The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

Chapter Eleven

Written by Neil Patel & Ritika Puri

Get the Word Out with PR

The right media coverage can be the tipping point for a new company, opening up opportunities with investors as well as building loyalty with customers.
Jane Boland, PR consultant via American Express OPEN Forum

You’ve launched an amazing product or service. Now what? Now, you need to get the word out.

But you’re on a budget and can’t afford the $10K a month to hire a fancy agency and put out press releases. That’s fine. You’re better off executing you’re on strategy or hiring a really awesome consultant.

When done well, good PR can be much more effective and less expensive than advertising. For cost-conscious businesses, ROI is crucial. Every penny spent on marketing should generate revenue. PR is no different. Here are the steps you should take to form a successful strategy for your business:

  1. Let go of the agency allure

    The sad truth about PR is that existing process are broken. They’re outdated, costly, and inefficient.

    • Many agencies are still buying very expensive ‘media lists’ and blasting our press releases and pitches to hundreds of journalists at a time.
    • It’s hard for the PR industry to track and measure the value of what they do.
    • Press release blasts entirely miss the mark on target audiences.
    At Lean Startup Machine Weekend, part of my team's exercise was to interview journalists about their experience with PR pitches. They all said that 90 percent of the sometimes hundreds of pitches they get a day are spam; totally irrelevant to what they write about.
    Jane Boland, PR consultant via American Express OPEN Forum

    To succeed with PR, you need to focus less on the appeal of an agency and focus more heavily to focus on results. Prioritize what you want to achieve, not outdated ‘best practices.’ If you want to get in front of journalists, for instance, you are likely better off forming 1:1 relationships than bombarding them with irrelevant pitches.

  2. Know when press releases are worth it

    A press release is worthwhile if your announcement is over-the-top catchy and newsworthy. But here’s the thing — most press releases read like giant sales pitches. If you think that journalists and publishers are going to be attracted to lukewarm content, guess again. They’re not. They don’t care. Their email inboxes fill up with 100s of spam messages again.

    We hate to say it but marketers — get your head out of the clouds. The world does not revolve around your business, and journalists could care less about what you have to say.

    If your goal is to get targeted placements for your brand, you will be better off cultivating a unique and thoughtful pitch in your area of specialty. A press release won’t cut it. Position your organization as a valuable, reliable, and trustworthy source of information instead.

  3. Focus on building relationships and making connections

    The problem with PR is ‘spray and prey’ or ‘broadcast’ mentality. If you shout at journalists with a megaphone, they’re not going to listen.

    Above all, journalists care about compelling stories. They want to hear about your founders’ emotional journeys. They want to know what problem your company is solving and what motivates your team to wake up and come to work in the mornings.

    Treat journalists like trusted business partners, not eyeballs. Develop a conversation. Let them ask questions.

    Know your 2-4 stories in and out. Hustle hard for the small, one-off mentions. These usually come as a result of work done on the business development and partnerships side of things.
    Heather Anne Carson, PR expert & co-founder at Onboardly

Strategic planning wins the race

Every so often, you’ll come across startups that generate insane amounts of traction on almost zero budget. You might think that it’s the outcome of luck — most likely, that isn’t the case. The more likely scenario is careful, strategic planning. WIth online media, Hollywood success stories are few and far between. Behind the scenes, marketers are hard at work — building key relationships with key stakeholders.

Let’s jump back to an example we featured in Chapter 4. Karen X Cheng founded Dance in a Year, a platform that helps users learn anything in a year (cool value proposition, right?)

Karen learned to dance in a year and videotaped her entire journey. The outcome was an amazing video that went viral on YouTube. In just a few short months, her video has amassed millions of views. She makes the experience of learning to dance look seamlessly easy. She makes the process of making a viral video look pretty darn easy too.

That’s how you know that she put some real muscle behind the process.

I did a ton of marketing, and it started long before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident — it was work.
Heather Anne Carson, PR expert & co-founder at Onboardly
  1. First, she posted her video to Facebook and Twitter, as well as social news sites like Reddit and Hacker News. She asked her friends to share the it and tweeted it to established bloggers. She also reached to bloggers who had previously written about viral dance video. Of the channels she pursued, Reddit was the top performer. The video gained attention and made its way to the top of the GetMotivated subreddit page. After day 1, she received 80K views.
  2. Day 2 was discovery day. The bloggers who had seen her video previously began telling her story on sites like Mashable, Jezebel, and the Huffington Post. These blogs were significant traffic drivers to Karen’s video. This coverage amplified her web traffic numbers to 800K views.
  3. The video’s popularity pushed Karen to the YouTube homepage. That chain of events helped take Karen to 1.8 million pageviews on the third day.

Karen also leveraged her video to connect with potential sponsors and stakeholders in her project. These included companies like Lululemon and American Apparel – two organizations that she was happy to support. Some of these companies supported Karen and shared her video on their social networks too.

She also released her video on Tuesday, guessing that on Monday, people are most likely to be catching up on emails from the weekend.

