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Ask Mark Coker your PR questions

dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
edited June 2008 in Public Relations
Hi, my name is Mark Coker, and I`ve been doing PR for startups for almost 20 years.  I thought it might be fun to establish a forum here where ya`ll can ask me PR questions and I`ll try to answer them.First, an introduction.  I run a small boutique PR agency in Silicon Valley with 8 employees that I founded 13 years ago.  Our clients have ranged from cool garage startups to multibillion dollar publicly traded companies like Sun Microsystems and IBM.  We regularly get our clients press coverage in national magazines and industry trade journals.First, what is PR?  You can probably find a dozen definitions of PR. Wikipedia has a comprehensive page describing the practice of PR at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations , though if you`re not careful it might confuse more than help.Let`s get real about what PR should mean to you.  Imagine if your business could receive free press coverage in the magazines, newpapers or trade publications read by your target customers?  The proper press coverage can generate awareness for your company and its products or services.  The proper press coverage can help create and shape public perceptions about your business that can make customers more inclined to choose your product or service over a competitor`s.I`m a huge believer in PR as one of the most important strategic weapons for any startup.  PR can be used to achieve virtually any business objective.Back in `98, I founded and launched a startup out of my PR agency office called BestCalls.com.  We used PR as a strategic weapon to help motivate publicly traded companies to allow small individual investors to listen in on their earnings conference calls.  I was personally
interviewed for hundreds of stories by media outlets such as the New York Times, Wired
Magazine, BusinessWeek, CNBC, CNN, and many others.  It was a lot of
fun.  When I first launched the business and told people my goal was to change the way public companies communicate with small investors, people laughed in my face.  But as I proved with BestCalls, when you have the power of the press on your side, anything is possible.One of the most frequent questions I get from entrepreneurs is, "What does PR cost?"  It`s a tough question to answer because it varies company to company.  Most of our clients spend $8,000 to $10,000 a month for our PR services.  Most startups can`t afford that, unless they`re venture or angel backed like most of our clients.  Although the day may come for your company where that level of PR investment is a no-brainer, for most startups you`ve got to do your first PR on your own.  I`m hopeful that in the days and weeks ahead, I can provide you some no-cost or low-cost ideas that you can implement on your own without a PR agency.Fire away.


  • dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Letutor, here`s your top 5.  It`s general to cover startups of all types.The Top 5 Ways to Do Your Own PR Cheaply and Effectively#1.  Know your target marketWho is your target customer? What are their hopes and dreams?  What problems are they facing?  What makes them tick?  Get inside their heads.  Know how your product or service is a solution to your target customer`s pain.  Identify the media that reaches your target market.  What magazines, newspapers or trade journals does your target market read?  What radio stations or television shows does your target market watch?  These will be your PR targets.  Study the stories covered in your target media.  If it`s a print publication, read it cover to cover.  Who`s writing about what?  #2 Know your story What`s your story?  What do you have to tell the world that the world doesn`t already know?  Good PR starts with visualization.  You need to imagine your story appearing in your target publications. What would be the headline of your story?  What would the first sentence of the story say?  Ask yourself, "why should anyone care about my story?"  Play devil`s advocate. #3   Develop a compelling pitch with supporting materialsIf you`re announcing a new product or service, can you communicate in one or two sentences what it is, what it does, why it`s special and why someone should care?  Reporters often write stories by a formula.  They like a press release (I`m sure some time down the line, I`ll answer questions about press releases).  They need to interview someone to get quotes.  They need artwork, such as pictures of a product, or a picture of whoever they interviewed.  They like to speak to users of a product or service.  Do you have satisfied customers or clients who are willing to speak to a reporter and tell them how your product or service changed their life, or allowed them to gain some benefit that previously wasn`t possible by any other product or service?#4.  Pitch the story to the right reporters at the right timeMost magazines and newspapers have an editorial staff, and those reporters usually have assigned beats.  One may cover real estate, one may cover technology, and another might cover restaurants.  Know who covers your space.  If your market is regional and your targets are few, just read the local media and observe who`s writing what.  If your market is national, consider purchasing the same directories used by PR agencies.  Bacons is probably the top directory of media.  Their printed newspaper directory, for example, has the names, beats and phone numbers of probably 10,000 newspaper reporters.  They have similar directories for magazines, television/radio, and more.  Each directory costs a little over $400.  If you have a few thousand to spend, you can subscribe to their online MediaMap service (the secret weapon and addiction of most PR pros), which lists information on thousands of reporters across thousands of magazines and media outlets that you never would have imagine even existed.  MediaMap will tell you, for example, how and when a reporter prefers to be pitched.  Maybe they prefer email pitches, and they`re on deadline after 3pm every day so don`t dare call them then.  Maybe they prefer to receive a press release in the mail, or by fax (actually, the fax machine has gone the way of the dinasaur for more media).5.  FollowupIf you find a reporter who`s interested in your story, don`t be offended if they`re flaky or busy or can`t cover your story right away.  When you`re doing PR, the reporter is boss.  If you try to work within their schedule, you`ll improve your chances for success.  Books on sales techniques will often tell you not to take no for an answer.  If a reporter tells you "no," listen, don`t argue.  If they`ll give you a second, ask them what they think your story is missing.  Learn from the experience.  Maybe you`ll learn you`re pitching the wrong story, or the wrong reporter.  Or maybe they`ll tell you exactly what they need for a story, and you can come back to them next time when you have what they need.
