How we PR ourselves

Without spending a pound on PR, nine-month-old broadcast company Newspepper has covered events for Channel 4, NESTA and the BBC. It has almost 700 members in its Facebook group, as well as 100 fans. Its founder, Hermione Way, has 2,000 friends on the same network. Not to mention 400 followers on Twitter. And it's been written about in arguably the most influential technology blog in the western world, techcrunch.co.uk. How on earth do all these people know about this business?

It comes down to three things: networking, networking and networking. "You need to get yourself out there, get your idea out there," says Way. "Tell everyone! I view everyone I meet as a potential business contact." Newspepper offers news and event broadcast coverage using student employees, meaning Way has the double task of attracting workers as well as clients.

She uses online social media to great effect. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and of course Smarta, are completely free tools for maintaining contact databases.

Way adds everyone she meets as a friend, invites them to join the Newspepper group and sends regular updates on what she and Newspepper are doing through all the sites. She posts video footage and photos, ensuring that the content she sends out is engaging and varied. She sends messages to Newspepper group members regularly - but not more than once a week.

She points out that there's a delicate balance between being interesting and being annoying. "Do messages in a funny way, in a human, personal way. Be relaxed - nothing too formal," she says.

Way doesn't believe that online contact is a substitute for real life, though. "It's always good to make real connections, face-to-face," she explains. "When you've met someone you develop a much more real relationship."

Way attends as many industry events as she can, often going alone. "Sometimes I do think, 'What am I doing?' But everyone else is doing it too. It's much more scary to go to an event by yourself than to send someone a message online, but once you do it, it's absolutely fine. And there's normally a lot of free booze, which helps!"

Lindsay Drabwell has the good fortune of being friends with someone in PR, who offered to lend a hand for free. Her ethical baby products site, DaisychainBaby, has now been written about in Enterprise Nation, Cmypitch.com, Real Business, and she's just had a call from a Financial Times journalist looking to include her in his piece.

"I hadn't got as far as thinking about PR," she says. "I thought I'd spread the word myself." But, she says, when she got more into the nitty-gritty of business she realised that having a PR agent onside would be a huge help. "I wouldn't have been able to afford it though - my budget for starting the business was only £5,000."

For Drabwell, getting a friend involved has ended up being preferable to using outside help. "I wouldn't want to consider anyone else, even if it did get really big." But don't things get tricky when you mix friends and business? What happens about money?

"I did wonder how much I would be making before I had to start paying him." But for the moment, she says, it's unspoken.

Getting press coverage doesn't always require a professional.

"Just because you are small, it doesn't mean that you can't think big, and a targeted approach will ensure that your company gets the attention it deserves," explains Kim Stoddart, MD and founder of ethical media relations company Blue Rocket and social enterprises Green Rocket and Future Business. They offer free workshops on how companies can generate their own PR.

"More than 60% of newspaper journalism is now PR driven," she says, "But the days of press release driven PR are over.

"Sending out untargeted press releases will grab journalists' attention, but not in the way you were hoping for. Journalists receive hundreds of news stories every day, so if you send them irrelevant information, you will simply be adding to their workload and they will not thank you for it or feature your business.

"You need to make your company appealing to journalists and offer something that is going to be newsworthy to them. Look at your company, what is interesting about it and what can you provide expert insight on?

"Make life easier for the journalist - what can you offer them to accompany your news or idea? Hints and tips, case studies or pictures will all help to make your story more appealing. Get up to date with newsworthy topics in your industry. This will help to give you ideas that will interest the press."

Stoddart advises businesses to target the publications and journalists that are most read by their target audiences, and then track the effectiveness of any press coverage by, for example, looking at web traffic for increases after articles have been published and asking new customers where they heard about you.

And of course, if you get coverage, "Tell everyone about it."

Which seems to be the unanimously agreed-upon, very achievable first step of self-PR. And it doesn't cost a penny.

 

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