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Ask Mark Coker your PR questions



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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Lux,
    Thanks for the question.  I think the question is especially interesting given the trends in the travel agent industry - your industry under attack by forces that seek to disintermediate your services.  The key to your business, and to your PR plan, is to focus on your value add. 
    I expect your value add is comprised of some or all of the following:
    1.  Expertise - you are a specialist firm for certain types of trips and experiences.  I`d hazard to guess you focus on higher end trips than run of the mill discounters.  Based on your current and past experience, you can point your clients toward truly special, truly memorable trips - trips they`d be hard pressed to find on Expedia.  You have knowledge your clients won`t find anywhere else.
    2.  Customer service - you`ve got a trained staff able to orchestrate truly special trips and events.  Your clients deal directly with friendly people (you and your staff), not some impersonal computer in the Internet cloud, and not with some call center staffer located who-knows-where who is empowered only to recite rules and not make special exceptions.
    3.  Access - Since you`re a specialty firm, I imagine you have special relationships that the Internet services, or even normal travel agencies, don`t have.  This means you can book your clients experiences they can`t find anywhere else.
    4, 5, ...  I`m sure you can call out some other value-adds.
    Once you identify your top 3 or 4 value-adds, condense them into short one sentence benefit statements.  These will be your "messages" that define to media and your target clients who you are, what you offer, what you represent and why you`re special.  You`ll want to repeat these messages frequently on your web site, in your press releases and in your verbal communications.
    After you`ve got your messages down, identify your target media.  Assuming you`re interested in attracting a national clientele, you would focus on both national and local media.  If your focus is local only, then focus only on local media.  You`ll want to target publications that would reach your target clientele.  You literally have thousands of media outlets to choose from.  With limited resources, you`ll want to focus where you get the best bang for your buck or your time.  First off, at the top of the list should be local newpapers, both the big dailies for your local metro and the community dailies and weeklies and even freebie weeklies.  Identify the travel writers and travel columists for these publications.
    If you`re interested in national clientele, then expand your list to include travel writers at the top 50 or top 100 daily newspapers.
    Subscribe to PR Newswire`s Profnet service - this is where reporters write queries such as, "I`m looking for a travel expert to comment on the impact higher fuel prices are having on the summer vacation plans."  At least once a month, you`ll probably get a query of interest.  Also subscribe to Peter Shankman`s FREE service called Help a Reporter, at www.helpareporter.com.  It`s similar to profnet.
    Get involved with travel writer`s associations.  I just did a quick search and found NATJA, the North American Travel Journalists Association at www.natja.org.  There are other associations too, like for outdoor travel writers.  Often, professional associations have magazines or newsletters or conferences.
    If you`ll have a national focus, also identify the writers and editors at the top travel publications.  This should include magazines, newsletters and blogs. For some of these, you can probably even contribute articles you write that would position you as an expert and give you great publicity.  Take a look at Bottom Line`s Bottom Line Personal newsletter - it would be a great way to write an article that puts you and your firm in front of hundreds of thousands of potential clients.
    For magazines, go to their web sites and download the media kits, which contain advertising information.  These kits will tell you more about the publication`s focus, and will also include something just as important - the editorial calendar.  Buried in the editorial calendar are pre-planned feature articles, and some of those will touch on topics of your expertese.  Up to 4 or 5 months before the issue date (or two or three months before the ad close date), contact the publication and inquire who is writing that article, and offer yourself as a resource that can help them with A, B and C.
    You mentioned corporate events.  There are probably publications or blogs out there that just focus on that, so track them down and include them in your media outreach.
    Once you`ve done the above, how do you promote yourself?  Focus on your expertise.  Contact the media with ideas for stories, or offer to be a source for their stories.  Offer to meet the travel writer for coffee, so you can share some fun travel trips of interest to their readers.  Don`t do a hard sell.  What`s most important here is that you build a trusted, long-lasting relationship with that reporter so they think of you first the next time they`ve got to come up with an interesting travel story idea, or they need an expert they can quote on a certain subject.  Offer to put media in touch with your clients, who can talk on the record about the special trip or event they attended.  A reporter in Dallas will want to speak with someone in the Dallas area, not someone in San Jose, CA.  When you issue press releases, always ask yourself, "does it contain real news?"  Is the information you share something a reporter can actually use, or is it just marketing fluff (fluff is bad).  I imagine good press releases might be How-to oriented, or offer travel tips.
    Let`s say you`re orchestrating a team-building event for a local company.  Maybe as part of that event everyone`s going to go hot air ballooning, or skydiving (hopefully not from the hot air balloon).  If the client doesn`t mind, invite a reporter to attend.  You might find the right reporter to invite isn`t the travel reporter, it might be the local events reporter, or a business reporter. 
