so, they usually have instructions on their website. Follow them exactly. This method is less personal, but may still be effective. In many cases, publications will publish your press release directly with few changes. It’s great when this happens because your language and how you choose to represent your brand remain intact.
For less traditional media sources like a small blog or trade organization, reaching out can be more casual. A press release may not be appropriate for your first attempt. Craft an email introducing yourself and your business. Be as direct as you feel comfortable with. You can ask a related question before you make a request, but directly asking for help works too. For example, try saying, “I’m working on growing my business. Would it be possible to be included in your monthly newsletter?” The more you ask for help, the easier it will become!
Pro Tip: When you reach out with a request, emphasize how your story will benefit the contact’s audience. For example, when emailing a press release to a journalist, including why you think their readers will find the story interesting. When reaching out to a blogger, show them how your story relates to one of their recent posts.
After you start reaching out, focus on developing relationships with the contacts that you’ve made. Once you’ve opened up a conversation, connecting in the future becomes easier. Even if a previous interaction did not result in any press, it’s wise to continue reaching out as more newsworthy developments happen in your business or nonprofit. It might take some time before a contact decides to follow through with one of your requests. Especially when it comes to journalists, persistence is rewarded. Your third press release might be the one that convinces them that you really do have a story to share.
If reaching out to a certain contact successfully resulted in press for your business, fantastic! Reply with a thank you. Engage on social media. And definitely make sure to follow up with any exciting news in the future. This could be the blossoming of a beautiful media relationship.
Pro Tip: When reaching out for a second or third time, reply back to your previous email thread. This will refresh your contact on who you are and your previous conversation.
There are really so many ways that you can drum up press for your small business or nonprofit. The key is finding the players that hold influence in your industry and sharing your story with them. Once you do that, you can begin building media relationships and see your own influence grow.
Approaching the press on behalf of your small business or nonprofit can be daunting. If you need help with any part of this process, from deciding on media outlets to crafting a persuasive press release, our digital marketing experts can have your back. We’re here to help small businesses grow, and winning free press is an effective strategy.
Best of luck spreading the word about your business or nonprofit!
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