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How to Earn Media Coverage and Build Your Business – Mickie Kennedy
The Agents of Change

Earned media can be a powerful way to raise brand awareness, drive traffic, and generate sales. But to get journalists to pay attention, you need to have a powerful hook. eReleases founder, Mickie Kennedy, shares his proven method for creating that hook and then leveraging digital marketing to take your message even further.

 

Rich: My guest today founded eReleases 24 years ago to help small businesses, authors, and startups increase their visibility and credibility through press release marketing. He lives in the Baltimore area, so I’m very curious to find out his feelings about Edgar Allen Poe, the best place to get crabs and the wire.

Today we’re going to be talking about the role of PR and media coverage in your digital marketing with Mickie Kennedy. Mickey, welcome to the program.

Mickie: Oh, thanks for having me.

Rich: So, I was only half kidding about Baltimore. Of the TV show The Wire, crabs, and Edgar Allen Poe, which do you feel is most authentically Baltimore?

Mickie: I would have to say probably the crabs.

Rich: The crabs. All right. Excellent. My girlfriend wants to go down there specifically for the Edgar Allen Poe, but we’ll also eat the crabs wile we’re there.

Mickie: It’s interesting, I think Richmond, Virginia also tries to fight for rights to Edgar Allen Poe. So Baltimore and Richmond fight over his legacy.

Rich: It’s interesting because I moved up from Boston to Maine, and I always thought that it was Mainers who came up with the saying, “Can’t get there from here”. But people from Vermont also claimed ownership to that. So you know what, who knows? Anyway I’m sure there’s nothing Edgar Allen Poe around, but we’re here today to talk about public relations, PR, press releases, and media coverage. Mickie, I have to wonder, are these even still relevant in the age of digital marketing and social media? 

Mickie: They are. And surprisingly, they can work really effectively. For someone who’s willing to put in a little bit of effort and be creative, they can really take advantage of a lot of leverage that can happen with PR.

Rich: Okay, great. Well, from your experience, how do you connect PR and digital marketing?

Mickie: Well, digital marketing is basically about content largely, I feel, whether it’s a blog or anything like that. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that developing press releases and sending them to the media can translate into articles of third parties that write about you and send traffic back to your website. And one of the great things about this type of content is it converts very highly.

I know people who’ve said, hey, we only got like 400 visitors from that article, but the conversions were over 30, 40%. And you know that can really happen because when someone reads an article, they have this warm feeling, and they want to do business with that company because they feel like the journalist has been a curator and has discovered this and is sharing it with them. As opposed to an ad where everything goes up and the conversion rates may be, at best, 6%-7%.

Rich: Makes sense. And yeah, that curation of a journalist who we think is pure, we hope is pure, definitely goes a longer way than just knowing that we threw money at Google or Facebook to get our ad out there.

I want to know how this all works and how we might get started. But first, tell me a little bit about how your firm works with clients.

Mickie: So eReleases has been around for 24 years this past October. And we are basically there to help small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups get access to the media. We started with a database of journalists and the news wire. PR News Wire reached out to us over the years and said, “Hey, you should also send to us.” And I was like, I’m charging at the time a couple hundred dollars, and you’re charging $1,200 to go out nationally over PR News Wire. My clients can’t afford that. And surprisingly they didn’t go away. They came back and said, hey, we really like who you’re working with. Our salespeople have no desire to work with entrepreneurs and small businesses that are maybe doing two or three releases a year with really small budgets. And they said we would like to find a way to make this work.

And I looked at their workflow and realized that they have an editorial team overnight that has to be there in case there’s breaking news or they have to get out to Asia or something like that, but they don’t do much. And so they could set up our releases overnight and it wouldn’t cost them additional labor. And so I’m very happy that we were able to work together and they have a desire to service small businesses and give them the same sort of national distribution that would normally cost way much more.

Rich: So as we are thinking about getting started with all this, is the origin or the starting point creating a good press release or are there steps that we take before then?

Mickie: So, I would advise people to think about doing strategic types of press releases. So many of the releases, I would say 95% of the releases we get, are not strategic at all. They are a product launch release, which is just the product and a list of features. We get a lot of new hire press releases. There’s a new person and they’re not like someone recognized in their industry, so the amount of people interested in that, it’s going to be very small. At best case scenario as a local paper and maybe a trade publication. And in many cases, it’s not even that. So I would say be more strategic. If you’re going to spend money to go out over a wire and through a service that you pay for, make sure the types of releases that you’re doing are very strategic and designed to get media pickup.

