Do-it-yourself public relations (DIY PR) is viable and effective way to raise brand awareness for Health IT startups and companies with limited marketing budgets. The key is to start simply and be consistent. Public relations (PR) is a long game and well worth the pay off.
Before we dive into how to do DIY PR, it is important to remember the goals of PR:
- Generate buzz / raise awareness
- Attract the attention of prospects, investors and/or potential hires
- Create assets that can be used in marketing and sales nurture campaigns
#3 is often overlooked yet the stories and press releases that are created in a PR program are excellent materials to use to keep prospects warm in marketing and sales funnels.
A few definitions
Here are a few PR terms that you should be familiar with:
- Earned Media is any material written about individuals at a company or the company itself that is not paid for or created by that company. Earned media is always published by a third party.
- Paid Placement / Sponsored Content is any material written by a company representative that is paid to be published by a third party. Paid placements are usually labeled as “sponsored content” by the third party so that it is clear that it is a paid piece.
- Press Release is an official statement issued by a company that announces something newsworthy. Press releases are usually, but not always, distributed to members of the media/press.
“Newsworthy” is a rather subjective term. Something that is newsworthy for the company or its customers may not be considered newsworthy by the general public. That type of news may still warrant the creation of a Press Release – just not one that is distributed to the media.
DIY Press Releases
One of the easiest ways to start a DIY PR program is writing and publishing your own press releases.
There are certain norms and standards for press releases like having the date and place of the announcement at the very start as well as a media contact at the bottom. Your own press releases should follow these standard practices.
Here are a few resources that may help you:
- Best Practices for Press Releases
- Are Press Releases Really a Sales Tool?
- How to Write a Press Release [Free Press Release Template + Examples]
Once you have written your Press Release, post it on your company website under the NEWS section (If you don’t already have a news page, create one!). Be sure to include a “featured image” when you post it. This picture is important for the next step – promoting your Press Release.
Once the Press Release is available to the public, you need to promote it so that people outside of your company will see it. The most cost-effective way to do this is via LinkedIn. Have one (or more) of your company’s executives go to LinkedIn and create a post that links to the press release on your website.
Here are some tips for the post on LinkedIn:
- Summarize the key element of the Press Release but don’t give everything away
- If your Press Release has a catchy headline, start your post with it
- Keep it short and sweet. I usually aim for 3-4 sentences (7 max)
- Add relevant hashtags like #HITMC #HITsm #HealthIT and #Healthcare (5 max)
- Be sure to include the link to the Press Release. LinkedIn will automatically insert a preview of the Press Release, including the featured image which adds a nice graphic element to your LinkedIn post
On the right is an example of a post I wrote that points back to the Press Release announcing the opening of nominations for the 2021 Medigy HITMC Awards.
When you post on LinkedIn, the people in your network will see it in their LinkedIn feeds. Anyone who “likes” or comments on your post will in turn share it with their network…and so on and so on. That is how your Press Release organically spreads through LinkedIn.
Posting on LinkedIn is particularly effective for founders and CEOs. It is common to get many “congratulations” comments back whenever people read a LinkedIn post about a company success (like a new customer, new product announcement or key company milestone). Each of those comments means that your Press Release is rippling out further.
DIY Media Relations
Press Releases are just one pillar of DIY PR. A second pillar is media relations. If you want earned media, you need to share your news with make members of the media. To do that you must first establish a relationship with people at the media outlets you want to be covered by.
Over the years, I’ve used many of the following to get to know members of the media:
- I follow them on social media
- I comment on their social media posts
- I ask them to meet me for a coffee or quick lunch at a conference we are both attending (conference organizers usually share a list of media with exhibitors)
- I hang out outside of the media room and try to walk-and-talk with people as they exit
- I ask for a warm introduction from friends who may know them or who may have been interviewed by them
When I first meet a member of the media, I NEVER PTICH A STORY. Instead, I just try to get to know them as a person. During subsequent meetings I try to find out what topics or types of companies interest them the most (what they write about isn’t always what they like to cover). It’s not until the 4th or 5th meeting that I broach the subject of potentially sending a story their way.
This is a lot of work and it does take time, but it pays off. Writers and editors get hundreds of story pitches each week – most from people they don’t know. Having a relationship means when your pitch arrives in their inbox it is more likely to be opened.
Using the Wire
Sending Press Releases across the news wires is a tempting proposition. Wire service providers promise to deliver your story to thousands of media outlets who use their feeds as source material. However, for most healthcare startups and for those with limited budgets, I do not recommend paying the $400-$1,500 fee to have a press release go across the wire. It simply isn’t worth it.
Take that money and invest it having a professional write your press releases or hire someone to optimize your press release page for SEO. That would be a far better investment.
Jessica Cohen at Aria Marketing wrote an excellent blog post on this topic that is worth checking out.
PR is a long-term strategy. It takes time to build relationships with the media, so you need to be patient when it comes to seeing results from your DIY PR efforts.
Most of all, you need to be consistent. Try to have a new Press Release posted to your website at least once every other month (monthly is even better). Have as many executives share the Press Release via their social media as you can – even if you have to write their posts for them. Keep plugging away and your efforts will pay off.
PR needs become more complex, they will require more and more time. At that point it makes sense to bring in professional help through a PR agency rather than add another resource. Be sure to go with an agency that understands your target audience and has connections with media outlets that you want earned media with.