Developing and executing a public relations (PR) plan is one of the best things you can do for your startup. Public relations is too often left out of business plans, as its purpose is often misunderstood, and business owners don’t truly understand its value. One of the most common reasons that business owners fail to create a PR plan for their business is they believe they need to hire an agency. While hiring a PR professional, agency or a consultant can be beneficial, it doesn’t make sense for all business owners, especially bootstrapped entrepreneurs.
As a bootstrapped entrepreneur, you can create and execute your own PR plan. Here are six inexpensive or free resources to help you get started:
Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
HARO is probably the best resource for startups looking to jump into relationships with the media. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll be notified via email about journalists who are looking for sources in your area of expertise. If you see a query that fits, simply craft your pitch and send away.
Keep in mind that most reporters get bombarded with responses, so you most likely won’t receive a response from a reporter unless he or she decides to use your input or requires additional information.
My recommendation is to build a media list of the journalists that you respond to via HARO. Dig around on the internet to see if you can find an email address for them and take time to introduce yourself. Share with them the topics and types of stories that you can weigh in on. This method allows you to put your name in front of the writer and gets you started with the mutually-beneficial relationship between subject expert and reporter.
Hire a PR or communications intern
Most colleges encourage students to find volunteer opportunities or part-time internships to hone their skills and build upon their in-class learnings. Consider reaching out to local colleges and universities to see if they can include your business on the list of options for free or low-paying internships. Having a temporary, part-time student join your team is a great way to help you build a PR plan, ensuring that you’re keeping on top of not just the basics, but new PR industry trends and platforms, as well. It’s also a low-cost to free option with big impact.
Another free resource you can leverage is Google Alerts. There’s a lot you need to be paying attention to as a startup — most importantly, you need to know what’s being said about your company, your competitors and your industry. Being in the know about what’s being published in the news is the best way to figure out where your business fits into the conversation, or better yet, where the opportunities lie to stand out!
Using Google Alerts is simple. All you need to do is determine the keywords you’re interested in being notified about. Once you select the keywords, set up alerts and pick the cadence in which you want to receive notifications — options include in real time, daily or weekly. Keep in mind that you can set up as many alerts as you like, so start with a broad list of keywords relevant to your business.
Creating Google Alerts is also a great way to find content to share on social platforms. Industry-focused keywords should result in numerous news stories that either directly impact your business or are relevant to you, your industry, and/or your customers. Consider leveraging these stories on your company’s social channels to show that you’re up-to-date on what’s going on in the industry.
Just keep in mind that sometimes Google Alerts get caught in your spam folder. For the first few days, make sure you check your spam folder to ensure the alerts aren’t getting stuck.
Your local library
If you don’t have a library card, you’re missing out on countless free resources that can help you better understand the art of public relations. As books can be expensive, I prefer borrowing books from the library versus buying them.
That said, here are four books I highly recommend you consider investing in if your local library can’t help procure you a copy to borrow:
- “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
- “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday
- “The PR Masterclass: How to Develop a PR Strategy that Works” by Alex Singleton
- “Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time” by Bill McGowan
There are more than 738 million professionals on LinkedIn, and hundreds of thousands of those professionals are communications professionals who share tips and tricks for all-things PR-related. Not to mention, numerous journalists. Consider following a few PR pros who you’re familiar with, or who you have shared connections with, as well as different sized PR or marketing agencies that share articles and information from their in-house experts.
Educational events and webinars
Consider monitoring the websites of local professional organizations in your area to see the different types of educational events and online presentations they are offering.
The two best resources for you to watch are:
Local chapters host virtual events that anyone can attend to learn from other local businesses, communication experts and media. Most chapters host at least one event annually that offers a Q&A with journalists and members of the media. I highly recommend that you attend this event, as you’ll learn firsthand how your local journalists prefer to be contacted and the best way to get your story and information in front of them.
Additionally, you’ll want to take advantage of the opportunity to personally introduce yourself and share your contact details. As a membership with PRSA can be pricey (you have to join at both a national and chapter level), opt for paying the guest price at each of the events you’d like to attend. Most chapters have a newsletter you can sign up for to make it easy to keep on top of events.
The Chamber of Commerce in your local area
Even if you can’t afford to or aren’t interested in joining, keep an eye on educational events your local Chamber of Commerce has planned. Most Chambers host marketing and communication-specific workshops each year to help local business owners obtain actionable advice from experts. To keep monitoring simple, try signing up for the organization’s newsletter or follow them on social media.
Simply put, a well-executed PR plan has the power to bring positive results to new startups. When you’re starting out, you’ll likely have to DIY much of your strategy, and the six free or low-cost resources above are a great place to start.
Then, when you’re at the point where you can afford a PR pro to take the reins, do it. You didn’t start your business to become an expert in PR, so leave it to the professionals and you’ll not only reap more rewards, but you’ll have time to focus on doing what you do best in your business.