The secret to great PR

“The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive.” – Coco Chanel

A typical day for me as a reporter for Inman News meant being carpet bombed with press releases and story pitches from log in to log out.

I’d get the email, then shortly after, the urgent call. A young PR cadet in training would nervously ask whether I’d received the email, had any questions and intended to publish the news.

Some were accusatory in approach and tone: why wouldn’t I publish their news? It was important to them. It was important to their customers.

Some had no idea why they were calling or why I should say yes – not a great position for getting what you want.

We did work with a handful of amazing PR people back then who got it. They knew the story, pitched it well and got us what we needed to do some interesting reporting.

But there was a whole lot of hot mess in between.

I’m feeling like it’s time to expose an ugly truth: I didn’t cover your news because it wasn’t news.

More specifically, you were guilty of one, two or all of these things:

  • You failed to provide me with an answer to the deal-breaking question: who gives a shit?
  • You failed to make me believe that your claims – the same ones I’d already heard four times before lunch that day – were substantiated and realistic.
  • You failed to explain the problem you were solving. (I may not have been convinced the problem was even a problem.)
  • You failed to connect some dots about how your product both fit into the larger landscape of real estate technology and, more importantly, how it was different.
  • You failed to provide an interesting backstory about your company or product.

These journalism principles were what I used to determine news coverage and the importance of various products in the real estate landscape. They also apply to marketing and copywriting.

Think them through as you position your brand for press coverage and marketing in general – whether it’s a new launch for you, a pivot or an expansion of your original product or service.

Your story connects you to the industry and to your customer. And it’s the basis of all great PR. You need to get it straight.

Sometimes a founder or founding team can do this. But in most cases, if you have the funds you’ll benefit from hiring a great PR agency or consultant. Crafting and pitching a story is skilled work that’s often best left to the professionals.

But you still have a big job here. Great PR – just like all marketing – starts with the quality of your offering. Is your product really different? Or are you attempting to apply a great story to something that’s pretty average under the hood? Even the brightest PR team can’t carry a dead engine to a cliff, call it an airplane and make it fly.

I can say from experience, though – both on the news side and as my days working in San Francisco’s tech PR scene – that this is how you get your brand mentioned in the news. Start with a great product, articulate your differentiators and how you fit in the larger context of the industry, and target your pitch accordingly.

No amount of cold calling, email pitching or social media hullabaloo will help if you haven’t nailed these things.

Remember this before you head off to the presses next time and you’re likely to see much better results.