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How to Get Free Press for Your Business (Even if You’re a Nobody)

how to get free press for your business 1

How would you like to get a mention in Entrepreneur magazine?

Or land a guest spot on TechCrunch?

Or maybe even get an endorsement from your favorite influencer?

Beyond the traffic and backlinks, getting press gives a serious boost to your credibility and visibility. For authors and course creators, this can open up a lot of new doors.

But how exactly do you “get press”? Do you have to be an influencer or have tons of industry contacts to land a spot on top publications?

Anyone can get press. You don’t have to have thousands of readers or journalist connections.Click To Tweet

Here’s the truth: anyone can get press. You don’t have to have thousands of readers or journalist connections.

What you need, instead, is a story and a process to pitch that story.

I’ll show you that process in this post.

Rethink Your Approach to PR

The conventional approach to PR is to develop a story, then shop it around to interested journalists. This works well enough if you have an exceptionally strong story or deep media connections.

For most people, however, this isn’t the case. Their stories are either not compelling enough, or they don’t have the connections necessary to get before an editor.

This is why you need to rethink the way you approach PR. Instead of a “story-first” approach, adopt a “journalist-first” thinking.

(I’m using “journalist” as a placeholder for anyone you want to get in front of including bloggers, influencers, authors, etc.)

This means you:

  • Understand what kind of content journalists want to see in pitches, and
  • Build relationships with journalists to increase chances of getting press.

Content marketing veterans, of course, will recognize this “audience-first” approach as a staple of content marketing. But you’ll be surprised at know how rare this thinking is when it comes to PR.

Let’s dive deeper into this approach.

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What Journalists Want to See in a Pitch

Coming up with a great content idea is half the battle when it comes to PR. A strong idea will flourish on its own with the right amount of seeding.

Follow a bottom-to-top approach when it comes to ideation. That is, figure out what journalists want to see, then brainstorm ideas accordingly.

According to a survey of 500 publishers by Fractl, journalists want:

1. Content Collaboration

About 70% of journalists prefer collaborating on stories rather than getting something fully-baked.

Through collaboration, journalists can create something more appropriate to their audience. A finished content piece doesn’t give them the freedom to customize.

Your Lesson: Don’t send out a finished piece of content. Instead, send ideas or a content “MVP” (Minimally Viable Product) and solicit their feedback.

2. Exclusive Research

Thirty-nine percent of journalists in Fractl’s survey said that they want “exclusive research” in a pitch, and 27% said they want “breaking news.”

Credit: Fractl

This is pretty much the only way for any media company to stand out, to either be exclusive or be the first one to break a story.

Your Lesson: Since you can’t manufacture “breaking news” from scratch, focus on creating something exclusive instead. Think about how you want to present your pitch to the journalist. Feel free to refer to some of these email pitch angles for inspiration.  

3. More Articles and Visual Assets

These are the content types journalists want to see most in pitches:

Credit: Fractl

Articles and infographics are two of the most popular content types journalists want to see in their pitches.

Clearly, gimmicky formats like quizzes, interactive content, etc. don’t work. Journalists still want to see old-fashioned content, such as articles (19%), infographics (13%), mixed-media pieces (12%), and others.

Note that, besides articles, the other top content categories (infographics, data visualizations, etc.) are all visual.

Of course, individual journalist preferences will vary, but this gives you a general idea of what kind of content journalists want to see.

Your Lesson: Create something visual.

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How to Come Up with Content Ideas

The above research tells you what content formats and categories you should create to maximize your chances of getting press.

The next step is to come up with specific ideas that fit the above requirements.

When you’re researching competitors or target publications to brainstorm ideas, take note of the following:

  • Content type (research, case study, survey, story, visual asset, etc.)
  • Content format (article, infographic, video, interview, etc.)
  • Headline style (listicle, question headline, curiosity-gap headline, etc.)
  • Topic focus (especially on large, multi-topic sites)
  • Target emotion (what emotion does the content evoke: anger, happiness, controversy, etc.)

Here are a few ways to do this:

1. Give a new spin on ideas from competitors.

There’s a widespread belief that you have to create something truly unique to get press. This belief stops a lot of great content creators from reaching out to journalists.

The truth? You don’t have to come up with incredibly unique ideas. Instead, you just have to come up with a new take on a successful idea.

Consider this GIF of a car engine from Animagraffs as an example:

Credit: Animagraffs

Plenty of people have already written about this topic, but Animagraffs takes a fresh take on it. The result is thousands of backlinks from hundreds of websites.


So the first stop in your brainstorming process is to see what’s already working for your competitors. Find their top performing pages in terms of links and shares.