  • keyconkeycon subscriber Posts: 34
    Welcome Mark - great to have you at SuN!
    Excellent advice. Communicated well. I look forward to hearing more from you and all the questions and answers on this very important aspect of any business.
    PS - Love your name. I use to be a partner of a company in GA and our name was "Dovetail, Inc." - loving woodworking, the play on the name "fits" nicely for a service business like yours.
  • PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Hi Mark,
    Welcome to StartupNation ! You have some great advice for small businesses. I`m looking forward to seeing how this PR area grows and the great information we can share!
    Here are some additional tips for getting some free publicity and/or new business:
    1. Give presentations at local events that target your specific audience. Provide valuable information, and you`ll establish your credibility. People will get to know who you are and what you have to offer. And word-of-mouth marketing will help you get some new clients.
    2. Write an article for a publication that targets your audience. If you aren`t a writer, get some assistance from a friend who does. This will help build credibiliy. Then you can use the published work in your marketing efforts.
    3. Partner with a business or organization that caters to your specific audience. Perhaps you can trade services and share the cost of your PR efforts?
    4. Hire a publicity/marketing student at a university to do some writing, research and publicity efforts for you at a reduced fee. They may be able to do the work for class-credit, and they`ll give their all in order to build some samples for their future career.
    Getting free publicity as a small business is possible. It just takes some research time and effort!
    Have a great day!
  • dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Melanie, those are good ideas too.  I particularly like #2.  If you write an article, and if that article is posted on the publication`s web site with a hyperlink back to www.YourWebAddress.com, you also receive the added bonus of rising in the organic search rankings of Google.  One of the metrics Google uses to rank websites for different search terms is the number of inbound links from reputable web sites, which would obviously include newspapers, magazines and trade journals.Great work, BTW, on StartupNation`s PR!Mark
  • PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Thanks Mark!
    Small businesses can get the PR that big businesses do. In fact, they often have more interesting stories to tell. But without a PR budget, it`s just a matter of spending the extra time to get some good media attention!
  • clubkid66clubkid66 subscriber Posts: 0
    I need help in getting pr for my business.  Could you please help me?
  • PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Hi Randy,
    To start, checkout the PR information on StartupNation under "PR Toolkit" at p 
    That will give you some basic information. Then, feel free to send me a note with your specific goals, and I`ll see if I can help you out!
    Thanks Randy,
  • dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    If anyone has more burning PR questions, fire away.
  • gemprgempr subscriber Posts: 0
    I am in the field of Entertainment PR.  I was wondering what is the procedure to be included in email and/or call lists that are provided by firms handling events in "Hollywood"?  In other words, how will I get the invitation to submit my clients for acceptance into these events etc.?  Thank you in advance for your response.
  • PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Since I`ve done entertainment PR in the past, here is a suggestion.
    To get your names on the lists, you`re going to need to be pro-active. Do some research on the upcoming events and find out deadline dates and who you need to contact.
    Then, ask if you can get regular information and be added to any "invitation" lists they may have. However, you`ll probably need to keep track of these events on your own if you really want your clients to get an invitation. Try sending packets of information prior to deadlines for entries. Also, keep in touch with these firms/event planners throughout the year and try to establish a relationship. Let them know what your clients have to offer. Then, when the big events come up, you`ll be one step ahead of the competition.
    I hope this helps,
  • scrappyscrappy subscriber Posts: 8
    Great thread! 
    My target audience are women.  I`ve designed furniture for the home office that helps organizer the crafter in mind.  I`ve had pkg and shpg issues that I`m trying to iron out.  I`ve learned the hard way how expensive pkg can be and how a shpg company really doesn`t care how they handle your product.  Since my budget is next to nothing, I`ve decided to change my marketing plan to target my local area.  I`ve recently paid an scrapbook consultant, that specifically does mktg for the scrapbook industry, to write an article about my company and to let people know in my local area that I offer free in home consultations to help design their space.  My thinking on this is, by selling to the local area, I save on pkg and will offer delivery or pick up, so damages will be minimal.  The money I make will then go toward my pkg (which requires minimum quanties and is $$$ pricey) OK.. for my question:  Once I get this article, do I pay for an advertisement slot in the main newspaper (in their lifestyle section??)
