“The fact that you exist as a business, is not news.”
I led a presentation with this statement last year, and saw a sea of shocked, slightly perplexed faces gawping back at me. This wasn’t what these people had come to hear a PR person say.
Hearing this is a hard pill to swallow, especially if you’re in the early throes of setting up your business. I’ll set an all-too familiar scene. You’re putting in a 60+ hour week. You’re firefighting all sorts of projects. You’ve had to turn your hand to graphic design / HR / accountancy / errand girl [or boy] / sales & marketing lead generation / your fingers have bled from drafting and re-drafting a funding pitch that will make or break your company. And more.
Every month you make payroll is another survival day and survival = success at this stage. It’s a tough market out there.
But here’s the thing – the fact that you exist, in itself, is not really news. Not in its purest form, and most certainly not in international press. If you’re fighting for column inches with the likes of Apple, Google, Uber, AirBnB – you need to have a hook, a news story, something compelling – something that sets you apart from the others; something other than ‘I sell stuff online’. What do you sell, how do you sell it? What’s unique or different? Have you stumbled upon a market that no-one has considered until now?
Most start-ups who come my way tell me they want to and expect to be featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNN or TechCrunch but can’t tell me why they should be there – and that’s an issue. My job is to match expectation with reality.
And let me be totally transparent – I’m in the same position too. I get it. My business is still in start-up mode – to me, everything that happens in my company is important – mission critical important. But mostly, it isn’t news. And that’s the issue that a lot of start-ups I speak to, have. They find it hard to pick out what’s business, and what’s above and beyond business – what’s actually newsworthy, what will interest a journalist.
Think Like a Journalist
PR people help unpick and curate the story. Many PRs are ex-journalists – so they can think like a journalist and can help build a story like a journalist. We know what a journalist wants and what they will ask for when deciding to take on a story. We will ask you all sorts of details about your company, that help us to build the narrative and figure out what the story or best angle to lead with. So, if you tell me you’re Nigeria’s biggest importer of natural hair, my first question will be, ok – how much do you import / what’s your revenue? If you can’t or won’t answer that for me, let alone a journalist, then your claim to being the ‘biggest’ is almost null and void.
We also know how journalists operate. A lot of start-ups are let frustrated when they directly email a journalist and hear nothing back. You, and your start-up are really the most important thing in your world. Sadly, not so for journalists, especially those on the international scene. They are battling a tirade of pitches from around the world, all day, every day – around the clock. Furthermore, they are under increasing pressure to deliver several stories a day in today’s digital world. They are plagued by SMS, Twitter DM, Slack, voice calls, SKYPE pitches, face-to-face meetings and events… oh and good old fashioned email, too. They are not sat, gazing at an empty laptop, waiting for your well-timed email to land in their inbox. Understand this and you’ll find the press landscape a little easier to navigate.
For me, Public Relations is almost as much about how you handle relationships, as what you’re actually trying to promote. On a few occasions in my career, I’ve managed to get my clients international exposure simply because a journalist liked me and they knew I could turn around a story / information in super-quick time, to meet their deadlines.
Like any relationship, this can take years. I’ve spent 5+ years building these relationships in Africa and I feel I’m still learning and still building new relationships with key journalists on my hit-list. When you [or your PR person] build a great working relationship with a journalist, they will then come to rely on you, and beautiful things can happen.
“The fact that you exist as a business, is not news.” – harsh but true – but don’t let it stop you, just make sure you get the right advice and support.
Jessica will be giving a series of free PR surgeries at this year’s Mobile West Africa event.