    I think you`ll find there are unlimited opportunities to promote your business.  The key is to experiment with different things, and when you find what works best, do more of it.
    Good luck!
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    luxdesignsluxdesigns subscriber Posts: 0
    Thank you so much Mark for taking the time to truly analyze my issue and come up with options. It`s so rare for a successful business owner to take time to help others. I truly appreciate it. I will now systematically go through these options and put them in place. I may have an additional question later on!
    I see that your specialty is tech so you can bet, if I know anyone from my business school or others starting or involved with a tech firm who are looking for a PR firm, I`m recomending Dovetail!
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    nannette9nannette9 subscriber Posts: 1

    Hi Mark!
    I`m an inspirational speaker.
    Below is draft copy for the "About Nannette" section of my website (which
    I plan to have up in a couple of weeks).   Below is what I wrote. I
    think it sounds a little flat and might borderline on being gimmicky
    (authenticity is what I`m aiming for). Can`t decide whether to go with
    it or pay professional writer to write it.
    I think my story is enough to show the benefit (why someone would book me) but I might be mistaken.  Just wanted to get your
    thoughts. Thanks! 
    ____________________________Nannette`s life and
    "story" are true examples of the power and strength of the human
    She has overcome poverty,
    experienced the frustration of homelessness, gone through the pain of a
    debilitating chronic illness and even dealt with the diagnosis of a brain tumor
    (which she now considers one of the best things to happen to her).  When circumstances forced her
    to spend her first semester of college shuffling between sleeping in her car
    and sleeping in shelters, Nannette was not deterred. She went on to not only graduate, but to
    finish second in her class and gain acceptance into one of the most selective
    graduate programs in the country -- at Stanford University. She has overcome what many
    considered to be insurmountable obstacles, and draws from her experiences to
    help young people learn to take control of their lives and achieve their goals. Her talks are uplifting, entertaining and
    thought-provoking, often taking her audience from tears to laughter. She inspires young
    people and reaches them with a message that quitting isn`t an option, and that
    with perseverance anything and everything is possible.
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Nannette,
    Wow, that`s quite a story.  Congrats on overcoming several lifes` worth of challenges!  I think it reads well.
    I`d also like to see in here a short summary of the types of institutions or groups to whom you`ve given your presentation.  Your prospective clients will want to see themselves in your previous clients, because this reduces the perceived risk or fear of hiring a bad, mediocre or inappropriate speaker.
    Maybe consider the types of audiences who are best suited for your talk.  Are they elementary school kids, church groups, associations, businesses, oncology patients?
    If you`ve received any press coverage, I`d add a sentence such as "Nannette`s incredible story has been featured on CNN and in Time Magazine and People Magazine..." or whatever.  Press coverage adds to your credibility, celebrity and allure (be sure to provide hyperlinks to the stories).
    Elsewhere on the site (you probably have this already), I`d like to see testimonial quotes from previous clients who hired you to speak, as well as quotes from audience members about how they found your talk inspiring, moving, thought provoking, entertaining or educational.  And if your talk led them to lead a better, happier or more fulfilling life, all the better.
    If you haven`t done so already, you might consider writing a personal memoir.  Books are a great complement to a public speaking career.  You can sell the books at your gigs, or you can give one or more away as a door prize, and you can use them to help book the gig.  And of course, you could digitally publish it in ebook form on Smashwords.
    Good luck with your business!
    Best wishes,
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    nannette9nannette9 subscriber Posts: 1
    Thanks for taking the time to send such a thoughtful reply.
    Also thanks for letting me know the copy reads well. Writing about oneself is a very difficult challenge.
    I just have a few questions
    My "business" is in its infancy.  I had been asked to speak several times (especially after getting into Stanford), but only recently did I decide to accept such offers.  Let`s just say it  took me a while to realize my true calling. 
    Given the stage I`m at, how do I handle the following:
    1. The testimonials - initially the list would be short. Is that okay or should I initially leave the testimonials out and I just focus my energy on finishing up my 3-5 minute sample video to reduce potential client anxiety?
    2. National press. A what stage do I try to get this?  Sounds crazy but I would love to get a piece in People, but not so much for the extra bookings it might bring, but because I know young people (my target audience) read that magazine and if reading my story helps one young person out there, I would be so pleased.  That being said, no matter how sincere my intentions, "pitching" myself seems disingenuous. Yet, I know that a person can`t benefit from my story, if they never find out about it. Any thoughts?
    3. The brain tumor...You are the second person to assume it was cancerous...it wasn`t or rather isn`t, as it is still in my head (although we have an agreement...I won`t bother it, as long as it doesn`t bother me!). Seriously, the only reason I talk about it is because the diagnosis came shortly after graduating from Stanford (talk about reality check) and although after a year of testing the end result was doctor`s deciding to monitor it and not touch it for now (it is in a bad spot), the forever trips to the MRI tube and the knowledge that it can decide to grow at any moment (altering my life) changed my life and the way that I live it so much.  But I don`t want to be misleading. What do you think?