Here’s how you can find this content:

A. Find top content by social shares.

Plug a competitor’s domain (e.g., competition.com) into Buzzsumo to see their most shared content. For example, here is Mirasee’s top content, based on the number of shares in social media:

Credit: BuzzSumo

Mirasee’s top content is a mix of different formats, including podcasts, articles, and infographics.

B. Find top content by organic links.

Use Ahrefs to find top pages in terms of total backlinks. Plug your competitor’s domain into Ahrefs, then navigate to Pages > Best by Links section in the left menu.

This will show you the top pages on the domain by total links. Make sure to select “200 OK” under HTTP codes to show only currently valid pages.

This is what I see for Mirasee:

Credit: Ahrefs

You can see that templates and eBooks work well for Mirasee.

2. Find popular content on your target publications.

A publication is more likely to write about a topic that has already worked for it in the past.

The next step in your research process, therefore, is to find popular content on your target publications, both in terms of shares and links.

Again, you can turn to tools like Buzzsumo and Ahrefs to research your target publications.

Here’s what I see when I look up Buzzfeed on Buzzsumo:

Credit: BuzzSumo

Your job here is to see what kind of topics, content formats, and ideas are doing well in your target publications.

3. Find what others in your niche are sharing or linking to.

Aside from looking at competitors and target publications, you can also get ideas from content that’s already popular in your niche.

There are plenty of ways to find this content. You can plug a keyword into Buzzsumo to find top content on that topic, such as “content marketing” in the example below:

Credit: BuzzSumo

Also, note the “Trending Now” section on Buzzsumo to see what’s popular right now.

You can also find popular content by searching Reddit and Ahrefs’ Content Explorer.

Once you’ve done the above, you should have a broad list of content ideas. You can fine-tune them further in later steps.

Before you go further, analyze your own content creation capabilities. If you don’t have access to in-house or freelance design talent, don’t prioritize infographics or visual assets. Similarly, if you can’t create videos, don’t make videos a big part of your content strategy.

Lastly, avoid overused content formats and terms like “infographics” (use “visual asset” instead). Journalists are often inundated with “infographic” requests and send such emails straight to the trash can.

Avoid overused content formats and terms like “infographics” (use “visual asset” instead).Click To Tweet

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Creating Content that Hook Journalists

The next step: creating your content.

This entails more than just researching a topic and writing/designing it. To create something that actually gets journalists excited, you have to understand two things:

  • Storytelling
  • Emotions

Let’s look at both of these below.

Storytelling in Content

When you’re creating content for a campaign, you have to think of the story of your readers and customers.

For example, suppose you run a site that sells flight tickets. All your customers have a reason to buy tickets from you: to meet old friends, to travel for a vacation, to be with their families.

This reason why tells you the story of your customers, a story that your business makes possible.

A storytelling-focused content campaign would incorporate elements of this why into the content. Essentially, you’re looking to create a personal connection with readers, a way for them to look at your content and think, “That’s my story.”

How can you do this?

Here are a few simple tips:

Most importantly, focus on a specific user (or customer persona) rather than a general idea. For example, if you’re writing about weight loss, write about how a specific person who lost weight.

Emotions in Content

Successful content almost always has an emotional richness. It doesn’t just relate facts; it triggers emotions.

For example, look at this Customer Stories page on Tesla’s website:

Credit: Tesla

Most of these stories focus on a strong emotion—a big family adventure, a lofty high school dream, etc. It strongly emphasizes that Tesla isn’t just a car; it is an emotional experience.

Here’s another example of emotive storytelling from British Airways. Instead of focusing on its features (better seats, cheaper tickets, on-time arrivals), British Airways emphasizes the emotions involved in traveling.

According to research, these are the emotions you should target if you want your story to go viral:

These are the emotions you should target if you want your story to go viral:Click To Tweet

You can see examples of this in every form of advertising and content marketing. Nike’s ads usually evoke awe, while Coca-Cola’s ads show joy and laughter.

Think long and hard about the product you’re selling. What emotion does buying the product generate in your customers? If it’s a productivity app, what emotional benefit can customers get from your product (e.g., enjoying more time for family)? If it’s a fitness product, what will being more fit get you (e.g., more energy, a feeling of accomplishment, etc.)?

Try to relate this in the form of a story and you’ll see much better results from your content marketing and PR efforts.

Format the Content for Maximum Impact

If your content is a large block of text, has poor visuals, or uses complicated language, you’ll struggle to find readers.

Follow these rules:

  • Keep paragraph length short: 2-3 sentences at most per paragraph.
  • Use short sentences.
  • Write at a grade 5-7 reading level. Check your reading level with a tool like Readable.io.
  • Use plenty of bullet points and sub-headers.

