7 KEY STEPS FOR YOUR FIRST EARNED MEDIA CAMPAIGN
You’re ready to start getting the word out about your business, but you’re not sure where to begin. There are so many options out there—do you use Facebook ads? TV spots? SEO plug-ins? While normally effective, these of course can be costly.
Enter earned media.
Earned media brings awareness to your business through traditional means, such as online editorial, print newspapers and magazines, TV and others. This form of building brand awareness is incredible because it helps you reach a new audience that already gives their attention to the outlet that features your story—and in many cases, you don’t have to spend a dime if you do all the work yourself!
But where to start?
The process to successfully place earned media is simple, but it takes time and practice.
Let’s get started with these key steps for your earned media campaign.
Determine Your Breaking News
The amount of attention you can gain with a feature in the news can be a sizable bump up in your business. But you shouldn’t expect the media to advertise for you—in fact, to think of it as “advertising” is wrong entirely. The media’s job isn’t to bring you customers or leads—it’s to tell a news story. Do you have a story worth telling? Something that can make headlines? News that won’t stand out to the average person won’t stand out to the media to consider as a possible story, so it’s crucial to determine what about your business or project is newsworthy.
It’s helpful to keep the ideal headline in mind—what you could imagine might be posted in a newspaper. A small business I recently consulted for is Perennial City, a husband and wife duo that picks up consumer compostables in residential areas and produces compost in an urban farm. The headline I came up with was Perennial City Simplifies Residential Food Composting in St. Louis. It resonates with an audience that may be interested in reading on, especially if they are interested in composting and the city’s sustainability. But suppose I had thought of a different headline: Perennial City Is A New Small Business In St. Louis — while this may be true, it may not be breaking or unique news for a local audience.
Take a look through your local newspapers and magazines (or their respective websites) and see what kind of news is covered and what the headlines look like, then determine from there how best to communicate the news your business has to share.
Define Your Target Market(s)
For small businesses that operate in a local area, a clear target (albeit broad) market is the population of the city you’re based in. Therefore reaching outlets that target the entire area will be a great start.
It depends on the industry you’re in, of course. There are oftentimes small niche publications in cities, such as magazines that are food-related, fitness-related, environment-related and more. Your story might resonate more with people within a special niche, so consider how you might tell it differently to those people than simply anyone in your area. For example, Perennial City appeals to people who are interested in environmental sustainability but it also appeals to those interested in the food-related businesses in their area. You may need to define more than one target market, if some aspects of your business resonate with a different audience than others.
This is an example of psychographic information, or the classification of people by their interests and attitudes. Think about your potential target demographic—what approximate age groups, ethnicities, genders and cultures your story will resonate with the most. It’s okay if you don’t know, but this will be helpful when you continue through the process.
Draft Your Pitch
A pitch is a short message to the media to create interest in the story you have to offer. It can be sent with many different forms of communication, including email, phone calls, in-person, mailed-in letter and even social media DMs. What’s most important is communicating your pitch clearly to the recipient, highlighting the key points of your news and considering why the recipient should care.
The most common and effective way of delivering your pitch is by email because the recipient has time to consider the pitch and can easily forward it along if they think someone else at their outlet may be a better fit.
I start my emails nearly the same way every time:
Hi [First Name],
I wanted to reach out and be sure you were aware of [business]…
This opening is casual — there’s no need to be overly formal in your approach and treating the recipient like a friend will often go a long way. Hyperlink the text in the name of your business to your website or other relevant landing page. Doing so creates a cleaner look than including a URL and it will give the recipient a quick way of learning more about your business.
I wanted to reach out and be sure you were aware of Perennial City …
I wanted to reach out and be sure you were aware of Perennial City (compost.perennial.city) …
You can see how the hyperlink option is cleaner. It’s best to share the greatest amount of information in the shortest length possible.
Next comes the body of the email. Focus on the key points of your campaign—the most crucial information for the recipient to understand the story—and write them into a few short paragraphs. Sometimes I will do a numbered list or bullet points to make the message even simpler to read.