There are certain releases that always get media pickup. And I don’t understand why everyone’s not doing them. The one that’s at the top of my list is doing a survey or study within your industry. Anybody can do a survey or study. You being the author makes you the expert. Put a compelling quote as to why the statistic or numbers skewed a certain way. And right now we’re really ripe for lots of polls and studies because there’s a lot going on. We have logistics issues, supply chain issues, we have hiring issues, this whole quiet quitting and people wanting to work on their own terms, work from home, stuff like that. And there’s also economic uncertainty. And so if you were to take your industry’s temperature right now on those issues, including what your spending looks like over the next two quarters – are you spending more, less, or being cautious – all of that could be very valuable and useful, and people in your industry would want to know that. So, it’s a matter of creating a survey.

I recommend 16 questions, four questions each page on a Survey Monkey. And on the last page you can go wild and put some left field crazy questions in there. And sometimes those really work. You don’t know until you get your results what you’re going to get. And take your results, figure out what was the two or three big ‘a-ha’ moments from the survey. Put a great quote as to why you felt like that was the skew for it. Build a resource page on your website with all the questions and all of the answers, because sometimes journalists want to dig in and build a story out of other questions that you didn’t feel like was the big “a-ha” ones. And a lot of people will link to that survey page as a resource. So generally the media doesn’t often link to you directly, but they often will link to this survey resource page. So it’s a great way to get links and traffic to your website. On average, I usually see eight to 14 original articles that come from each survey or study that someone does and a subsequent press release. And so it’s a great way to stand out and get some real attention in your industry.

And the pushback I get from my clients is, I don’t know who to send the survey to. And I’m just like, every industry has many independent and small trade associations that are just languishing, they don’t get the love that the big ones do. And they are willing to send this survey link to their members. Sometimes social media, sometimes through email, sometimes you can get them to do both. And often you can get hundreds of responses, if not more, from these people. And it gives you a lot more numbers as far as building a survey or study that would interest the media. And so it does not take as much work as it seems, but so few people do it, and it’s just a really great way to attract some attention and really find a way in where you feel like you’re not newsworthy.

Rich: All right. I love that. It’s a great idea and definitely sounds like the way to go. So just to make sure I understand. So basically to get press releases, I probably do need to reach out to the local papers to tell them when I’ve hired somebody, so then the local business people see this. But if I really want to get some traction in my industry or maybe even get some national traction, you are suggesting creating this survey. You say 16 questions, Survey Monkey, Google. Google is going out of business for the forms thing, so that’s no longer an option. So Survey Monkey is a good one. And then reaching out to some of these smaller trade groups that might be willing to share that as well. Maybe even getting a quote from them might add some more validity to it as well.

Mickie: Right. And most of the small and independent trade associations don’t get a lot of love, so they see this as a win-win. Especially if you say, “I’ll mention you in the press release that it was a survey of your members.” I’ve actually had a couple of smart, independent trade associations circle back and say, could we co-brand it with us? And I was just like, I don’t see a downside there. Some people feel like they want to control the survey, and I’m like, I see it as a win-win. So if that’s what it takes to get to their members, I feel go ahead and do it.

Rich: No, it makes an absolute lot of sense. I’m sure that some people are saying, oh, but I can’t do my own surveys, this isn’t scientifically accurate, I didn’t go and do sample size or anything like that. What do you feel when it comes to that? Is that not what the journalists are necessarily interested in? Do they just want a good story?

Mickie: Journalists just want good story. Yeah. They are overworked and they’re expected to do more today than they were expected last year, and it’s been going like that for a long time. They’re just looking for an interesting story.

If you have 20 or 30 responses, I don’t think they’re going to be interested. But I think once you hit the 100, 200 level of respondents, it’s statistically relevant enough for them. And are you able to flesh out something that’s interesting, the story behind why the numbers may have skewed a particular way.

Rich: All right. So once we’ve got this done, it’s not like journalists are going to beat down a door to come talk to us. So how do we get this in front of journalists? You mentioned the wire. Talk to me a little bit more about that and maybe some other ways that you’ve used to get in journalists to pay attention.

Mickie: Right. So, for me, eReleases, that’s what we’re in business for. We are a wide disseminator of content. It goes out nationally. It also goes to the appropriate trade associations. And so trade categories, I should say, as opposed to we’ve been talking about trade associations. But who in your industry covers your industry that includes industry trade publication, includes a journalist at newspapers who particularly cover a particular industry, it covers radio and TV as well.

Surprisingly, a lot of consumer products do very well with TV and radio. We’ve had many clients who are just like, we’ll fly you out to Good Morning America if you’ll show your zany little product and things like that. So don’t discount all the different other mediums that are available out there.

But predominantly it’s magazines, trade publications and newspapers that a lot of our clients see. And they do represent a really powerful connection with their audience that you can leverage and take advantage of.

