How to run your own PR campaign on a tight budget

PR expert Nicola Snell, founder of global PR platform, Press Loft, introduced us to the key elements of PR, including the best ways to approach journalists, write a press release, and do your own PR for your creative startup, on a recent Zoom Dive. Zoom Dives is our regular virtual event bringing creative business experts together in conversation with our founder, Carolyn Dailey.

Read on to discover the key takeaways, or you can listen to the discussion in full here.

Some key advice on PR

  • Journalists love to hear about exciting new products and stories, and want to be the first to hear about them
  • Build PR activities into your weekly schedule. Make time to reach out to journalists each week, and before long it’ll become second nature
  • Keep an eye on the press and on what they’re reporting on. Adapt your pitch so that your brand/product compliments a topic that’s trending.
  • Always share any coverage you receive on your own website and channels – don’t underestimate the value of third party endorsement and brand association, especially when starting out

What are some easy ways to find journalists?

  • If you have a budget:

Media databases such as Gorkana are extremely helpful, as they contain the contact details of journalists and editors from most press titles. Signing up to them can save you huge amounts of time. They are very costly though.

  • If you have no budget:

Twitter is a great tool to research journalists. In the search bar, type the name of your target publication, then click on the People tab. This will show you everyone who includes the name of the magazine in their bio, ie. they work there. Make sure to follow the appropriate journalists for your product/business. Do the same with the publication’s exact handle, as this will bring up  a slightly different list. You can build your own journalist list in Twitter so you can keep track of everyone.

Another idea is to use the hashtag #journorequest so you can find the latest requests from journalists for products or stories. The likelihood of finding a relevant lead is slim, but if you narrow it down by typing your sector after the hashtag – eg  #journorequest interiors – you might find something worth responding to.

A handy tool to bookmark is Readly. It is an online platform that costs £7.99/month to subscribe to. This is a valuable tool because it uploads digital versions of many major magazines, and you can usually find a generic contact email (hello@ or info@) on the masthead. You can contact this email and ask for the relevant contact info for the product/story you’re pitching.

What is the best way to approach press/influencers if you have no press contacts or prior PR experience?

  • Do your research. Take the time to read the magazine or blog and find the section or the page where you would be relevant. When you reach out to the journalist, show that you’ve done your research and mention the page that your product could be featured on. Sending blanket emails can’t be avoided, but if there are a few particular journalists suited to a very specific pitch of yours, send them a personal email.
  • The subject of your email is key. More on this below.
  • Keep your pitches brief and to the point. Journalists receive hundreds per day, so they need to be able to get the relevant information from a quick skim read. Don’t worry about making your pitch overly sophisticated
  • Make sure your pitch is relevant to them and something you think they might like based on their previous articles/posts/Twitter feed
  • Always include images. Avoid attaching high res images to your email as spam filters may pick these up, or they might be too large for inboxes. Either send low-res images, or include a link directly to a high res image bank.
  • If you’re pitching a product, send mostly cutouts – flat product images on a white background – as these are most likely to get featured. Only send a couple of lifestyle shots.

What should you avoid when approaching journalists?

  • Don’t follow up asking them if they received your press release/pitch. If they got it and they liked it, they’ll respond. They won’t always respond right away – it may take a few days, or they may get back to you down the line if your product is better suited to the next issue. However if you’ve sent a product to an influencer and had no return, then you should follow up
  • Don’t email or call them asking what they’re working on. Show that you know what they like and what they’re working on, and demonstrate why your product is right for them.
  • Don’t ask if your product/brand has been featured yet. It’s up to you to monitor your coverage, so go out and buy the edition of the magazine(s) you pitched to, and keep checking the websites and blogs.

What’s the difference between long and short leads, and when and how should one pitch to these?

  • Lead time refers to the time between the journalist writing an article and the publishing date
  • Long lead – these are monthly titles, such as Vogue, GQ, House & Garden. They work several months in advance, so pitch 3/4 months before the publishing date.
  • Short lead – these are weekly titles, newspapers, blogs and influencers. The turnaround is either instant or a few days, so pitch to these for immediate stories.