For example, this is the body of the pitch email I sent for Perennial City:
Perennial City has been actively contributing to the ever-important environmental sustainability of St. Louis with its residential compostables pickup subscription service. Founder Beth Grollmes-Kiefer and her husband Tim Kiefer follow a simple yet effective process with their clients:
1. Provide their clients with a composting bucket and pick up their compostables straight from their doors on a regular basis.
2. Develop the compostables into composting piles free of weeds, seeds and plant pathogens ― ultimately creating healthy, usable soil.
3. Return a portion of the soil to their clients and use the rest in their urban farm to grow crops.
Using a numbered list like this naturally breaks up the information for readability and helps convey the step-by-step process the business takes. If there’s no such process for your business, consider using bullet points to convey your main points without implying a chronological hierarchy.
Finally, the closing of the email is an ask and a thank you. Don’t be shy about explicitly asking if the reporter would like to cover the story. I end almost every pitch email in this way:
Would you be interested in learning more about [business] to include in an upcoming local business story? [Spokesperson, such as the owner, manager, etc.] is available for interviews by email, phone, or in-person. Please let me know your thoughts, either way.
All the best,
Many news stories focus around people, which creates a more relatable and emotional experience for the reader. Therefore it’s important to offer interviews with a relevant spokesperson from whom the media can include quotes. (If the spokesperson is yourself, you can simply write “I am available for interviews…”).
Offering a few options for the type of interview is good practice to allow flexibility for your contact, as long as the options fit with your availability, physically and digitally. An email interview involves typing out your answers to a list of questions sent by your contact and sending back over email.
Once your pitch email is nearly ready, think about ways to cater the content of your message to the different target markets you’ll be addressing, if there are any clear differences. Think about the relevance your story will have for different local areas. For example, a pitch for a county-wide newspaper may be slightly different than a newspaper of a suburb within that county. You may want to include extra information that is relevant to a specific suburb, or omit information that is not relevant to that suburb. This can be as simple as the following:
Perennial City has been actively contributing to the ever-important environmental sustainability of St. Louis…
Modified email, catered to a suburb called Ladue:
Perennial City has been actively contributing to the ever-important environmental sustainability of St. Louis, including the neighborhoods of Ladue…
In short, cater different versions of your pitch to different markets your story may touch. This will also show your media contact that you put time and thought into your email to help them understand how they can find more relevance in your story.
Create Your Media List
A media list is a spreadsheet with all of the contacts you will be sending your pitch to, with any relevant information for each one. It is a very important means of staying organized during your campaign. Build a spreadsheet with the following headers for each contact:
Under “Notes” you will include any miscellaneous information for each contact, such as past articles they’ve written that would be relevant to your pitch. Under “Status” you will note the dates you email or call each contact and if they have shown interest in covering your news. What’s most important is setting up your media list the best way for you to stay organized.
The simplest research you can do is visiting your target outlets’ websites and searching for keywords related to your pitch (for Perennial City, I may search “composting”). From here, look through the search results and pick out related articles. If no relevant stories come up, broaden your search (“environment”).
Once you find a relevant story, take a look at its author and skim through others they’ve written. Usually clicking through the author’s name will open up this list, but sometimes you will need to search their name on the website. Ideally you will find a potential contact who writes about your niche, but ultimately you want to get an idea of who you think will be most interested in writing about you. For example, in a local media outlet, chances are there won’t be a reporter that focuses solely on composting. But there may be a reporter who focuses on sustainability and another who focuses on local businesses.
Many times, a news site will have a contacts page with a list of staff members, their email addresses and phone numbers. If you can find it, copy the contact information of the person you want to target for your pitch and paste it into your media list, under the appropriate column heading.
If you can’t find any relevant contacts’ information, look for the email address of the editorial department, which normally is in the Contact Us page on an outlet’s website. It’s good practice to include the general editorial department in your media list regardless, in case none of your individual contacts are interested or don’t reply, once it comes time to pitch.
If you can’t find the general editorial department contact information, give the outlet a call and say you have a story idea and would like to know the best email address for the editorial department.