Use PR Tools

The problem with PR is that the supply/demand ratio is completely imbalanced. PR seekers are constantly spamming writers, journalists, and bloggers for attention.

A service called Help a Reporter Out (HARO) can help to alleviate some of this crunch. Using this service, journalists can find sources to interview for upcoming stories. People seeking PR can monitor journalist queries and join the conversation where they’re qualified to contribute.

You can sign up for a simple e-mail digest that looks like this:

As a journalist and marketing strategist, I (Ritika) use HARO from both sides of the fence — as a marketer and a writer.

Here is the biggest problem that I’ve found with HARO:

For some queries, I’ll receive 50+ responses, but here’s the thing. Most of the pitches I get are totally irrelevant. They’re ego centric and completely disregard my needs as a journalist. They make me jump through hoops to get the information I need. And when I’m filtering through hundreds of responses, I don’t have time to respond to everybody 1:1, as much as I’d like to make myself available.

The thing to know about journalists is that they’re incredibly strapped for time and working under short deadlines.

So when I’m ready to write my story, I’ll read through the pitches I receive via the HARO dashboard (not email), which means that it’s difficult for me to reply to inquiries 1:1:

From a journalist’s perspective, here are some tips for making your HARO query stand out:

  1. Answer the question specified in your pitch. When people pitch me, I want to quote the material directly. Most likely, I won’t have the bandwidth to hop on a call. Tell me the story you want told upfront — offer to schedule a phone conversation as a follow-up. Send ready-to-quote material ins tead. Here is an example pitch that I sent to a reporter from Inc on behalf of Speak2Leads. It was successfully published. I took the time to really get inside the mind of the reporter and meet her needs.

    My name is Sammy James, and my small business has built a technology solution that that facilitates swift seller/prospect connection and significantly increases conversion rates. Years ago, my company was two separate marketing agencies whose clients consistently received high call volumes. Even though our clients were receiving a number of leads, their sales teams were slow to pursue those opportunities and close deals. Our clients were lean operations without the luxury of a big-business call center staff. Missed connections were a huge opportunity cost.

    To begin, we built the first iteration of an app that phoned our clients as soon as a prospective customer would reach out to them online via a web form. The results were powerful. We started using our own app in our own business development efforts. What we loved was the ability to connect with potential clients immediately, as soon as we received an inquiry from them. Prospects loved the fast response time from us, and we were able to instantly present our business in a positive light, as a robust and customer-service based operation. And most importantly we were speaking to more of our leads. We then grew this platform to solve another problem — lead management and follow-ups. If we didn't reach prospective clients on the first try, we were likely to give up, and that was costing us business. We decided to expand the app to streamline our follow-up efforts. The app helped us take the leg-work out of long-term lead management so that we could work more efficiently in closing deals.

    We designed our app to solve our clients' biggest business problems — missed connections — and in doing so, we realized that other companies faced this same dilemma. As a digital marketing agency, our #1 goal was to help our clients generate leads. Our clients told us the response was extremely positive, and suddenly, our app became one of our business's core products. In 2010, my two marketing companies merged to focus entirely on Speak2Leads, the name that we ultimately chose for this app and our company. We have grown our client base to 75 customers so far, who each use this very same app to connect with their prospective customers.

    My advice to small business owners is to build the perfect solution to a very real problem that is ultimately bigger than you. Position yourself as the first use case or beta tester. When I built Speak2Leads, I was focused heavily on helping my clients generate stronger results. I never would have imagined that solution would ultimately become a business in itself.

    We actually use Speak2Leads for our own business development offers. The goal is two-fold — first of all, we want to show prospects the value of Speak2Leads firsthand. Secondly, we want to be able to connect with prospects as soon as their interest is piqued. As a small business, we do not have the time or person-power to track each and every lead. So, we use our own product to streamline this process. Our app integrates with virtually every customer relationship management tool, marketing automation platforms, and now email service providers so it has been very easy to adapt the solution to the exact needs of our business and our clients.

    Sammy James, Owner of a Web Conversion Company
  2. Don’t send a generic pitch. Send a unique, compelling story. Share something that stands out from a typical PR blast.

  3. Stop bombarding the writer. Journalists work on a deadline but do not necessarily know when their work will be published. Don’t bombard journalists with follow-up questions. Don’t harass them on LinkedIn, and don’t aggressively talk them via multiple email addresses. If you don’t hear a response, move on to the next story. Don’t be offended. HARO writers receive a ton of emails, and it’s impossible to respond to each and every one.

  4. Write a really compelling email headline. Instead of just replying to the query, take the time to craft a unique headline that summarizes your story’s value proposition. Remember that there is a human being on the other end of the computer screen. Make it really, really easy to deliver your message, and the reporter will be more likely to open your email message.

  5. Set-up Google Alerts. Make sure that you have Google Alerts set-up for the keywords you’re monitoring about your brand. Especially with HARO, you may not know when a writer will feature your story. Don’t bombard the writer with questions. Run Google Alerts to help you keep your eyes peeled.

