I Spent $0 and Generated International Press Coverage

How I did it, step-by-step.

Hello 👋

Martin here. Welcome to another edition of Founders’ Hustle!

I write bitesize newsletters containing actionable insights and insider knowledge across the full spectrum of company building from inception to exit.

In today’s newsletter I’m sharing one of my frameworks for generating international press coverage for a product or business without spending a penny. All you’ll need is a little creativity and hustle.

To do this, I’m using a fun personal case study to walk you through it.

Here we go…

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As a founder of numerous businesses, over the years I’ve generated a lot of press coverage for my companies.

Since I’ve launched both B2B and B2C products, the specific approach and reasons why are different in each case, but, the underlying common ground is the same. To raise awareness and credibility of a product or service amongst a target customer base.

In the earliest stages of these ventures I’ve overseen the process personally, without using a PR firm, because I’ve bootstrapped them. I had no choice but to be resourceful and generate press coverage from zero budget. A lean methodology was key. As was guerilla publicity tactics.

There are various ways to go about generating press coverage. A fairly reliable approach is to leverage topical current events, a tactic I’ve utilized numerous times. I’m going to walk you through my methodology, step-by-step, for this approach below.

To do that, I’m going to use my favourite personal example as a case study. I love this example because not only was it highly successful in terms of achieving our goals, it was also great fun to execute. You’ll see why.

Background Story and Results

A few years ago I setup a costume ecommerce shop in the UK with friends. The primary go-to-market strategy was to acquire customers through search engines.

The website was launched on a domain we purchased specifically for the project. It had no domain authority with Google, meaning no exposure on search engine results pages. In order to appear higher in Google’s search results, we needed context-relevant backlinks from reputable websites.

As part of the solution to dealing with that problem, I set up a sustained PR campaign with the goal of generating articles on news websites, trusted by Google’s algorithms, that would link back to our company website.

A common tactic utilized during this campaign was to leverage topical current events. We’d insert ourselves into the periphery of the news cycle with a clickable story.

Since the products we sold were fun and frivolous, we generally took a humorous approach. Often satirical in nature, as costumes commonly are. That meant finding the right news stories to hook onto was key. Nothing too serious or morbid.

During that period the horse meat scandal story broke out in the UK and dominated news headlines for a while. This gave us the idea to create a ‘Horse Burger Costume’ and release what we had put together to the press, the methodology of which I will go through in detail below.

The results were even better than I anticipated. It was picked up by a ton of media outlets including HuffPoBusiness InsiderExpressMetroMediaiteThe DailyEdgeThe Journal, and more. It even appeared on TV!

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Next, how I did it, step-by-step.

Step 1. Product-story fit. Before you do anything, you need to think about how your product can fit into a news cycle story. This is super important. If it’s a bad fit, it won’t work.

This will vary massively depending upon the type of product or service you offer. If its B2C and fairly mass-market, like costumes, mainstream stories become viable. But, only a handful of them are truly appropriate.

If its B2C and niche, like I dunno, a Shewee, then usually news stories pertaining to that subject are the most appropriate, such as outdoor hiking in that scenario. These aren’t “front page” headliner stories, but a big relevant news story will happen eventually, though, so be ready for it.

If your product is B2B, then, for the most part, it will be a case of leveraging a news story cycle within the trade journals of your industry. This is an example trade journal press article of how I did just that for one of my B2B companies. We jumped on an industry hot topic.

Develop a sense of the product personality and message you want to communicate. Fun or serious. Grassrootsy or commercial. Passive or high impact. Write down the key points you want to convey. This will help build a foundation of how you will insert your business into the news cycle.

Some products and services lend themselves better to this process than others. It’s pretty straightforward to be creative with costumes, but if you sell bathroom taps you have to be a whole lot more inventive.

But, it’s all relative to your competition. You only have to be moderately successful with bathroom taps to generate a lot more press coverage than your competition.

Step 2. Pick a news story. Now you’ve got a sense of how you want to insert yourself into the news cycle you need to pick a story to piggyback on. Sometimes this calls for patience.

There are periods where not a lot happens that’s relevant to your product or business, but then, all of a sudden, one or two highly relevant and hot stories pop up.

My general process for this step is to scroll through news media websites that my target customer audience frequent, getting a feel for the current news cycle. I also use Google News to search for keywords that are relevant to my product and market.

Most of it, like 99.9%, is not appropriate. Either too distasteful (murder, terrorism) to attempt or so thinly related in subject matter or narrative appeal that a news outlet won’t pick it up.

I have a few criteria for picking a news story. It must be:

  1. Relevant, insightful, or entertaining.

  2. Feasible to build a compelling narrative around.

  3. Viable to communicate our core message.

My decision for selecting the horsemeat scandal was arrived at for several specific reasons within that framework.

Satire around the scandal was already transpiring on TV and radio — it was a topic society was already comfortable joking about. Certain national supermarket brands were also caught up in the scandal, which we could loop into the satirical narrative.