Rich: How do you get… is most of the outreach today done via email?

Mickie: I think that a lot of it is done through email. I think that one of the big differences between eReleases and the PR firm, is a PR firm is going to do personal pitching and they have their own database of journalists that they have connections with. And they have a really good pulse as to what might be a good hot button and how to approach a particular journalist. And so that’s predominantly done through email and phone. And a service like eReleases is a predominantly email and a wire distribution. But it is changing how people are reaching the media.

I tell people who are trying to reach local media, email is probably best. But also do your research. If they’re on Twitter and they’re very active, you might find that contacting them through Twitter and DMs and stuff like that might work much more effectively than trying email. So you really have to do a little bit of education and be with all the different forms of communication, be adaptable and don’t winner yourself to one path only.

Rich: It sounds like there’s some stuff that’s a little bit more scalable, maybe like in eReleases, and then there’s also opportunity for more of a nuanced personal approach. And this just shows my ignorance. When you’re sending things out through the wire, how are journalists receiving that information? Are they getting 20, 30, 50 story ideas a day and they have to filter through them? I’m just trying to understand what their day looks like.

Mickie: The great thing about the wire, and one of the reasons I’ve fought over the years to get more people journalist access to the wire, is it’s completely customizable. So for example if I am a fashion reporter, I can sign up for the fashion feed and I can actually restrict it so that if it mentions ‘ready to wear’ or certain retailers, I don’t see those. Or if it includes a particular brand that I definitely cover, I can actually ensure that I see every fashion release that includes that. So it makes it very customizable. And so with minimal work, a journalist can look at a feed that should be pretty targeted to them and what they cover. And that’s the real value of it.

It is skimmed by headlines, and then they click through the headline to view the rest of the release. And that’s why you want your headline to really be great. Don’t be a New York Post pun, because those generally don’t have the context to determine what the story’s about, and journalists find those frustrating. So you’re not writing for the end user, you’re writing for a journalist who’s busy under deadline and what can you really say quickly that we’ll get them to want to click through and find out more about your press release and read through.

Rich: All right. So whether we’re sending out individual emails and dealing with subject lines, or we’re sending out something through the wire and we’re just looking at headlines, we need to come up with something that’s going to jump out at the journalist and grab them and grab their attention.

Do you have any, you’ve given a couple things about not being overly clever New York Post type of puns, but what other tips might you have that are going to trigger journalists to be more likely to pay more attention or to open up that article?

Mickie: I think try to be as contextually relevant as to what it is that you’re announcing and try to say it as succinct as possible. What was the big a-ha of your press release? Why does your press release matter? And I think that if you say that and you say that in the most generic way, you have this chances of getting much more pickup than someone who’s slaved over something and made it feel like it’s a hot button. Unlike email subject lines for consumers, there are certain tactics and things like that. I find just sticking to the facts and being as specific as possible works the best.

Rich: When your clients get the attention of these journalists, is it usually that the journalists just take their press release and use it and write the story, or do they come back to us and ask us more questions? And if it’s the latter, how can we be most prepared for that conversation?

Mickie: Right. So the one thing I’ve noticed over the years is journalists are still, I don’t know if it’s because they’re busy or they’re shy English majors, they like when they can get all the information from the press release and your website. They don’t like hunting down people and trying to get a couple of questions answered. That being said, they will ask questions if they need clarification, or sometimes they’re working on tangential story and they’re wanting your perspective on it, and could they get a quote or your feeling on that?

So it they will reach out to you. But what I find is the people who do the most successful, we’ll get no calls. We had one where you got over 150 articles, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, none of them reached out to the client because the press release and the website was sufficient as far as getting the details. So it really is a matter of giving them enough hooks and information to work with. And sometimes it’s a matter of putting your head on and saying, what would a journalist need to turn this into a story? And journalists like to write stuff, story specific. So many product launch press releases are the product and a list of features, and that rarely builds a story. But if you have some use case studies of here’s a client that used it, they achieved a 17% savings and logistics as a result, that they could build a story around. And so you want to provide as much of that type of stuff in a press release so that a journalist can create an arc, create a story.

Rich: Excellent. Are there other ways, once we see – it sounds like you may not even know when the article’s gone live – are there some ways in which we can further leverage press, maybe bringing it back to digital marketing again?

Mickie: Right. So, it’s not unusual for a client to get an article and say, “I only got 200 or 300 visitors from that article”, but the conversion rate was like 40% or something like that, as opposed to their regular landing pages. So take that page and send it to your leads, send it to your customers, put it on social media. Get it out there because if it converted some people at 40%, you’ve got a lead that’s been on the fence about whether they want to work with you. It could be the thing that sends them over and says, look, this is like a third party that has corroborated you that you’re the real deal. It’s like an implied endorsement. It goes a long ways. So take that.