Continue filling out your media list until you have every relevant contact you can find. If possible, start out with including two contacts and the editorial department for each outlet that would be relevant to your pitch. Editors and reporters will be your best contacts for print and online; editors are staff members at the outlet that will oftentimes assign stories to reporters, or reporters will pitch stories to their editors. Reporters, producers and the news desk will be best for radio and TV; the news desk is a general contact that will assign your news to the most relevant reporter or producer.
Oftentimes, most or all news outlets in the local area your business operates out of will be relevant if the average person in your business’s service area might be interested in learning about your business. Search for the newspapers, radio stations and TV stations in your area. Most cities have local TV stations that are affiliates of the big four networks—FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC—so start by searching Google with “[city] FOX affiliate,” “[city] CBS affiliate” and so on. (Here is a list of the major outlets in St. Louis I normally pitch and their contact pages.)
Launch Your Pitch
It’s time to start contacting your media list. The most common and effective way to start out your pitch is by email. Begin by copy and pasting your pitch into a new email. Save this email as a draft, then copy it into another open email and replace all personalized information with the information in your media list (Name, Outlet, etc.). In your email you can even include a quick note to the reporter about why you think they would be a good fit for the story. Maybe they have written about your topic or a similar topic in the past, in which case you can reference their past relevant article. Continue this process until you have personalized copies for every reporter in your list.
Don’t hit the send button yet! I highly recommend using an email scheduler to send your emails at a time when your contacts are most likely to see them. My personal favorite for Gmail is CloudHQ’s Schedule Email Chrome Extension. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee your contacts will see your email, but there are certain days and times that can be more promising for clickthroughs than others. According to CoSchedule (another email scheduler service), the best day to send an email is on Tuesday and the best time is at 10am.
With your scheduler (or manually), send your pitch emails. Update the “Status” column of your media list with “Emailed” and the date you sent the email.
This process takes patience—wait about a day for responses before following up. If any come in, note in your media list’s status column the type of response. You can even color-code your contacts as well; I highlight contacts that express definite interest in yellow, possible interest in orange and declines in red; any contacts without a response I leave uncolored.
About a day after your emails send, follow up with phone calls. A phone call can be as simple as
“Hi John, this is Alex calling on behalf of Perennial City. I wanted to quickly follow up on the email I sent yesterday about the company and see if you have any interest in doing a story.”
Your contact might say they’re interested, they may say they’re not and sometimes they might say they missed the email. It’s best to have the subject line handy and—if they show interest—read it back to them so they can search for it in their inbox.
If you are unable to find a contact’s phone number, you can send a simple followup email:
Just wanted to quickly follow up on this. Please let me know if you have any interest.
In fact, I use this message so often that I keep it in my canned responses in Gmail, along with a “Final Follow-Up” email of a similar effect:
Hi again John,
Wanted to follow up on this one last time. Thank you for any update you can give.
All the best,
If and when you receive an email reply from a contact interested in writing about your news (or receive a confirmation by phone), it’s time to schedule a time (and possibly place) for an interview with the contact, if they request one. In my experience, the information in the interview with the spokesperson ends up being most of the content the reporter needs. Between quotes, paraphrases and descriptions otherwise, the reporter will fill most of the story up with the information you or your spokesperson gives them.
Three types of common interviews are by email, by phone call, or in-person (most of the time for TV interviews). The latter two require preparation in advance — be sure to go into the interview prepared with the points you want to be conveyed. Maybe even rehearse a couple of times out loud the main points of the story you want to tell. Reporters have the freedom to include anything you say in an article, so be careful with how you speak, but no need to stress too much about it.
Email interviews involve simply typing up answers to questions your contact sends, which they can then use for quotes, paraphrases and descriptions, just like on the phone or in person. However, you have the ability to carefully think through what you want to write in your responses in an email.
In my experience, when given the choice, reporters prefer a phone interview, but it depends on the person.
For scheduling the interview, take initiative to find the optimal time for you and the reporter to talk, if by phone or in-person. Try to be flexible and remember that they are busy too. If your correspondence has been through email, then check frequently until you’ve solidified plans for the interview time and type. Reporters often work quickly, so they may want to speak with you even as soon as the day you contacted them.