    Thanks!nannette96/15/2008 12:58 PM
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Re: testimonials, if you have only one or two or three, go ahead an use them.  Quality counts more than quantity, though eventually you`ll want to have the quantity to cover the spectrum of potential speaking gigs by topic or audience.
    Re: national press, I sense you`re on a mission for public good, so by all means, evangelize the story to the media.  I know it can feel awkward to pitch yourself to the media - it goes again the natural modesty many of us have.  It`s much easier to let a PR agency do it for you, but like most bootstrapped entrepreneurs you probably don`t have the tens of thousands of dollars such a firm might cost.  But don`t despair - you can still pitch the story yourself.  About 10 years ago, I had a startup called BestCalls.com, and I wanted to see my story covered by the San Francisco Chronicle.  I wrote the stock market reporter there a simple short email, it went something like "Hi firstname, my name is Mark Coker and I`m the founder of a new startup called BestCalls.com.  Our mission is to open up earnings conference calls to small investors, who for too long have been denied access to the same marketing moving information as large investors.  I`m wondering if you might have some time to meet me so I can share my vision for the service with you..."  He agreed to the meeting and days later, he wrote this story:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... U83193.DTL
    When you`re on a mission for public good, it can make for an interesting story.  Reporters are hungry for human interest stories that have the power to impact their readers in a positive way.  The secret is to take your story to the right person - someone who has previously written about the issues you seek to address.
    While People is a worthwhile target for you, and you should certainly strive to get covered by them, you can still start to build the buzz with smaller or more focused media.  Contact your local paper, or your favorite blogs.  Whenever you get a good piece of press coverage, put a link to it on your blog.  Many reporters want to know what others are writing about you before they write their own stories.  They`re not looking to copy the stories, yet they often do look to them for independent validation.  For example, if they think your story is really cool but they`re wondering what the other side of the story is, they might review your previous press coverage.  If all they learn is positive and equally enthusiastic, it gives the reporter confidence to give you a positive story too.
    Another strategy you could try would be to invite select reporters to your talks.
    Re: the tumor, I`m certainly not an expert on this.  Just as I did, many people will probably hear "tumor" and assume cancer.  If it`s non-malignant or whatever the proper medical term is, you might want to state it somewhere on your site so reporters don`t mis-report the situation.
    Best wishes,
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Katherine,
    For the press kit, you`ve got two options:  Online press kit and print press kit.  To save money, I`d stick to the online kit and press room.  Many people are moving away from printed kits.
    For the online press room, you should list the following:
    - press releases
    - hyperlinks to past press mentions
    - "about us" information about your company
    - links to management bios
    - email address and phone number of press contacts
    - success stories/case studies/quotes from or about current or past clients
    Here`s a sample of our simple press room for Smashwords - http://www.smashwords.com  Note it doesn`t need to be fancy.  Avoid using PDFs in the press room.  PDFs are slow to load and difficult to work with (not easy for a reporter to cut and paste from them).  Stick with plain vanilla HTML, and if you decide you MUST offer PDFs, make them an option, not the default.
    For what the press release should contain, that`s a big question.  I`ve tried to address many aspects of it previously on this thread, so I encourage you to review some of the previous answers here.  In a nutshell, it should communicate what you`re doing or have done and why the reader should care.  If you can`t complete the sentence, "This announcement is important because...." then you don`t have a newsworthy press release, or you need to revise your message to make it newsworthy.  It should have a news hook, something that conveys valuable information
    to the reader and that gives the reporter something to report.
    It should contain basic info like who/what/when/where/why. 
    You can see a couple samples on the Smashwords site.  Note that the SW releases are unusually long.  As a rule, most press releases should be kept to a page or two.  I break this rule all the time.  I`d also encourage you to visit the press rooms of well established companies in your business field for other press release samples.  Here are some samples of a Dovetail client, Virtual PBX.  They provide hosted phone systems for small businesses.  http://www.virtualpbx.com/company/Press.asp
    Here are some more press release samples from another client of ours:http://www.avg.com/ww.press-releases
    As you browse the above examples, you`ll note there are various types of topics you can write about in your release, such as new products, new services, milestones and awards.
    Also note that companies don`t always issue press releases to generate press coverage.  Many companies use press releases as a communications vehicle for their customers and prospective customers.
    One final point:  99% of your best press coverage will not come as a result of simply issuing a press release - it`s how you promote that press release that makes all the difference.  I`ve written quite a bit about this topic in previous threads here.
    Good luck with your business.
    Best wishes,
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    nannette9nannette9 subscriber Posts: 1
    Thanks so much Mark. This has been extremely helpful!