Use Tools to Save Time

Save yourself the time and hassle of combing through spreadsheets and sending hundreds of emails. Use tools that have been developed to solve your exact pain point — scale with limited resources.

One example resource is BuzzStream — a CRM (customer relationship management) platform that helps PR professionals build relationships, monitor conversations, and maintain historical records of conversations with PR and media platforms.

Features include:

  • Automated tools for researching link-building prospects
  • Resources for identifying campaign opportunities
  • Team-based tools for building and managing relationships with influencers
  • The ability to prioritize a human, relationship-based touch

BuzzStream lets you automate mundane tasks like saving information about key contacts and partners. Teams can also collaborate on initiatives and delegate outreach tasks.

Collaborate with other businesses

Content marketing means that brands are becoming publishers and building their own audience bases. Companies, like you, are looking to connect with key audiences through PR and distribution.

Team up with fellow-business blogs who are looking to reach the same audiences as your organization. There are two ways to get going — guest post on industry blogs, or invite others to create content for your blog.

15Five, a company that creates employee management software, recently launched a video/interview series on its own blog. This initiative generated PR for both 15Five and the partner the company chose to feature. Onboardly, a content marketing and PR strategy firm developed this program from the ground up. Take a lesson from the following case study, courtesy of Renee Warren:

Description of Goals:

  • We wanted to extend the reach of the entire brand in the most focused and impactful way possible.
  • In deciding where to spend our time and efforts, we had to choose between focusing on getting featured by the major tech outlets and the more creative road less travelled. We chose the road less travelled.
  • We decided to focus on entrepreneurs and highly respected business leaders to amplify the value of our own content creation by offering their wisdom to our audience. And thus was born our video interview series.


  • We suspected that entrepreneurs and leadership influencers had a more powerful reach than major tech outlets. Note the word “powerful”. Why bother getting in front of people who would have no use for 15Five? We wanted to get in front of people who would actually care. We suspected these influencers would open us up to a more targeted audience than TechCrunch, for example.
  • We knew that their audiences were potentially a hole-in-one fit and we wouldn't have the problem of being drowned out in the real-time news feeds of the major tech blogs.


  • We wanted to “influence the influencers” so to speak, so we started with the people we look up to most in the industry. We identified the people that inspired us the most.
  • Of course, people like Simon Sinek, Chip Conley, etc. came to mind. We reached out to them, told them what we are all about, explained why we love what they are doing and asked them if they’d be open to sharing their insights with our community. When the interviews went live, they would want to promote them as much as we would. It is a win-win-win (us, them, our community).


  • So far, we’ve released the interview with Simon Sinek.
    We have more interviews both produced and schedule, but we’re really just getting started.
  • Simon's interview is found in is our 5th most visited page of all time.


  • We had just started our blog in April, which is when the Simon Sinek post was published. It quickly received over 1,000 pageviews. In fact, it was so successful given the “newness” of our blog that we wrote a follow up blog post about the topics discussed by Simon Sinek in the interview. That post received almost identical results. Between the two posts, visitors stayed for an approximate average of 4 minutes, which is well above average for the blog (approximately 3 minutes). The interview video itself has received over 3,500 views in total to date. And in the time since, we've honed our technical process and solidified our interview format into one that is potent, original and increasingly more valuable to our ever-growing audience.

Grasshopper, a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs, uses its blog as a platform for giving props to their best customers. The company has a “submit your story” program and will write about their customers who have something awesome to share. For Grasshopper, PR is an invaluable way to say “thanks” to their trusted business partners.

I did a ton of marketing, and it started long before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident — it was work.
Heather Anne Carson, PR expert & co-founder at Onboardly

Give samples of your product or service

One way to get press coverage is to give away trials or samples of your product or service. Reach out to prominent journalists and bloggers, and ask if they would be open to doing a product review. Give them a free trial or sample to try.

Always say thank you

When a journalist, blogger, or fellow business writes about you or your company — reach out and say thank you. Offer yourself as a resource for future stories. Position your organization as a company that wants to return the favor and help.

PR is, first and foremost, about building relationships. To the best extent that you can, maintain a personal touch. Take journalists out to dinner as a ‘thank you’ (not a bribe) for writing about you.

Show that you are grateful, and you’ll stand apart from the crowd of people who aren’t. Add value to your industry — don’t extract it. Pay it forward whenever you can. Connection karma, and you never know when something small will materialize into something much, much bigger.

Key Takeaways

  • PR is an inefficient and frustrating rat race. Cut through the noise by zeroing in on the results you want to achieve.
  • Treat PR like business development. Build key relationships with journalists.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. Craft meaningful, compelling pitches. Don’t ‘spray and pray’ a salesy advertising message.
  • Personalize pitches to the journalists’ needs and interest.
  • Develop a powerful brand story to share.
  • Give more than you get. Say thanks. Offer to add as much value as you possibly can.