After your interview, send them a quick email thanking them for their time. In some ways, you should treat media interviews like you would a job interview. Even if that reporter only ever writes one story about you, it’s always important to leave a great impression. This eventually can start you with building a good working relationship with your local media.
If you ever feel like you may have misspoken in the interview or you want to add something, don’t be afraid to send the reporter a quick email letting them know.
Share and Track Your Progress
After all your work, the outlets you spoke with have published a feature on your business. It’s time to congratulate yourself for the progress you made and start taking advantage of the extra exposure.
When an outlet publishes your feature online, first check it for any errors. If there are any, send the reporter an email and politely ask them to fix them; they’ll be happy to make a minor change, especially if it may have been their mistake.
Ensure that somewhere in the article online it links to your website; this will help increase your search engine visibility and can increase your website traffic from people viewing the story. If there isn’t a link to your website, politely ask the reporter to add one. If they refuse or don’t reply, it’s not the end of the world; remember that it’s not their job to increase your website traffic.
Once you check that the article is free of errors, share it on social media. Just as they are helping spread the word about your business, so too should you show support by showing your appreciation for the outlet. If appropriate, give the outlet and the author of the story a thank you and shoutout on social media:
Thank you to [author name] at [outlet] for writing this awesome story on my business! [link to story]
It’s also important to track your return on investment (ROI) with earned media. Even if you didn’t spend any money on a campaign, you spent a lot of valuable time. Two great tools for online tracking are bit.ly and rebrand.ly. These allow you to create shortened redirect links that will track the amount of clicks on your link. There are slight differences between the two—with bit.ly, your shortened link remains with the bit.ly domain and a custom extension; rebrand.ly allows you to create a custom short link domain, such as perennialcity.link and a custom extension.
If possible, you can even set up a bit.ly or rebrand.ly that redirects to your website or other relevant landing page for the news outlet to include in the online article (of course you will need to send the link to them ahead of time). However, this won’t be necessary if your website hosting service includes an analytics feature that shows you what sites your traffic is coming from.
To really visualize the impact of your campaign, create a spreadsheet with the following header:
For each media placement, enter the date it went live, at which outlet, the title of the story, a link to the story, the estimated number of impressions the story received and the number of clickthroughs (if measurable). Impressions are the total views or interactions with a piece of content. To determine impressions for online articles, download the Chrome extension SimilarWeb. While on an outlet’s site, click the icon and a pop-up will appear.
The “Estimated Visits” metric is the number of impressions for the website per month. Note that this is an estimate for the entire site, not the individual page you’re on, so even if a website has 288.6K estimated visits per month, there’s no guarantee that your story will have reached that many. The readers who visit your story’s page are part of a specific group that are interested in the story, which will not be everyone on the site. Other services you can use to determine online impressions include Muck Rack and Cision, but as mentioned earlier, those are paid services.
Impressions for print, radio and TV are much more difficult to measure. One paid service called Critical Mention can tell you the viewership metrics for most TV placements. Oftentimes with some digging, you can find a print, radio or TV station’s press kit or advertising package on their website, which will give you their approximate audience size. If nothing else, you can ask the outlet directly or include their website’s impressions, but know that the audience demographic and size will be different across mediums.
From your website hosting platform’s analytics feature or a bit.ly or rebrand.ly that you provided to the outlet, enter the number of clickthroughs into the “Clickthroughs” column for the story, once they have leveled off or stopped completely.
Creating this tracking spreadsheet will help you understand the impact each placement and campaign as a whole had and allows you to keep everything in one place for quick access.
Hopefully these steps will help you run a successful public relations campaign. It takes practice and persistence to get your name out there, especially through earned media. Remember that positive earned media will help you earn credibility with not just your consumers, but also potentially for more earned media in the future. Constantly look for new ways to improve your public relations strategy and business as a whole.
You’ve got this!
If you would ever like some extra help, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Note: The information in this guide was my opinion on best practices based off experience.
If you found this guide helpful or you feel it needs additions or improvements, I would very much appreciate your help by sending any suggestions, comments or questions through the button below. Your responses will never be made public and you won’t receive an email response from me unless you specifically request one. This guide will be evolving as I learn and experience more, and I will take every constructive note into consideration.