    All the best.
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Sales people work on commission, PR people do not.  Sounds like you need sales people for your regions, and then a single PR person who provides national and local PR support to your regions across the country.
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Kat,  most PR agencies worth their salt won`t do a program for $250 a month.  It simply doesn`t allow much time to do anything.  You might be able to find a contractor, yet I`d be wary because if they`re any good they probably wouldn`t want to take on something so small.  Many agencies won`t consider clients under $10,000 a month.  Even my agency, which is a smaller boutique agency (9 employees) rarely goes under $7,000/mo.  You`ve got to figure that most PR professionals bill out their services at anywhere from $50 an hour on the low end for a work-at-home contractor to over $300/hr for more senior practicioners.  The average PR person is probably over $100/hr.  I`d strongly recommend you consider learning to do your own PR, which is really the focus of my thread here anyway.   Bootstrapping entrepreneurs really need to consider PR a core marketing skill to develop on their own.  Once your business grows to the point where it makes sense to invest more in PR (either by hiring someone inhouse or hiring an outside consultant), you`ll be all the better prepared to take full advantage of it (and avoid being taken advantage of) if you`ve already developed some of the skills yourself.
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    PRProPRPro subscriber Posts: 25
    Hi Kat,
    Mark thanks for your great insights!
    He is right on, and you usually get what you pay for when it comes to hiring a publicist. Plus, you can usually get some great media coverage on your own. 
    Check out this site for some tips on how to do your own PR. Also, tune into the StartupNation Radio program this Saturday. A show talking about PR for small businesses is on the schedule.
    Thanks for letting me inject my two cents ,
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    TapeSealTapeSeal subscriber Posts: 5
    Hi Mark, I`m glad to see that this thread has been `brought back to life` from such a long time ago!  It has been useful to read thru. 
    Tomorrow my goal is to contact all of the local TV stations to `pitch` our product, Tape-Seal.  Do you suggest using the pitch of `local couple invents X` or is it best to pitch the product when dealing with local media?  The product would appeal to any person who has ever painted a textured surface and used painter`s masking tape but I don`t know which would be a better pitch in this case. 
    Finally, when I sent out our first press release I received some great responses from national mags.  Nothing has transpired since then (4/25/08) with the national DIY mags that initially contacted me.  I did one follow up a few weeks later but am unsure at what point a person is considered annoying.  My nature is not to be pushy but also realize there is a benefit in being persistent until there is a flat out NO.  Should I do one more follow up and ask the question of `what is the story missing`?
    Thank you in advance,
    Any other suggestions pertaining to our new product would be great.  Thanks so much for the insight!
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    dovetaildovetail subscriber Posts: 1
    Hi Tammy,
    Looks like a great product!  I just completed a major home remodel and can appreciate how a product like this can stop the bleed across different paint colors.
    For local broadcast, I`d definitely go with the local story of local couple makes good, takes a risk, makes national impact, etc.  Local media love stories about how local companies are having an impact in the outside world, so talk about customers (I`m guessing) as far away as Kalamazoo, Los Angeles, and even (I`m guessing further here) specific cities overseas.  Every such story should also include the impact you`re having on the local employment market.  If you`re planning to add employees over the next 12 months, it`ll be icing on the cake for a nice local story.  And if you can talk real metrics such as sales growth, employee growth, or overall revenues of this year vs. last year, all the better.
    Unlike print media, broadcast is very visually oriented, so envision a fun demo you can do that shows the difference between painting without Tape-Seal and painting with.  Also, if possible, encourage them to get some shots of your production line or shipping department.
    Good luck!
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    TapeSealTapeSeal subscriber Posts: 5
    Thank you Mark for all of your suggestions and props on the product!  I`ll be working on revising my press release to incorporate your suggestions!
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    jcarenjcaren subscriber Posts: 3
    What an AWESOME thread...thank you Mark for your generosity!!
    I have a PR question that I have yet to find an answer too...here is my nutshell story...
    My website is http://www.ilovephotogifts.com I offer high end and unique photo gifts (no mugs, mousepads or anything like that!)....The products I create myself in house are the Photo Art and Photo Cards....about 80 % of the other items are created by small or mom owned businesses, and the remaining are mass produced......
    What is my BEST course of action for getting PR.....my goal right now is to get our Custom Photo Cards seen for the Holidays and to target all the Holiday Gift Guides....
    But how do I pitch Gift Guides when my entire store is a great gift?!?!?! 
    I have had no luck getting press in my target market yet, so I am anxious to make it happen this year......
    Any suggestions on how to best present myself as a great place to get holiday gifts?!?!?!!?
    Thank you in advance for ANY help.....
    Jill Caren
    ilovephotogifts.comjcaren7/1/2008 9:17 AM
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