PR is often mistaken as a marketing strategy that will help your company "explode" in the media, or a sole go-to-market strategy ("all we need is a TechCrunch article!"). But that is (mostly) not the case. You usually can't rely on PR alone to bring you the results you want from your campaign and you'll need to couple it with efforts on another marketing channel.
As a startup on a budget, hiring a PR agency is often not a viable option. Good agencies in the US charge around $5K-10K per month, and their work process can start with a couple of months of research before they start pitching to reporters. Also, reputable PR agencies will often not commit to specific media placements as they cannot guarantee your story will be picked up.
PR agencies can be a good solution to creating a story and pitching it to reporters, but when you are on a budget, there are ways to do PR yourself.
Reporters in major media outlets get dozens if not more pitches a day. To grab their attention, you'll need to pitch some news or a juicy story. Also, I found out pitches convert better when they are backed with industry information (including competitors names, which validate the industry), relevant proprietary numbers and visuals.
Here are some great PR tools for a startup on a budget, that will help you tell the story and later pitch it to reporters and bloggers:
Providing daily opportunities to secure valuable media coverage
HARO is one of our favorite tools to use not only when I'm running a PR campaign - I am subscribed to it as it keeps popping PR opportunities even when you don't think about PR. It really changed the way people interact with reporters and allow entrepreneurs and companies to connect directly with reporters. It is a push notifications tool that sends you daily emails with queries from reporters who are looking for sources. Their basic free package is pretty good but if you want to get keyword alerts, text alerts and more advanced features, there is a premium subscription option. The people that send out the queries on HARO are journalists, writers, and bloggers and you can find some great PR opportunity gems. The queries vary from small publications to top ones (Wall Street Journal, TheNextWeb, Washington Post and more). Few are anonymous but you can never know who's behind it. I once answered an anonymous request and it was for monster.com, which is a great SEO link and was a very relevant blog for me at the time. I say – if you have the time, do it. If you pitch right, not sales-y, and have valuable input, this tool can provide you with an amazing FREE PR opportunity.
PR Opportunities from Twitter
From the team that brought you Hey Press, JournoRequests is the new generation of tools that provide you with direct and fast access to relevant reporters. As journalists and bloggers turn to social media to find information and sources for their stories, JournoRequests helps you skip the tedious search and simply sends you a daily email with all the journalist requests that are relevant for you. You can choose the keywords you want to be notified about and the field your company's in and just sit back and wait for your PR tips to start coming. Their customer service is also super friendly (Hi, Ed!) so that's also a nice to have in a free tool.
Press Release Distribution Service
There are 2 ways for a startup to reach masses through the media - either by reaching out directly to reporters or by drafting a press release and distributing it to the media through PR Distribution services. If you choose the latter, one of the most well-known distribution service is PR Web. When choosing a distribution service, make sure it will send out your release to media outlets that are relevant to your company. If you want your press release to reach hundreds of outlets at once, PR Web may be a good tool for you.
It has different pricing plans, starting from $99/press release, built in a way that you pay more to get to the most relevant outlets. If you are choosing to use this service, our recommendation is not to forget to optimize the release itself and draft a professional and interesting press release. Although the service PRWeb and other similar companies offer is all about the distribution (i.e- they take your release as-is and send it out), it’s pretty much up to you to optimize the content to be appealing. Using PR Web and writing an great release can interest reporters that would want to reach out to you and do a follow-up story. It's not just about the distribution if you do it correctly.
Press Release Distribution Service
iReach by PR Newswire is a service similar to PRWeb, which distributes your press releases to media outlets. This is a well-known service and definitely in the top 3 of distribution services. But, when submitting the materials - both text and graphics - make sure they are compatible with the service. I had a chance to use it last year and was devastated to see the service had (although sending it out to reputable media outlets) stripped some of the pictures off the article in certain blogs. This made our release look really bad and spammy and I wish I had known this is an option before. So, using this service is reliable but make sure you adhere to the terms. With any distribution service, see that: 1) your press release looks professional; 2) you targeted the right media outlets, and 3) it complies with the graphic requirements of all the media outlets.
Confirming email addresses through LinkedIn profiles
Rapportive is a terrific free tool you can use for sales and marketing. Any time you are not sure what the email of the person you want to send an email to, but you know their name and company, Rapportive helps you confirm the email address by cross-checking with emails linked to LinkedIn profiles. It's a chrome extension you download and next time you send an email from Gmail (or your business Google Apps account) it checks the name in the recipient field with LinkedIn's database. There are many tools to check an email out there but from my experience (and correct me in the comments below if I'm wrong), most suck and gives you multiple options for the email without really confirming it with a reliable source.
Know when your pitch was read
If you are not using an email marketing service such as MailChimp etc for your emails, YesWare is a terrific alternative. It is a Chrome extension that tracks and analyzes your emails, letting you know who opened them, if the links were clicked etc. I have been using YesWare for a while now after looking for a reliable email tracking tool, one that will not send my emails right to spam (there are some like those, careful). Yesware has a free trial and it’s $12/month after. Even with the free trial, it lets you send emails later, notify you of an email that should be sent and more. This is a great tool if you choose to reach out to reporters and want to see which reach worked and when you should follow up. It's also a simple solution for any email you care to know was read or not.
Price: Free trial, $12/month after
DIY PR Outreach Tool
Justreach is a new PR 2.0 tool you can use if you decide to do PR yourself. When doing that, one of the things you need to know is which reporters are relevant and worth reaching out to. The odds of a reporter opening your email and being interested in your pitch are much higher when you know how to target a relevant reporter and Justreach does exactly that. You simply enter a keyword on their homepage, and get the names and twitter or Facebook profiles of reporters that are relevant to your company and industry. It also shows you who wrote about topics similar to the one you want to pitch recently. The first couple of results are free and if you want to reach out to more reporters, it’s $65/month, a true fraction of hiring a PR agency. And, if you’re doing a specific PR campaign, you won’t need more than a month or two on the platform.
Price: Free for 7 days, $65/month after
Know when your pitch was read
MixMax is a (legit) email tracking tool, similar to Yesware, a Chrome extension used in your Gmail. MixMax gives you more options than YesWare in the email itself and allows you to add interactive polls, meeting availability, slideshows, Q&A’s and more.
Although its interface may be annoying at times (as it's free, it often suggests you invite friends to use it), it does the work. Using Mixmax can save you time trying to schedule meetings and get feedback from people - it's very straightforward.
Be on top of what's trending
Mention is in my opinion the #1 tool now for monitoring and alerting you of what's happening online with your brand and industry.
By inserting a keyword or your brand name, you get alerts of everything that is written about it online - social media included. This is terrific in so many ways but for PR purposes, it allows you to quickly jump in and send a comment to a relevant article or news. Commenting on articles or news and providing your input (make sure it's a good one...) is a great path to become a thought leader.
Mention can be used also for customer support and retention purposes, to spy on your competitors and more. Just make sure you don't insert a keyword that's too broad - it'll be hard to handle the flood of mentionings.
Price: Free trial, $29/month after
Discover Relevant Journalists and Bloggers
MuckRack is another great tool for DIY PR. It helps you find the right journalist or blogger to pitch your story to from their huge database of over 20,000 media contacts. MuckRack sends you inbox alerts about your competitors and industry. You can search reporters' contact info by name, keyword, media outlets and also find articles the same way. All for the purpose of better targeting your pitch. As a business owner, sign up as “marketer” and start searching for journalists by name or keywords, hashtags and more.
Price: Varies. Depends on your needs and what you fill in the form