About the Author: Karolina Throssell started her career in journalism before moving into public relations working for various award-winning agencies. In 2020, she founded Iden Marketing to offer freelance public relations, copywriting and podcast creation services for technology and travel businesses. She has secured coverage for clients on TV, Radio and in national newspapers. Her own podcast Kids Review Edtech has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Metro. She also offers workshops and courses on DIY PR aimed at small businesses.
When it comes to selling a product or service – social proof is huge.
Customers will often be persuaded to purchase or invest after reading a couple of testimonials. Yet, an even bigger driver of sales is press coverage. That’s why you’ll often see websites or products proudly displaying the logos of the publications which have featured them.
After all, “Advertising is what you pay for. Publicity is what you PRAY for,” – a phrase coined by the first female advertising executive in the U.S. Helen Woodward.
In fact, the value of publicity is so huge that even Bill Gates once said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.”
Of course, while most people would understand the value of publicity, hiring a good public relations agency or freelancer is likely to be out of reach for many small businesses.
But if you can earmark space in your schedule to learn the process and devote some time to following the news agenda and pitching – there’s no reason why you can’t do it yourself.
Here are four ways to get press coverage without a PR agency.
1. Social media
Social media has made it easier to follow and connect with just about everyone and that includes journalists. One of my favourite tools for getting coverage is Twitter.
If a journalist needs a source or a case study for a story, they’ll often turn to Twitter and use the journorequest hashtag.
Unfortunately, the hashtag can get overrun very quickly with spam so it can take time to weed through the results, but you can often find journalists from the BBC, Telegraph and much more looking for sources to interview.
I also find social media is a great way of building relationships with the press and getting attention. I’ve used Twitter in this way on at least two occasions which resulted in coverage for my client on the front page of the UK Financial Times and an interview and subsequent coverage in the US edition of the Financial Times.
I’m also hearing from news producers that they are actively looking at video content on Instagram or TikTok for potential interviewees. So, if you’re an expert on a particular subject, it’s a good idea to regularly post videos of yourself reacting to topical news in your niche – you never know who might be watching.
When pitching to broadcast press as an expert, if you don’t have any previous TV experience, you could always use this as a showreel initially.
A number of newspapers have also started sharing stories that have originated on social. Some include a childminder talking about what she loves and hates about her job, or makeup artists showing elaborate transformations, and even an accountant sharing the mistakes made by new businesses that should be avoided.
TOP TIP: When responding, don’t just say you can help – answer their query fully in your response. You’re more likely to be used! Time is also of the essence. If a journalist posted a few days ago that they needed a source, they’re likely to have filled that slot. The quicker you respond, the more likely you’ll be successful.
Another way of showing your expertise and being more discoverable by journalists is by writing articles.
Many trade publications will have an opinion section and will be looking for quality content written by experts in their field to educate their readers. Don’t forget however that the point of an article is that it’s informational. Make sure you tell and don’t sell in any piece you write.
Most publications will allow a byline credit that provides your name, the name of your business and (in some cases) a more detailed bio. Also read the publication you’re aiming to target to ensure your topic has not been covered extensively already and what you’re proposing would be a good fit. A personal trainer targeting a pet magazine with a workout isn’t going to work unless the pitch is around building your pet into your workouts!
National newspapers like the Metro and many others also welcome opinion content by external contributors. The most successful pieces tend to be first-person stories, talking about an experience or event. This can give you an opportunity to talk about your business, but it needs to be subtly weaved in.
For example, a personal trainer might have overcome their own weight-loss journey and can talk about how and why they started and how they now help others. Maybe you were made redundant or had a health crisis, and decided to start your own business as a result.
Can you talk about your journey as an entrepreneur? Did you pack boxes from your bedroom for your hobby or side-hustle and you’ve just got the keys to a huge warehouse for your booming business?
TOP TIP: Even if you can’t secure a placement in a publication, don’t neglect blogging on your own website, on LinkedIn, or starting a Medium account. Building your credibility as a subject matter expert on a particular topic could lead to press coverage in the future.
Most publications and journalists will have a podcast and the number is rapidly growing. If you’re struggling to get coverage in a publication, a podcast might be easier to get into.
But don’t neglect other podcasters, even if they’re not journalists. Many of the most popular or niche ones are listened to by journalists and can inform content for stories. Remember the FT journalist I mentioned earlier? During an interview with my client, he mentioned a couple of the podcasts he liked to listen to. I noted them down at the time with a view to pitch clients to them.
My advice for pitching podcasts is to make sure you listen to them first.
It might seem like a simple idea, but the number of pitches I get for my podcast prove to me that many of those people have targeted me without listening to at least one episode – or even the 36 second trailer. If they did – they would have realised very quickly that their guest suggestion was way off the mark!
A podcast can be a great vehicle to promote yourself and your business and give you another touchpoint with prospective customers. It can also offer another route to getting into the press – as I’ve found from my own experience.
TOP TIP: Alternatively, don’t be afraid to start your own podcast. You can get a good, professional microphone around £150, but you can also get away with cheaper versions. Sound quality is important, but so is the quality of the content!
4. Media-friendly assets
The final tip is to have media-friendly assets. If you’re looking to be put forward as a spokesperson or secure a profile opportunity, a good headshot is a must!
If budget is tight, consider bartering with a photographer to offer your services or goods in return for photography.
Alternatively, I’ve also seen a number of photographers offering short portrait sessions, which is much more affordable than a full on brand photoshoot. They will also be able to provide you with a hi-res image – essential for press use.
A good photo will also sell your business or product and get you valuable column inches.
I once did the PR for a racecourse and was pitching a day at the races as a great Mother’s Day present. The picture I shared with the Daily Mail reporter was of a mother holding up her young daughter as they watched the horses together. It ended up being the lead image for the feature, and was at least half the size of the page with a caption mentioning my client.
But good photography is also important for product-based businesses. Make sure you have a mix of images featuring the product on a plain background, as well as lifestyle shots. It’s also crucial that it’s high resolution – 300dpi is the quality needed for print. I usually advise clients that I need photos of at least 1mb in size for press use but sometimes it needs to be larger than that depending on the feature.
Back in my journalism days I was curating an interiors feature based on a yellow colour scheme. I had originally planned to feature a shot of a wallpaper used in a living room set-up from one company but as I wanted it to fill the whole page – I needed a large file size, around 10mb. They couldn’t provide it in time, so I went with my second choice as the PR was able to get the image to me quickly and I was on deadline.
In addition to quality, make sure you have a variety of landscape and portrait images. So, if you’re showing off a B&B room, take the picture from the same angle in both portrait and landscape mode. This gives the journalist more choice and makes it easier to choose your content to fit their page.
A journalist for the Metro recently told me she hates image transfer sites with an expiry time, because sometimes she’ll go back to content later when it comes to file her story – and if an image has been sent via a file sharing site and it’s expired, she might not have time to re-chase the original contact for the image.
TOP TIP: Make it easy for press to access your content. If you have whitepapers or resources on your site, don’t block personal email accounts from accessing them. Many freelance journalists use free-personal email address accounts for work. Have a press area on your site with contact details and access to your imagery.
Hopefully this piece has given you plenty of ideas on how you can maximise your chances of getting press coverage without an agency.
If you’d like more support, please do follow me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/idenmarketing, where I share hints and tips – or take a look at my website for details of workshops and courses!