This would all tie together nicely because costumes are inherently light-hearted, jokey, and fun. We could communicate our core message.

Step 3. Review existing resources. Once you’ve selected your news story you need to check what resources you have that are applicable to it. Both digital and physical assets. The more the better, since it gives the story more substance. It will also help towards setting a narrative.

For the horsemeat scandal, I went into our warehouse and grabbed costume pieces that were relevant to the subject matter and started playing around with them. Combining them in different ways.

After a while, I settled on a combination of a horse head mask and a burger tunic paired with black trousers and shoes. The reason for this was simple, it looked the funniest!

Step 4. Create a narrative. This part is also super important. Building a compelling narrative will seal the deal with reporters to write about your product. If it's tenous they won’t bite, or, only one or two smaller publications might.

With the horse burger costume, I knew that it was pretty funny and appealing, but I wanted a stronger connection to loop it in physically with the horsemeat scandal news cycle.

Aware that major national supermarkets were caught up in the scandal, the decision was made to utilize them as the physical hook for our narrative. Make them the punchline of the joke, rather than say, consumers, who were misled. The distinction there is key.

To do that, we asked a good-humored friend to put the costume on and “model it” standing next to supermarkets and delivery vans of the retail brands caught up in the scandal. Below are examples of the shots we got. Reporters loved the images and used them.

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Step 5. Create a product page. Now you’ve got your assets sorted it’s time to make a product page. This is what the news outlets will likely want to link to in addition to your homepage.

We continued the light-hearted humor here with the description and suggested accessory. Here’s what is said:

“Yay or neigh? Become the flavour of the year.

This costume is the odds on favourite at many local supermarkets.

Disclosure: Horse content is not 100% guaranteed.”

Business Insider called it “pitch perfect”.

Doing this will further increase the newsworthy-ness of your pitch to reporters. It also gives them something else to write about. They have to produce a whole article, after all. It’s not just a tweet.

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Step 6. Create a media pack. Next, you need to create a media pack. This is a folder full of assets that you will share with reporters.

Product images, logos, bios, product information. Whatever you are prepared to share that will give the reporter material substance to use in their article should be included. Images are generally a must-have asset.

I usually use a Dropbox folder for this, but other services like Google Drive works just fine, so long as you remember to update the sharing settings to allow external individuals from your company to access the contents. Create a specific folder for each story, otherwise it will get very confusing.

Step 7. Reporter prospecting. Now you have your story ready you need to find reporters to pitch it too. Contacting the wrong ones will be fruitless. Financial analysts or relationship gurus won’t be interested in a story about a horse burger costume, for example.

I have a fairly simple approach to this. Hop onto Google and search for your subject matter in both the regular search box and Google News. Use this to find reporters that have written about similar topics.

For the horseburger costume story I searched for reporters that had previously written about costumes before (at Halloween, particularly) and also those that had previously covered the horsemeat scandal but in a more ancillary capacity, not the core story.

Once you start finding reporters open up an Excel or Google Sheet and start adding their details. Name, news publication, email, link to the relevant story, etc. Email details are usually on the story page itself, their news website bio (of which their could be many), and sometimes their Twitter bio. Generally, they like to make themselves contactable since they need a constant feed of material to write about.

Step 8. Send outreach emails. It’s time to start pitching reporters.A word of warning, they are pitched constantly with stories. There is a lot of noise to breakthrough. This is where the narrative and assets you previously prepared can make all the difference.

Reporters are super busy, so the easier you can make your story to write about, the more likely they will take it. Keep your email brief and get to the point. Communicate:

  1. Why your story is relevant to their audience and timely.

  2. What your narrative is and why it's compelling.

  3. That you have all the assets ready and tease them (ask if they would like the media pack link)

You should also mention an embargo, if you have one.

Step 9. Follow up with reporters. After your initial round of outreach emails, you will have some responses from reporters to take care of. They may ask some follow-up questions or ask for the media pack. Generally, this back-and-forth is brief — 2 or 3 emails. They don’t have time for more. It’s not an investigative piece, after all.

For those reporters that didn’t reply, politely chase a few times at reasonable intervals of at least a few hours (depending upon urgency). No response doesn’t mean they are not interested at all, they’re often super busy.

Step 10. Use Google to search for copycat stories. Once your story has been published by at least one of the reporters you have been speaking to, use Google to keep a lookout for other news outlets that also pick up the story. Other reporters will likely cover it that you have not spoken too.

The reason for this, is, sometimes, these outlets will not link back to your website or app. In the past, I have contacted them to request a link, and they have kindly obliged.

This is where supplying your own images gives you more leverage. It’s common practice for media outlets to link back to the source of an image. If they forget to do that, you can remind them they’ve used your image and you’d very much appreciate a link back to your website or app for the credit. This is good for both driving sales and increasing your search engine visibility.

Until next time,

- Martin

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