    I`ve tried leaving messages and emails to the editors (different editors) to the main newspaper here and I`ve rec`d no calls or emails back.  My messages were short and to the poing: I`d like to submit an article, would you prefer I email, snail mail, or fax?  Did I ask wrong?
    Then as far as magazines, if I do the same thing, call, email these editors and I get no response back, then where do I go?  I`ve now spent $ to have an article written up, is paying for an ad the only way to get it published?
    Thanks!! Can`t wait to hear your comments.
  • dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Marcy, welcome to this forum!It`s likely that the article you`re having written will need to be tweaked to meet the needs of your target publication.  Without having seen the article, it`s difficult for me to judge the article`s quality - Feel free to post it here if you want some quick feedback.PR and advertising are related, but different.  The idea behind PR is that you shouldn`t have to pay a penny for it.  If you present a reporter with a great story and they jump on it and interview you for it, it`s all free.  And stories written by reporters - stories that you don`t pay for - carry a lot more credibility than an advertisement.  Reporter-written stories are often better-read than the ads anyway.Here are the steps I might follow...1.  Publication Targeting - identify the publications that are likely to cover your story, or that you think would be interested in your story.  2.  Study the publication.  Do they publish similar articles from other "experts?"  If they do, you know you too have a chance.  What other types of stories do they write?  Visualize how you might be able to fit in.  An article that you`ve written may not be suitable for publication, but maybe it positions you as a expert or could prompt the reporter to want to write their own story on the same topic and interview you as an expert.3.  Target the right reporter or editor.  A large newspaper might have a staff of 50 editors and reporters, all with different responsibilities.  If your target publication has a large staff, call the paper or magazine and ask to speak to an editorial assistant.  Ask them who the appropriate person is for you to speak with.  It might be a reporter who covers arts and crafts, or homemaking, or leisure time, or whatever.  If it`s a small paper, you`ll probably just ask for the editor.4.  Know what stories are in your arsenal.  You`ve got the article you`ve written.  Odds are, noone will publish it as-is, but it may still be enough to prompt discussion.  Maybe it would be great if your target publication wrote a big trend story on how scrapbooking is all the rage - they could speak to you as an expert.  Maybe you can write up a list of 5 tips on how to organize your scrapbooks (Forgive me, I`m clueness on the trends and issues in scrapbooking, or what problems scrapbookers are facing).  Anyway, visualize a wide range of potential story ideas that you would pursue if you were a reporter. Prepare to engage the reporter in conversation, and maybe between the two of you you can come up with an idea that meets the reporter`s needs for a compelling story and meets your needs because it`s an opportunity for you to be quoted as an expert.  The best story ideas are those that clearly identify a problem or challenge and the solution to that problem or challenge.  I`m just making all this up, but let`s assume that scrapbooking really is the rage (I think I`ve actually seen stories on it, so maybe this is a safe assumption) - you could go to the reporter and say something like "as you know, scrapbooking is all the rage right now.  The whole craze started two years ago when Britney Spears said it was her favorite pasttime, and now according the National Scrapbooking association 40 million families have gotten into it in just the last two years. (the preceding sentences establish the background for the story - you`ll need to fill in the proper facts.  Next, we get to the problem...)  One of the biggest problems scrapbookers face, however, is that they become loaded down with cr*p (okay, find a better word) and clutter and eventually become totally ineffective with their scrapbooking because they can`t find anything.  Luckily (here comes the solution), many scrapbookers are now finding that the solution to the clutter (replace clutter with the "problem" or the pain that scrapbookers are facing that`s solve by your furniture) is to utilize this new kind of furniture called scrapbooking furniture (I never knew such a thing existed).  Okay, you get the idea.  I`m just brainstorming here. The point is to create a compelling story, a story that readers would CARE to read about, a story where readers will learn something USEFUL.  And finally, if you can offer to put the reporter in touch with clients of your`s who are finding unbridled joy and satisfaction with your products, then that will help to.  Maybe you`ve got some human interest stories, like how maybe your furniture saved someone`s marriage, or brought a family closer together, or whatever.5.  Call or email the reporter, assuming you`re certain they`re the proper reporter.  If you ask most reporters today if they prefer to be called or emailed, most will say email.  If you have a specific story idea in mind and you`re certain it would be of interest to the reporter or editor, go ahead and email them.  If you don`t hear back, you can try calling in a couple days.  If you do call, always call in the morning if you`re calling a daily newspaper, because they`re less likely to be on deadline.  