Five PR Hacks for Startups and Small Businesses

05/07/2016 16:01 | Updated 05 July 2016

If you run your own business and are launching a product or service, you may think you need to hire a PR firm. Think again. With a little bit of know-how, you can handle your own PR and save yourself a ton of cash in the process.

Here's five PR tactics you can start using today that will help you get coverage in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and TV.

1.Connect with journalists who are already looking for help with stories

When you're starting out with PR, the idea of writing press releases and pitches can seem overwhelming.

I'll let you into a secret: you don't have to.

Type the #journorequest or #prrequest hashtag into the Twitter search box and you'll find dozens of requests from journalists and bloggers looking for help with specific articles or programmes - on every possible topic you can imagine. You should find at least one request (if not several) that apply, so tweet them back and offer to help.

2. Use media enquiry services

You can also sign up for media enquiry services like Response Source, Gorkana, Journolink, Ask Charity, Help A Reporter Out or Sourcebottle. You'll get regular email updates from journalists who are looking for experts and case studies to feature in their work, including some high-profile national publications. Some media enquiry databases are free and others offer free trials, so you can start building your media contacts immediately.

There are also a number of online directories, including expert sources and The Women's Room where journalists are actively looking for experts to talk to. Some are free and others charge a modest fee.

It's worth responding to any request you can help with - even if it's not not an exact fit for your business right now. That way, when you do have a story to pitch that relates to your business, journalists will be far more likely to read your email or take your call.

3. Make yourself more 'findable' on social media

Most journalists hang out on Twitter. In fact, many use it like a search engine, particularly when they're looking for help with stories they're working on. This is why having an up-to-date profile (ideally with a 24/7 contact number), sharing content that relates to your area of expertise and using hashtags - which group together posts on a similar topic - is a good move.

It's also a good idea to make Twitter lists of journalists you'd like to connect with. Check in regularly to see what they're talking about, then start a conversation by commenting on and/or sharing their content. This can help you build a relationship over time, so when you do have a story to pitch, your name should already be familiar. Remember there's a fine line between looking interested and stalking though, so take it steady.

Journalists also look for people to talk to on Linkedin, so having an up-to-date profile - ideally with examples of your work and/or a short video of clip of you talking or presenting is a good idea. If it's immediately obvious that you know your subject - and are a good talker - journalists are much more likely to invite you to be a guest on radio or TV.

Take particular care with your 'professional headline' (the one-liner under your name). While it's tempting to put your title e.g. 'Tech start-up founder' or 'Master NLP Practitioner' this may mean nothing to a busy journalist. Explain how you help people e.g. 'I help people get out of debt ' or 'I help people overcome phobias' and you'll have a much better chance of grabbing their attention.

When I'm working as an editor and someone wants to write for me, the first thing I do is 'Google' them to see what they've written before. I'm basically looking for reassurance that they can (a) string a sentence together and (b) construct an argument. This is why having a blog - or even just writing engaging posts on your Facebook page - can really help with your PR.

4. Newsjacking

Set up a Google alert for key words that relate to your area of expertise and you'll get regular updates on relevant news stories. If you spot a story where you think you could add value - in the form of expert comment on radio/TV or by writing an opinion article, for example - you can simply contact journalists and let them know you're available to help.

This approach - commonly referred to as newsjacking - worked for David Garcia-Gonzalez who recently published the book Child-biting, Chorizo and Chancing Your Arm: How I Made It Big In Britain and was interviewed on various radio shows on the topic of the EU referendum (which is not the topic of his book, but gave him the chance to mention it and build up his network of media contacts).

Happiness and resilience expert Frederika Roberts has also appeared on several national radio and TV shows talking about Brexit - giving her the opportunity to show her expertise and build her network of media contacts.

5. Create opportunities to meet journalists

When I think about the people I work with who get really great press coverage, there is one thing they do, consistently, that others don't.

They make it their business to get out and meet journalists.

Going to an event where a journalist was speaking, helped app developer Gwen get signed up as a Huffington Post blogger.

Karen, who runs a fitness business, got this article published in the Guardian after hearing an editor speak at an event (and chatting to her about this very idea).

Hilary, a leadership coach, had this article published on the Guardian's Small Business Network after meeting the editor at an event (she'd pitched the idea before, but hadn't got a reply).

But getting journalists to meet you for lunch or coffee can be tough. Most work to tight deadlines - every single day of the week - so it's often difficult for them to get out of the office. And when they do have spare time, there's a queue of people wanting to meet them. Which means your chances of getting a coffee date are pretty slim.

If you can't get journalists to come to you, you need to go to them. That means finding out which conferences, events and workshops they're attending (many speak at/chair events too) and going along yourself.

Many journalists hang out in the press room at industry conferences and are often happy to pop out and meet people for coffee. And going up to introduce yourself at the end of a talk is a great way to break the ice and stay memorable (an email that opens with: 'we met last Thursday at x event' is far more likely to get their attention than a 'you don't know me but...' kind of email).

So how do you find out which events journalists are attending? Stalk them on Twitter (in the nicest possible way of course) and/or set up a Google alert for their name. That way, you'll be the first to know when they're going to be speaking at a particular event.

I'm not saying meeting a journalist in person will automatically guarantee you press coverage (you still need to have a great idea and know how to pitch it!), but making the effort to meet journalists will put you streets ahead of everyone else.