I also say archive it on your website. Take screenshots of it. These links can die. And when those publications go through a refresh, a lot of times the old archive stuff just goes by the wayside. So, memorialize it as much as you can. And don’t be afraid of sharing it with your leads, with your customers, putting it on your website, getting it out there. Because I recall personally going to a website once where my daughter wanted me to buy or something and I felt weird about putting my credit card in there because I didn’t know much about them. But then I saw that they had a news page and they had six years of press releases. And I’m like, yeah, no scammer’s going to go through this effort to do that. I felt much more comfortable, being from a PR background, it was for me an identifier that they’re a legit company.

And I suspect that with other people as well. So when they come across someone through an article or through a memorialization of different announcements that they’ve done over the years, that sends a signal that this company cares about the reputation they’re communicating how they are, and I see that as a really good thing and should help your conversions.

Rich: I just want to go back to a point you just made about making sure that you take screen captures, whatever it is. So about once a month, I am the tech guru on the local evening news program here in Maine on the NBC affiliates, and I always took their video that they put up on the website of the interview and I embedded them on my blog for years and years. And then all of a sudden, I went back and when they got sold from one conglomerate to another conglomerate, all of the old links stopped working. All of the links now on my website were no longer working. So now as soon as they put it up, they also put it up to YouTube. We immediately download a copy and save it so if we ever want to use that for some other purposes, we have it. So, great point. Something a lot of people don’t think about. Don’t just rely on a link. Take that screen capture, whatever you need to do to hold onto a copy of that for sure.

So I’m an SEO guy also at heart also, Mickie. And so you talked a little bit about some of these articles sending traffic your way. I have had a mixed experience over the years where some journalists love to link to a resource and others just feel like somehow they’re selling their soul if they do. So what are your recommendations for increasing the chances that a newspaper article or a website article will link back to you and not just reference you?

Mickie: So I find that if you do a survey or study, you create a page on your website and you put all the results there so the journalists could go and fins all the questions, even though you only touched on two or three in the press release. Make that a resource for that survey. What I find is most of the trade publications will include that link in their article, even if their practices that they generally don’t link to people. And so that’s a great way to get a link to a page on your website.

I find with newspapers, less likely for them to do that, but occasionally it does happen. Especially if you have a page that’s really rich with resources. I have had clients who’ve done white papers and been able to get people to link to them because they did a really great job of creating the value of what that white paper delivers. And the publications saw that as a fair trade and shared the link both on online newspapers as well as trade publications.

So it’s really a matter of what can I do to make this page as valuable as possible, that the journalist who’s the gatekeeper and protecting his audience, their threshold goes down and they’d be like, “Yeah, I do want to share that link with them just to make it available to them.” So anything that you can do to reverse engineer and figure it out. It does take a little bit of work, but I find that the people that are the most creative have the best results as far as picking stuff up. And a normal white paper signup I don’t think would get picked up. But if you really level and build the value there, I think that you can stand a much stronger chance, especially if you build it as an audit or something like that.

We had some people who created what they called ‘audits for small businesses’ when it came to credit card fraud and prevention after the Target brouhaha years ago. And they did really well with getting links to that page because they positioned it as an audit and as a resource. And they provided a lot of great information in the press release that they issued, which was turned into articles.

Rich: Awesome. So the same advice in terms of creating value that people are going to give you their email address for, sounds like it could also work for getting those inbound links from journalists.

Mickie, this has been great, and very insightful, and definitely given us all ideas on how we want to move forward and get some more earned press. If people want to learn more about you, your company, how you might be able to help them, where can we send them online?

Mickie: So my website is ereleases.com. All my social media is and the lower right. I think the only one I really understand is LinkedIn, but I have people who are in charge for the rest and take care of that.

I do have a free Masterclass on how to build strategy specific types of press releases that do get media attention. And it’s available for free at ereleases.com/plan. And I challenge anybody to spend just an hour watching this video course. They will come away with, I think, actionable ideas and brainstorming for ideas that they could do that would be meaningful press releases that stand a much better chance of getting media pickup.

Rich: Awesome. This has been great. And of course we’ll have all those links in the show notes. Mickie, thanks so much for coming by and sharing your expertise with us today.

Mickie: Oh, thanks for having me.

Show Notes: 

Mickie Kennedy helps his clients get more PR value for their dollar. See how eReleases is helping small businesses, startups, and authors get website traffic and better-quality customers through media coverage. And be dure to check out his FREE Masterclass on how to build a PR campaign that gets massive media coverage.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.