Ask them if they have a minute. If they say no, ask when would be a better time for you to call them. When you call, if you can reference something they`ve recently written that you think is similar to your topic, have the article in front of you and say something like, "Hi, my name is Marcy Shuler and I`m looking at this article you wrote last week.  Do you have a minute? (it completely disarms a reporter to know that you`ve taken the time to read their stuff)  My company is ScrapbookSpaceStation - we make custom furniture for scrapbooking and sewing - and I have a story idea I wanted to run by you..."  Another tact is to introduce yourself and ask if this is a topic of interest to them.  While I can understand your frustration with shipping, you might want to look into an improved packaging process so that your stuff isn`t damaged.  Dell Computer ships millions of computers a year, and I`ve seen the UPS guy bounce the boxes around like a basketball, yet the computers still work.  If you limit yourself to only your local market, you might be missing out on 99% of your total market opportunity. There are several nationwide scrapbooking publications that might be interested - like Scrapbook Answers (circulation of 150,000 readers!!), Scrapbook Trends.  There` even a television show in Knoxville Ten that`s all about Scrapbooking and nothing else.  Who would have guessed?  And then if you look at the sewing market, there`s Sew News with 135,000 readers, and many more. Back to newspapers.  Here`s another idea that I`ll relate through personal experience.  A few years back, I read an article in the local San Jose Mercury, which is the big newspaper where I live.  The article was talking about tips for keeping your garden weed and pest free.  At the end of the article was the reporter`s email address.  I wrote her a short note that my trick was raise bantam (small) chickens, and let them roam free in the garden.  Because they were small, they didn`t dig up the plants.  And because they`re chickens, they love to eat weeds, snails and bugs.  And then I talked about how I use ladybugs to eliminate aphids.  I didn`t expect anything from the email, but a week later my letter was in the paper as "reader tips."  Now, if I owned a nursury or sold chickens or ladybugs, this would have been great PR for me.   My point here is that there are dozens of story opportunities all around you every day, you just need to know to look for them. 
  • PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Hi Marcy,
    Another suggestion to go with Mark`s tips...if you simply feel that you can`t get your current article published, you can still use it. Try doing a search for online sites that will post your article at no cost. Then, post the article on your site with a link to the site where the article is published. That way, you can promote the published article to potential customers and add it to your media kit.
  • scrappyscrappy subscriber Posts: 8
    Can I just say THANK YOU!!! I`ll try and do the research, although it is difficult for me.  I still hold a full time job while trying to get this going.... and taking care of family and trying to take some time out 2 times a week to play some tennis... not a lot of room for extras, unless I stay up till all hours of the night and morning which I do about 3 times a week!
    I wanted to comment on the reasoning behind me focusing on the `local` level for my mktg.  I`m a very small business!  my start up was about $4000.  This included my prototype (which is on my home page and now in my home/office).  I figured in the beginning that pkg and shpg would be a snap... I was sadly mistaken!  Dell has top of the line pkg for their computers because they were able to afford to puchase in mass quantities for the best packaging that is available on the market... along with their heavy duty boxes that also require huge minimums... I can`t afford that at this point.  I just spent about $1000 which I know is probably a drop in the bucket for some of you pro`s on this site, but for me, it was more then I had, but knew I had no choice.  for 20 pairs of polyethelene end caps to help protect just one of my units ran me about $420... my cost for these end caps would go down a lot if I ordered 200+ at a time... just can`t do it right now... SO, by focusing on my `local` community, orders placed within my community would not require `packaging`, so this means more money in my pocket to invest in larger orders with my pkg company to keep the cost of the pkg per unit lower.  So giving you more of an idea of why I`m focusing on my local market, would you agree with my reasoning?
    When I get the article that I`ve paid someone to write for me (since I`m not a very good writier) I`d love for you to read it and give me some feedback.  Is it ok for me to post the article on this thread? or should I send a private email?
    Thanks Marcy
    PS.  Melanie,  I submitted an article to one of the online companies and paid a little extra (not much) to target specific industry and it wasn`t to their liking... so it`s in a pending status.  Of course, (I) wrote it, that`s why   When I get the article that I paid to be written, I`ll submit that and see what happens...
  • dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Marcy,Thanks for the additional background.  Sounds like the focus on the local market makes sense for now.  If you can prove there`s a local market for your product, then it becomes simpler to expand to a broader market.  Maybe there`s an opportunity to get some small locally owned furniture stores to buy your stuff, or display it on consignment.  Better yet would be a scrapbooking store, if such stores exist.Go ahead an post the article here for all to see.Best,Mark
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