Note - this article has been originally written for TheNextWeb.
PR is hard. And expensive. Most of the time, you get nothing out of it. And when your company finally is mentioned in an article, even in a big publication, the results can be disappointing. Like that time when we got a whooping 169 visitors after getting into ZDNet.
Over the past two years, I’ve made a lot of PR mistakes. I’ve also got Bitrix24 into Forbes, VentureBeat, ReadWrite, PCWorld, PCMag, TechRepublic, CIO, ITWorld and 200+ other tech publications. I’ve learned that what you do with the article AFTER it’s published is frequently a lot more important than what do you before. And I am happy to share my insights with you.
1. Pay for LinkedIn Inmail.
LinkedIn Inmail is the cheapest and most effective way to pitch journalists. My account cost me $100 a month and at least 50% of all mentions of Bitrix24 in the press are results of LinkedIn pitches. The most amazing thing about LinkedIn is that once you find one or two journalists, their network will actually show you who else to contact –editors in the same or other publications. It saves you a lot of time. Also with Inmail the results are guaranteed, you pay only for those messages that got read by their recipients.
2. Contributors are better than editors.
Publishing industry is about pageviews – that’s how advertising is sold. To get pageviews, you need content. To get content, you need to pay journalists. That’s exactly why a lot of publications now - we are talking about Forbes, Entreperneur or Inc here – have blogger/contributor sections. Free content. Your competition and traditional PR agencies are pitching editors, who receive dozens, if not hundreds of proposals every day. My personal experience suggests that contributors and experts are actually much better ‘targets’.
3. Twitter stalking
After you get to know most editors who cover your niche, you should start following their Twitter accounts. When you see a tweet that you can meaningfully respond to or comment on, do so. If you consistently comment and retweet someone’s account for 2-3 months, they’ll start noticing. Now you can pitch. Hint – the best way to do this is with a question.
4. Pitch in multiple formats.
The same data can be presented in multiple formats – report, infographics, slideshare presentation, webinar, video and so on. Last Christmas we did a report about social intranet use. We first pitched it as a study that got picked up by major tech publications, like ReadWrite. We then released infographics based on the same data and got a score of mentions again. I now know that I should also include podcast and videocast friendly materials in my pitches (you can’t easily show infographics in a podcast, and podcasters are almost universally overlooked).
5. Content amplification (free).
We’ve got mentioned in Forbes twice, both times by contributors. One article had 50,000+ views within the first week. Another one got less than 2500 views in the same period of time. Why the difference? Reddit and StumbleUpon. Your corporate Twitter and Facebook are a given. Make sure you submit articles that mention your product or service to Digg, Reddit, Delicious and other free content amplification tools to drive more traffic to them. You won’t always have 100% success rate, but when your articles get picked up by Reddit or StumbleUpon, the results are amazing.
6. Content amplification (paid)
If you can’t get your content amplified for free, don’t worry, there are services like Outbrain (what we use) or Taboola that let buy amplification. There are several instances when using them makes sense. Some publications rank articles according to pageviews. By driving traffic to your article, you get more pageviews, ranking it higher. Another instance is when your old article got tapped out and is buried so deep no one can see it.
Let’s face it – Google likes Forbes.com a lot better than your site or ours. You can use that to your advantage. For hypercompetitive phrases like ‘productivity tools’ or ‘collaboration tools’ where our own website has no chance of getting to the front page results, we use SEO (links with anchor text and social media mentions) to improve ranking of articles that mention Bitrix24. Not only it’s easier to improve SERP results for high authority domain, people trust publications a lot more than vendors sites.
When we launched the service, we decided to make it free to startups for a year but journalists weren’t interested in covering this. So we changed our PR pitch to Bitrix24 announces $1.2 million grant program for startups. Than minor tweak made all the difference. We also routinely partner with other publications for giveaways (last time we raffled away Parrot AR.Drone to TWN readers). Many publications are happy to promote your giveaways for free, some charge sponsored post free, but the advantage of giveaways is that you can run them all year around, and not wait for a new release or major product update to contact editors.
There are two ways to get onto lists. First way is to find a year old article and contact the author, asking if he or she is planning an update. That’s how we got onto PCMag’s Best Free Web Apps list. Another way is to hire a guest blogger to write and place a list for you in a blog that accepts such posts (see 9 Best Free Business Productivity Tools For Startups), I highly recommend Maricel Rivera of SourcingPen.com for the job. The best thing about them is that lists beget lists. When I see our service mentioned on a list that I did not solicit, most of the time I know which older list was used as an inspiration.
10. Promote others
I try to mention as many other tools and services when promoting Bitrix24 as possible (lists make this easy). Even when these services partially compete with us. Most social media managers are very happy to retweet any article that mentions their brand. A lot of time they’ll link to the article from their website or social media pages too. Hey, the more qualified traffic, the better.
There are actually a lot more techniques that we used to improve Bitrix24 visibility and drive traffic to our website. And we’ve increased our ROI by a lot more than 10X after we dumped our last PR agency. Unless we are running a big promotion, our PR related expenses are around $500 a month, and we get 10-20 new articles mentioning Bitrix24 during a typical 30 day period. Our last agency cost us $7000 a month and delivered no results.
If you want ‘predictable’ and affordable PR, here’s what you have to do. First, contact journalists directly via social media with short pitches, not press-releases, and try developing relationships with them over time. Second, keep looking for new formats, because you aren’t Google and nobody cares about your new release. Third, develop a solid post publication strategy to squeeze out as much traffic from each article as possible. Finally, concentrate on ‘grassroot PR’ activities that improve your chances of being mentioned in media, without you pitching them directly.
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