Get Yourself Some Press

When I was starting out, I was told that it would be incredibly difficult to get press.  I read dozens of articles by so-called experts who told me exactly how my press kit needed to be put together. Deviate from their proscription and it’s no press for you!  I spent hour upon hour crafting the perfect kit, then spent hundreds more hours attaching it to personalized, detailed e-mails to writers.  Nowadays people tell you that you need to live on Facebook and Twitter in order to get “seen.”  Well I tried all of those things and do you know how many press mentions my efforts got me?  Exactly none.  Here’s what did work:

Getting the word out locally: I participated in lots of local events, from craft fairs, to holiday parties, to meat-themed magazine launches — anywhere that my target market was likely to hang out.  Know who else hangs out at local events? Local press!  Last month at the Chillin’ SF event I was photographed for SF Weekly. No extra effort required!  The bonus, of course, is that national publications regularly trawl local blogs and papers for hot new stuff to write about, so the more local stuff you’re featured in, the more likely the big guys are to find you.  Just yesterday Thrillist San Francisco contacted me about some TV opportunities in New York and beyond!

Putting up a full press kit on my web site:  At first I followed the advice of the marketing gurus who told me to make a simple and spare press kit.  The idea was not to overwhelm writers with too much information.  And you know what?  I just ended up getting a bunch of harried e-mails from writers who had a deadline in two hours and could only include me in the story if I could get them the info they needed STAT.

Now I have everything up there: high res photos of all my toys in various configurations, my bio, company statement, current price list, a press release, and some fast facts about my business.  It’s linked prominently right at the top of the press page on my web site, so any member of the press can find it in less than 10 seconds.  The whole shebang is 15.5 MB, but this really only takes a minute to download nowadays.  I mean, the New York Times isn’t working on dial-up.  More than once a publication has thanked me for having all of the photos and documentation ready to go, and it made them much more receptive to writing about me again.  And as for having too much “clutter,”  I think if everything is labeled clearly, it’s not cluttered, it’s informative.

Having professional photos: Okay, so even the photos I took in my bedroom with a cheap point-and-shoot made it onto French national television, but this was a fluke and I was honestly sort of embarrassed to see them on a huge screen. In most cases, if a publication is interested in your business, but they don’t have the time, manpower or money for you to send in samples for photographing, they’ll simply pass you by.  Modern Home is not going to accept those webcam shots you took on the windowsill.  I am not a very good photographer myself, so I spent $300 to hire a friend to take photos for me. It was one of the best investments I ever made.  Here is an example of each:

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Special note: more than one magazine has specifically requested a horizontal or vertical photo depending on their page layout.  Make sure that you have versions of your photos in both orientations.

Writing a good press release: to write my press releases, I pretend that I am a newspaper reporter who has come to write a story about my business. I mention things that are truly new and noteworthy (new product! cool gallery show!), or kooky facts about myself or my business (my maiden name means “butcher”!).  I even quote myself, never taking my own words out of context.  This practice keeps me focused on telling a good story, not just passing along facts.  I try to imagine reading the article in a magazine.  I ask myself: is this funny, interesting and engaging, or does it sound like a brochure?

The best press release is one that a writer can literally copy and paste from (and they will).  I try to update my press release every 4 months to keep things current.

Having patience: the first person to contact me about press was a German college life magazine called StuLife.  They were doing an article about Etsy back in 2005 and I was one of the first sellers with weird stuff up there.  The second person to contact me was someone from the OMIGOD NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE.  I was so excited, I told everyone I knew.  Then they cut the article at the last minute.  I was utterly crushed and embarrassed, especially when trying to explain to my loved ones why they had bought the Sunday paper for nothing.  Then the magazine said the article might run in another issue three months later.  It didn’t.  The following year an editor from the New York Times style section contacted me about a “gifts under $100” guide they wanted to use Sweet Meats for.  Again I bought the paper, and again, I was crushed.  This time the article was there, but my toys weren’t in it.  The following week, in a frenzy, the same editor contacted me for vertical high-res photos (see above) and a current price list.  Another guest writer had seen the Sweet Meats and was putting them in his “A Little Bit of Joy” gift guide.  This time, they were there, in full color, one week before Christmas.  I don’t have to tell you what that does for holiday sales.  I could be annoyed that my toys didn’t make it into the magazine that first time around, or be thankful that the staff at NYT kept my toys in mind for feature after feature until they ran almost two years later.

Being available: press deadlines are ridiculously tight, often on the order of hours, so if you can’t be reached in time, you will be S.O.L., my friends.  I was three hours late calling back a producer in L.A. because I forgot to turn my ringer back on after my pilates class.  It cost me the chance to have my toys on Weeds.  That one really hurt.  I love that show.  In order to not miss the boat, make sure that whatever number/e-mail you have listed on your site is within reach at all times.

The bottom line?  Don’t waste your time on cold calls.  Get yourself out there (in real space, not just cyberspace), be prepared, have a little faith, and above all, make life as easy as humanly possible for writers, editors and producers.  That’s how you get press.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Lauren,

    Just writing to thank you for sharing your story so candidly- I really enjoy reading your blog! I saw this post a few weeks back in my Google Reader, and found it really refreshing to read about some of the challenges you have faced while running your business, and how you have turned them into positive experiences. Most bloggers try to paint a pretty picture by only writing about the ups and not really mentioning the downs.

    This week I was working on promoting this blog series I’ve been writing, and was thrilled to hear that I’d be getting a mention in an upcoming post on a really influential blog. The post showed up, but no mention. Instead of being disappointed, I thought back to your story and it made me feel a lot better. I know there will be more opportunities for me in the future, even though my business is on a much smaller scale than yours.

    Anyways, just wanted to say thanks! 🙂

    Becca

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