I also recommend using a “bucket brigade” at the beginning of your content. This is a copywriting technique where you use words like “look,” “here,” and others before a sentence. These words grab the reader’s attention, which is why they’re particularly useful at the beginning of an article.

Like this:

Credit: Udemy

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Getting Press

The final step in the PR process is to build a list of people who would be interested in your story and start pitching them. This list should include:

  • Journalists writing for a news outlet or magazine
  • Bloggers running their own blogs or writing for a large blog
  • Contributors to a large media site
  • Influencers with a large audience due to their blog, social media, or email reach

You can’t possibly build relationships with everyone in your niche. Since your resources are limited, you have to be strategic about target selection.

When building my target list, I look for three things:

  • They should cover my industry, expertise, or product-type.
  • They should have either a large audience of their own or access to a large audience through their network.
  • They should be approachable and have as few gatekeepers as possible.

These criteria disqualify a lot of targets. Major influencers like Tim Ferriss, for instance, often have far too many gatekeepers to be approachable. Some journalists have a large reach but cover highly specialized subjects.

So how do you find these targets and build relationships with them?

Let’s take a look.

Finding Targets

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to find journalists, influencers, and bloggers:

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to find journalists, influencers, and bloggers:Click To Tweet

1. Find people who have linked to content similar to yours.

This process is pretty straightforward. Find a popular piece of content topically and strategically related to yours. Then see who have linked to it using a tool like Ahrefs or Majestic.

For instance, consider this “Perceptions of Perfection” content campaign from Superdrug. Looking it up on Ahrefs shows that it has earned hundreds of links:

Credit: Ahrefs

Digging deeper, we can see that most of its links come from large media properties like The Huffington Post and Moz:

Credit: Ahrefs

If you were creating content similar to this, these would be ideal targets. If they’ve covered something similar in the past (and it has earned them traffic), they might be interested in your content too.

Note the name of the journalist who wrote the story and add them to your outreach list.

2. Find people who cover your area or “beat.”

Journalists usually specialize in a specific topic. This is called their “beat.”

Beats can be as narrow or as broad as per the publication’s requirements. A small local newspaper might have a single guy covering “technology,” while a large tech publication might have different people covering “Android apps” and “iPhone apps.”

Most large publications list their writers and editors for each beat clearly. The Huffington Post’s about page, for instance, lists all their editors and their beats:

Credit: HuffPost

But what if the publication doesn’t have a list of contacts (common for smaller publications), or if you don’t know which publications to target?

In such cases, turn to Google. Use a query like this:

“I cover/write about [niche]

For example, here’s what I see when I search for “I cover technology”:

Credit: Google

This should give you a list of publications and writers who cover your industry, though you will have to dig through a few pages.

An alternative to Google is a tool like JustReachOut. Simply plug your topic into the search box and you’ll see a list of journalists who cover it.

For example, here are the search results for “Bitcoin”:

Credit: JustReachOut

This makes the entire search process much faster.

Finding Email Addresses

Once you have a list of journalists’ names, it’s time to find their email addresses.

Thankfully, this process has become much easier than it used to be. Tools like InterSeller, AnyMailFinder.com, or Hunter.io (which is not the best in terms of quality but is a good fall back) can find nearly anyone email’s address within seconds.

They work by finding the email pattern associated with a domain name (such as {firstname}{lastname}@domain.com). Once they know the pattern, they can easily guess a specific person’s email with a relatively high degree of accuracy—at least for smaller organizations.

For example, here’s what I see when I look up HubSpot.com on Hunter.io:

Credit: Hunter

Besides email addresses, Hunter will also show you the individual’s job title and social media links (if available).

Voila Norbert works the same way, but you do need to know the exact name of the contact for it to work.

If you’re targeting journalists, it’s also a good idea to look up their Twitter accounts. Many journalists publicly display their emails addresses on Twitter, like this:

Credit: Twitter

Once you’ve found a specific person’s email address, add it to your spreadsheet.

Building Relationships

This is my number one advice to anyone interested in getting press: invest in building relationships first.

This is my number one advice to anyone interested in getting press: Click To Tweet

Journalists are inundated with emails. According to a survey by Fractl, nearly 20% of journalists get over 50 pitches per day. A few top ones get as many as 100+ pitches a day.

Who do you think journalists are going to notice in their inboxes, random pitch #49 or someone they’ve exchanged emails with five times before?

The latter, of course.

Here’s a process I use to build relationships and make myself visible:

  • Follow, retweet, and reply on a public platform (like Twitter).
  • Follow with a couple of comments on their blog.
  • Send 1-2 emails without any “ask,” such as an email where I leave a genuine compliment, feedback, or start a dialog.

