How I Outcompeted my PR Company

A few months ago, I hired a PR company for three reasons:

1) To help me promote my book Dance Adventures
2) To see if I could outperform them when it came to PR
3) To practice investing in myself at a higher level (this company’s services cost about $3,000/month)

Now in the final phases of our contract, I feel grateful for what I’ve learned and also excited that I DID outperform them.

What I valued about this experience

Working with the PR company allowed me to cast a wider net with my publicity efforts, as I spent my time reaching out to publications that they did not contact. It was also a great accountability structure. I checked in with one of the women assigned to my book once a week about what we both had accomplished and outstanding articles I needed to write. The PR company’s efforts also landed me some opportunities I’m not sure I would have secured otherwise. This included my interview with an NBC affiliate, the chance to have a journalist at 60 minutes read my book, and features in publications that I had never heard of (but who have many readers). I wrote for Confetti Travel Café, Business Done Write, Thought Leaders LLC, and several other publications.

What I learned (and what you can apply to your own PR efforts)

  1. 1. It starts with a good press release: No surprise there. While I have experience writing press releases from my time in journalism school, working as a writer/editor in NYC, and working in business development/fundraising, I thought the PR company brought some cool new ideas (you can see the full press release here — note that this is the template, rather than the custom versions they sent to each media outlets). The PR company included quotes from my advance readers and descriptions of a few stories from the anthology they thought would get the most attention from major media outlets. Finally, they customized each press release with a few titles of stories I could write for a given publication, based on its unique interests.

2. Know your dream placements: I spent 20 – 30 hours creating my “PR Wish List.” This included more than 150 news outlets — from podcasts to newspapers to magazines — where I thought the book could be featured. I made sure these publications would have an interest in the subject matter, based on previous stories they published. I also created a list of all of the universities/organizations/companies that I and the other authors featured in the anthology were connected to. I knew these could also be great allies for book promotion. My point person at the PR company said it was the “most exquisitely organized” media outreach list she’d ever seen. I felt proud of this, since I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to support the PR company’s efforts.

3. It’s great to get others involved: Using my PR Wish List, I scoured Linkedin to find my connections to various publications. Sometimes, I knew someone who worked there (thanks, j-school!). Other times, I had to ask a friend for an introduction. Sometimes asking for these introductions was easy. Other times it felt vulnerable and challenging. In the end, I secured many intros and a few cool opportunities. When you ask, people can always say “no,” but you might be surprised at how often they say “yes.”

I also got the authors and Dance Adventures’ early readers involved. I sent them the press release, examples of emails to send out to their alumni magazines or other networks, and volunteered to support them in writing letters to any media outlet they wanted to contact. We also did some very fun author interviews, which you can check out here.

And, last but not least, there was my mom! She wanted to try to secure publicity for Dance Adventures on NPR, Ellen and in a few other places. One Sunday morning, we sat down together and typed those out. We thought about what would inspire and delight the editors/hosts, and came up with the subject line: “Proud Mama Reaching Out.” We were delighted when, not long after, NPR reached out for an interview.

4. I looked at current events: When it comes to pitching ideas, many editors are looking for things that are timely. In other words, they want you to have a good idea and for it to fit in with current events or trends. I went with pitches (such as my story on equitable editing, which will be out in early 2021) that would further conversations already happening in the United States.

5. Don’t be afraid to follow up: If I didn’t see a clip that was promised, or didn’t hear back about a pitch, I reached out. If I still didn’t hear back, I would contact the editor again a week later. I decided on the mindset that my follow up emails (as long as they were spaced reasonably far apart) were supportive to extremely busy editors. This kept me going, even when it felt like there was radio silence.

While there were other lessons, I will pause here for now. I am excited to share more about this process with my clients, as they work to get the word out about their own projects. I am also delighted that my diligence, organization and vision created so much opportunity. It is a testament to the inner work I’ve done (which has taught me to keep going even when I feel daunted) and to my skills as a writer and editor.

I would love to hear your takeaways from this post! Please comment below.

Some of the publicity we secured for Dance Adventures:

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