Public Relations, Startup Advice

“Get their name right”: The five biggest mistakes businesses make when doing their own PR

Dominic Powell /

PR mistakes

The Of Character team. Source: Supplied.

Much of the discussion around entrepreneurship and starting a business focuses on the what and why of the business, but one of the oft-overlooked parts of business building is how to get your business noticed and talked about.

Often it can be a sure-fire way to get some extra business for your venture, or at the very least, up its exposure. For example, one Aussie SMEs recently saw a four-fold increase in customer growth after the business scored some airtime on Triple J’s Hack radio program.

But paying an agency to do your PR can be time-consuming, impersonal, and often very expensive, with businesses paying anywhere between $5,000 to $15,000 per month to get a full gamut of services from PR professionals.

However, these professionals — often small businesses themselves — are the pros for a reason. They know what to do and when to do it, and they’re guns at identifying the best possible angles to get your business into the media.

There’s a lot to learn from these pros if you’re a business keen on doing your own PR, so SmartCompany chatted to Sarah Green, PR professional and head of media relations at Melbourne firm Of Character, to get a sense of the top mistakes businesses make when taking publicity into their own hands.

1. Not knowing your audience

First up, Green says SMEs and startups need to have a firm grasp of who their audience is, and where they’re trying to increase their customer base and keep ramping up revenue.

She warns against pursuing a spray-n-pray mass media approach, as she’s seen times when that sort of coverage hasn’t helped businesses lock in any new customers.

“One of the first things for businesses to know is who they are wanting to read the article, or listen or watch the piece, so when they do get PR results they see it actually affect their business,” Green says.

“Otherwise your business will get PR and have nothing it can do with it.”

2. Having a bad or unfinished product

Although this might seem obvious, Green says businesses need to make sure their product or service is not only ready for public consumption, but it actually a good product to begin with.

“Journalists are going to question those things, and you’ve only got one shot at putting the product or service in front of the media,” she says.

“They have the potential to be huge advocates for your product or service, and if it isn’t ready or it’s bad, it’s going to take a long time to get them back on board.”

3. Not getting the ‘why’ right

“Get your elevator pitch nailed,” Green says.

Businesses that have a really strong ‘why’ are more likely to succeed when it comes to pitching stories at the media, says Green. She points to culture and team-building startup Culture Amp as a good example, saying the reason the company gets such good media cut-through is because its ‘why’ resonates so well.

“It’s really easy to buy into what they’re talking about, and having that really strong why will help people understand and buy your product,” she says.

4. Not understanding the news cycle

This is likely one of the biggest things businesses get wrong when pitching stories directly to media. Green says knowing what the day of a journalist looks like and the current news cycle is essential to getting your story featured.

“Journalists get thousands of emails a day, and most go unanswered and unread. If you have the chance, ask the journo what their day looks like, and get a sense of when they write their stories and when they stop looking for news,” she says.

“It’s important to know these things, because if you’re sending a story at 2pm in the afternoon you’ll probably miss the boat.”

Green also recommends business owners take the time to understand what else is going on in the world of media and politics, as big breaking stories are likely to change how journalists respond to pitches.

She uses the timely example of the recent Fairfax and Nine merger — unexpected news that has rocked the entire Australian media landscape.

“At times like that you have to be human, and understand it’s a really tricky time in media. I actually told my client to hold off on a story that was aimed at Fairfax due to the news,” she says.

5. Using the wrong name

If you thought having a good, working product was common sense, this one probably seems like a no-brainer. But SME owners would likely be astounded by the number of pitches that hit a journalist’s inbox either addressed to someone else or with their name spelt entirely wrong.

“It’s a classic example. Make sure you get their name right, make sure they actually do write for that publication and make sure they write for the right section of the publication,” Green says.

Does your business have a great story to tell? Reach out to us at [email protected] and let us know. And if you want more tips on getting media attention for your business, come to our upcoming event in Melbourne. 

NOW READ: Four ways to generate publicity for your business – for free

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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