A journalist friend of mine recently received an email from someone who was pitching their product or services. This person wasn’t a PR agent but was doing their own PR.
The email was written in the third person and boasted that the writer was something of a genius. The email read something like:
‘Joe Bloggs is a genius and produces the most brilliant work to a standard that is rarely seen today. His new line is absolutely wonderful, and he is one of the last remaining masters in his field.
‘Please see media release attached with more information and images. Let me know if you would like to speak to Joe or write about him. Kind regards, Joe Bloggs.’
Yes, you read that correctly – he was writing about himself.
Even if this was written by a third party, the hyperbole would be far too suspect for any self-respecting journalist. But add in the fact that it was written by the business owner themselves, in the third person, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
You might think this kind of thing is a hilarious, one-off event. But the sad truth is that there are so many of these kinds of emails floating around, that I have an entire folder dedicated to awkward pitches that have been shared around by my journalist friends. I’d be willing to bet that almost every editor has a similar folder that they keep for a bit of a laugh.
Much of it comes from people who have attempted to do their own PR, without the help of an agent. The problem is, to the uninitiated, PR appears deceptively easy. But in reality, getting a story published involves a lot of time, effort and specialist knowledge.
So, this begs the question: can you do your own PR? And even if you technically can – we can all send an email, after all – should you? In short, the answer is maybe. But before you start sending out ill-advised third-person press releases to every journalist in your hemisphere, there are a few things you might want to consider first.
Firstly, ask yourself: do you have the time? In some cases, such as a newly formed start-up or side hustle, you might have more time than money. In cases like these, doing your own PR might be the only option.
If you do decide to DIY, you need to ensure that you have the ability to be responsive. This means getting back to journalists in a timely manner, ideally within a few hours. You’ll also need to provide a quick turnaround on whatever the journalist needs, and be organised enough to have all the relevant information to hand.
This includes great high-resolution images, information about your organisation, your bio, samples of your work and a good list of points that you can comment on.
Communication is everything
Another question you need to ask yourself before making the decision to do your own PR is: do you communicate well? As the Joe Bloggs example proves, not everyone has this skill, despite how much of a ‘genius’ they might claim to be.
In order to do your own PR effectively, you need to ensure that you can communicate in a clear and engaging way. A publication’s readers or viewers should want to know more, and your story should be unique, compelling, newsworthy, and informative or entertaining (depending on the media outlet).
If you can’t commit to providing this, I’d suggest finding someone who can help you. In PR, taking the wrong action is often worse than taking no action at all – especially when it comes to keeping journalists on your side.
Research, research, research
Research is critical to good PR. If you’re sending out a pitch to a journalist, you should know what beat that journalist covers, what style of stories they tend to accept, and ideally what time of day is best to contact them.
You also need a deep understanding of the publication you’re pitching to, so it’s critical that you spend some time and energy fully immersing yourself in each publication’s content. Sign up to their email lists, follow their social media accounts and speak to anyone who might have some insider insight.
Does the publication accept advice articles? Do they speak to people in your particular field? Do they accept case studies? Which editor do you need to speak to? Would it be better to speak to a producer? Do they prefer emails or phone calls?
These questions are critical, but if you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to find the answers – since they’re not the kind of thing that you can simply Google the answer to. This is where the expert advice of a PR agent may come in handy.
Journalists don’t have the time to drag a story out of a below-average pitch. It’s your job to provide the story in a fully-formed, fleshed-out manner, so the journalist can easily picture how it will look in their publication.
If all you’re doing is sending a bio and pushing the journalist for a vaguely defined ‘interview’ (à la Joe Bloggs), please don’t expect a reply any time soon. The crux of your story needs to be explained in as few words as possible, so that the time-poor journalist can scan the email and grasp the idea in the space of a few seconds.
And don’t forget that most of the time, a press release isn’t going to cut it. There are many ways to sell a story, and oftentimes an opinion article, case study, insider interview, or response piece to an existing news story are all far better ways to get yourself out there.
These are all skills that can take even experienced PR professionals many years to master, so don’t expect that you’ll be able to achieve results straight away. Good PR is seriously hard work and requires a massive time investment – but the results far outweigh the costs.