We’re seeing a real decline in the print industry, so long leads are diminishing, but some industries – such as fashion and beauty – still place high value in printed press, so don’t discount these.The benefit of this decline is that you can get more coverage more quickly now, as much more is online

What’s the difference between working with bloggers and influencers vs working with journalists?

Bloggers and influencers don’t have a fixed salary – they make their money from brand collaborations and product reviews, so gifting is essential and usually you need some budget to work with a big influencer. There is a lot of blurring between free coverage and #ad coverage with bloggers and influencers. This is much more clearly defined in magazines and newspapers

Should you be sending out free samples of your product? What is a reasonable number of editors to gift to?

  • In certain industries you do have to send products so that they can be reviewed, such as tech and beauty, and often fashion
  • Very high value products can’t legally be gifted to the press (furniture, jewellery, electronics)
  • A general rule of thumb to follow is ‘one product to one editor, per magazine’. Of course this is dependent on what your business does, the stage of your business, your budget and the cost of producing your product. Don’t gift more than you can afford!
  • Don’t send out gifts randomly to every editor you can find. This is costly, timely and probably won’t produce much return. Always ask them first, make sure they’re interested in the product and get the right address!

What is the best way to approach the PR calendar?

  • Spend your time wisely and always plan ahead
  • Record all of the key holidays and dates that are relevant to your brand/product
  • Plan your PR calendar around lead times and count backwards from the relevant dates and holidays, eg: if you have a product targeted to New Year’s Eve consumers and you want to pitch it to a long lead, schedule your pitch for around September and have your samples/gifts ready by this time
  • Focus on the fashion season and pitch your products according to emerging trends

What are the key metrics in PR? How can you measure your success?

  • Use Google Analytics to collect data on your websiteThe Acquisition tab tells you where your website’s visitors are coming from.
  • If you have online coverage, the website(s) will refer traffic from their website to yours, so if you see high numbers of referred acquisition, this will likely be linked to any online coverage you’ve received
  • The benefit of online coverage is that it can continue to generate sales and conversions long after its publication date, unlike print coverage which has a much shorter lifespan. Keep an eye on which posts and products are continuing to generate visitors long after they’ve been published.
  • Success generated by printed coverage is notoriously difficult to track, but often acquisition by direct traffic can indicate a successful piece of print coverage, because if customers see something in a magazine that they like, they will type the website address directly into their browser. Look for spikes in your direct acquisition and try to marry these with times when you had print coverage.
  • Use your coverage, promote it and always thank journalistsPromoting your coverage improves conversion rate optimisation. Always  include quotes from the journalist, the name of the publication – and the logo if you have permission
  • Remember: you CANNOT scan coverage and post it online. You risk facing huge fines from the NLA and CLA if you do this, no matter how small your business is, so be careful. Instead, put your image that was featured in a nice template and post that. In your comments section, you can mention the magazine title, edition and journalist and thank them for featuring the photo.

Top tips for writing a press release

  • If you can write a blog post or product description, you can write a press release
  • Don’t worry about making it sound like magazine copy – that’s the journalist’s job. You just need to give them the information about your product.
  • The subject of your email is key and should be the same as the title of your press release:Say new if what you’re pitching is new – they want to know about the newest, latest things
  • If it relates to a current trend, put that in title, eg: eco-friendly
  • Include upcoming key dates or holidays that are relevant, if there are any, eg: for summer
  • Include the launch date/season of the product/brand
  • Introduction paragraph:This paragraph should pad out the heading
  • What’s the trend? What’s the product? Go into more detail.
  • Share any interesting facts that might flesh it out more.
  • Include your business’ name in the intro – this isn’t critical in the heading
  • Include images:

– These should be high res

– Always include cutouts of your products

– Share lifestyle images if they’re available, but these aren’t essential

– Label all images clearly so journalists can pick them out and ask for the original files easily

  • Write a further one or two paragraphs expanding on your product. Tell the story of how it came about, highlight what makes it standout.
  • At the end include a company summary: stockist info, your website, a contact number
  • Add you press contact info: name, email, phone number
  • Only mention that you have samples if they are available