The golden rule you absolutely must follow is to “give before you take.” Offer something of genuine value to your target, such as a compliment (as long as it’s 100% authentic), a link to an article they might be interested in, an introduction to someone they’d enjoy meeting, or a solution to their problem.

Don’t think too much about “what’s in it for me?” Instead, focus on helping your target journalists and making yourself visible.

Turn this relationship outreach into an ongoing process. Set aside some time each day to send and respond to emails. And do this well ahead of the time when you think you’ll need something from them.

You’ll find that, if you can do this consistently, you’ll build strong relationships. These relationships, in turn, can open up new opportunities.

Pitching Journalists

The final step is to send out pitches to your target journalists. Here are some tips for doing it right:

1. Align the pitch with the writer’s beat.

The number one rule of pitching: send the right pitch to the right writer.

Journalists usually have a very narrow area of focus. Sending them something outside their beat just shows you haven’t bothered to research them at all.

My tip is to shadow top targets on your list for a few days on social media (especially Twitter since it’s journalists’ platform of choice). See what kind of topics they tweet about. This should give you a quick understanding of their interests.

Research their published articles as well. See if you notice a pattern: what topics, content formats, etc. do they write about?

This is an important step that will radically improve your outreach success.

2. Make sure you have a brand before you pitch.

This is one of the essentials for any successful PR campaign. Respectable outlets won’t publish you if you don’t have a brand or any claims to legitimacy.

What makes a brand?

That’s a broad question, but at the very least, you should have the following:

  • A well-designed website. Cheap WordPress themes are a no-go.
  • A nice logo and brand name.
  • An about page, ideally with pictures of your team members.
  • At least a few pages of quality content.
  • A few trust indicators (social media following, “mentioned in” press logos, testimonials, etc.)

You know a brand when you see it. Journalists stopping by your site should understand that you’re a real business, not an internet marketing page.

3. Focus on the subject line.

A whopping 85% of journalists decide whether to open an email or not based on the subject line alone. This makes the subject line even more important than the body copy for a successful PR campaign.

Here are a few tips to improve the quality of your subject line:

  • Keep it short. Longer subject lines (beyond 45+ characters) get truncated on mobile. In fact, 75% of journalists also prefer subject lines to be under 10 words.
  • Use numbers or data. We have a bias towards numbers in headlines. This carries over to subject lines as well. If you have any hard data, make sure to mention it in the subject line.
  • Lead with controversy. If your content has some surprising (and controversial) findings, make sure to lead with that in the subject line.
  • Pique curiosity. Journalists are just like your readers; they click titles that arouse their curiosity. Use curiosity gap in your subject lines if possible. Just don’t overdo it.

Your thinking with subject lines should be, “how can I grab their attention?”. The more you can stand out, the better the chances of your email actually getting read.

Of course, if you’ve taken the time to establish a relationship, you won’t have to work as hard on the subject line.

4. Keep pitches short.

Keep your pitches only as long as necessary. Three to six paragraphs is a good rule. You can send longer pitches, but only if you’ve had prior communication with the target.

Here’s a great example of a pitch from Fractl:

Credit: Fractl

It’s slightly on the longer side, but it works because Kristin had emailed the target a few days earlier.

Here’s what’s working well here:

  • Personalization at the start of the email. It shows that you’re a real person, not a mass spammer. Plus, it helps break the ice.
  • The pitch. The next four paragraphs are devoted to explaining the app (and also referencing a past conversation). Keep this as succinct as possible. Think 30-second elevator pitch.
  • The “because”. Journalists need a reason to write about you. This sixth paragraph gives the target this “because” by connecting it with something the journalist is interested in, sapiosexuality.

This is a good pitch format to follow in most cases.

5. Track your results.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Use a tracking tool to measure the success of your email campaigns. Something like MixMax will tell you your email open rate and CTR:

Credit: MixMax

You can also use its mail merge capabilities to automate your campaigns.

I recommend creating 2-3 templates and sending them out to your first 10 contacts. Use the best template from this for the rest of your campaign.

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Over to You

Getting press can seem impossibly hard if you’re a solo blogger, author, or course creator, but it’s doable. The important part is to think from the perspective of your target audience—journalists, influencers, and bloggers—and create something they’ll want to publish.

Even more importantly, invest in building relationships with journalists and influencers. Focus on giving before taking in these relationships. Once you get on their radar, you’ll find that journalists are much more likely to listen to your pitches.

If you follow the process I’ve outlined above, you’ll find it easy to get press. Yes, even if you’re a nobody!

If you or your business could get coverage in any media outlet, which one would it be? What can you do today to get you closer to that dream?

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