PR That Really Works

Last Updated Sep 27, 2011 5:13 PM EDT

The idea of a small business putting a PR firm on retainer is nuts. It's just too expensive. For one thing, very few startup budgets have $10K to burn on something that is not actually product or customer acquisition. For another thing, PR firms are notoriously unaccountable. They have a million ways to tell you that they did their job without having any ROI.

So instead of putting a PR firm on retainer, try making your own PR plan with unconventional tactics that allow you to track ROI carefully.

1. Get a book deal.
For most people, a book deal is a completely ridiculous, waste-of-time idea. People do not make money from book deals. However, people do get speaking gigs from book deals. And speaking gigs are the easiest way for a company to establish itself as a leader in a given field.

So here's what you do: Get a book deal for a topic in your company's sweet spot. You will get a small advance -- because the book industry stinks and because if you want a fast, quick book deal, taking a small advance helps. Probably $10-$15K. This is fine because you are not in the book writing business, so you don't need to make money at it.

Take that money and hire a ghostwriter and a booking agent. The booking agent can start booking speeches for you right away, and speeches are usually booked about eight months ahead of time. The booking agent will talk about the book sort of like it's already published even though it isn't.

This is how you get in front of all the right audiences, as an expert anointed by a third-party. You can sell your product to these people during your speech, and it costs you nothing.

2. Use Reddit.
This is, maybe, the most underused PR tool on the Internet. Maybe it's because it's full of 25-year-old guys and not publicists. But really, that's what makes Reddit so good.

If you have a good story, you can hire a PR firm to get big bloggers to pick up the story. But really big bloggers are sick of being pitched, and also, they have become gatekeepers to audiences in much the same way big media has -- in that they are a pain to reach.

Reddit, on the other hand, is open to anyone, and it's completely democratic. If your story is good, it goes to the top. So think of a good pitch and then don't waste it on media -- go straight to Reddit.

Bonus: Everything on Reddit is really short, so you don't have to spend weeks honing a press release.

Here's a great example of someone pitching his book on Reddit. If he can sell his book, you can sell anything. Because believe me, Reddit is not a book-reading crowd.

3. Hire a blogger.
Publicists are used to getting big retainers and then telling their clients why they are not responsible for ROI. Bloggers, on the other hand, are accustomed to making a living on traffic, so they watch metrics much more closely.

Here are things a top blogger understands about placing posts that a publicist doesn't:
  • How to use backlinks in mainstream media posts to generate high conversion rates
  • How to pitch a guest post that a blog publisher will actually use (hint: customized lists)
  • How to use conversation keywords to get to the most popular post lists on mainstream media home pages
So, surprise a blogger by hiring him or her to manage your PR efforts for a couple of months. Ask the blogger to use the same traffic metrics they use for their own blog. And ask the blogger to write under his or her own name. You'll be pleasantly surprised how much more bang for your buck a single blogger can give you than a whole PR firm.

Still in doubt? PayScale hired me to write this blog post, and it got the company, and their amazing salary data on ABC, FOX, and 20/20.

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