How to Pitch the Press and Get Life-Changing Coverage

Trying to drum up some press for your brand or business can be a full-time job. And with all the effort that goes into trying to get media coverage, how worth it does it end up being for your brand?

Today, we’re looking at three success stories of landing major press and how each business was affected differently. Join us as we dive into how you can get press for your business and your eCommerce store and what you need to do in order to woo reporters. Even more importantly, we uncover whether expensive PR firms are worth the price and whether you can build a business with one big press mention.

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(With your host Andrew Youderian and Laura Serino of eCommerceFuel.com, Kirby Allison of HangerProject.com, Mac Bishop of WoolAndPrince.com, Allen Walton of SpyGuySecurity.com) and Elaine Pofeldt of ElainePofeldt.com

Andrew: Hey guys, Andrew here with a quick message before we get started. If you remember from last week we are running an experiment with one of our community members David Heacock to help him decide if he should advertise on the podcast for the Tim Ferriss Show. So we gave him a couple spots on the eCommerceFuel podcast and we’re going to follow up and let you know how this pans out, what the response was, what it a success or a flop. Stay tuned for that. David owns FilterBuy.com where he sells high-quality air filters for your home or office furnace that he manufactures and here’s three reasons why you should pick one up.

First, the air quality in your home or office is probably pretty terrible. Think about it. When was the last time you changed your filter? I know I can’t remember either. It’s probably been years and years and you’ve got filthy air floating around giving everyone you love asthma, like I mentioned last time, potentially allergies. Get a new filter.

The second reason you should is that David makes this incredibly easy. Go to FilterBuy.com, sign up for a subscription, you get a new filter on a regular basis right to your door. And finally, it keeps away these crazy expensive HVAC repair guys. I had one come to my house, it’s astronomical what they charge. He left $500 later and it’s money well spent to invest in the longevity of your heating system. So check them out at filterbuy.com/ecommercefuel. You’ll get 15%-20% off everything he offers. We’ll be following up with the results of this experiment in the coming weeks so stay tuned on how it all turns out.

Mac: He said he hadn’t washed his suit for an entire year. That got worldwide media attention. So something about not washing your clothes freaks people out, and people want to read it.

Andrew: Earlier this year I was starting my morning with a cup of coffee and a copy of the Wall Street Journal when a familiar name jumped out at me. One of our community members Kirby Allison and his business The Hanger Project were profiled in a page one story, right on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. My first reaction was excitement as it’s so cool to see someone you’re rooting for get major press like this.

And my second reaction was one of immediate curiosity. How in the world had Kirby managed to pull off press of this magnitude? Well thats what we’re gong to talk about today. How to get press for your business? How do you woo reporters? Are expensive PR firms worth the price and can you really build a business with one big piece of press? Our podcast producer and community manager Laura Serino talks with three of our community members about how they did it and how you can too.

Laura: Kirby Allison runs the Hanger Project, a luxury clothing and shoe care line. Kirby has always taken a traditional approach to getting press. He started out by mailing Hanger samples to fashion reporters, and it landed him his very first big break in a column in the Wall Street Journal called “The Catalog Critic,” where they’d take a product, test them out, and get an expert to rate them.

Kirby: It finally got published November 17th or something, right before Thanksgiving and right as people started thinking about what they’re going to buy their husbands for Christmas. It was a full half page in the Wall Street Journal that was the most incredible piece of PR that I’ve ever received in my life. Overnight, we blew up. Overnight, we had done $30,000 in sales. I went from $3,000 a month to, in one day, doing 30 or 40 grand.

Laura: They went through all their inventory in five days and had to fly in more Hangers from China in order to meet the demand. The article allowed Kirby to quit his full-time job and pursue the Hanger Project full-time. This piece of press is what made his business.

Kirby: We couldn’t have paid for someone to write that favorably towards us. Basically it was an entire half page of the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, talking about how phenomenal the Hanger Project was. They gave us an enthusiastic Best Overall. We had a gigantic photograph of our Hanger that was a third of the page. If I had written it myself, I couldn’t have written it better.

Laura: One of the key things that has helped Kirby’s business has been to stay in touch with reporters, since you’ll never know when they might need you for a story.

Kirby: You have to be making noise, so that you exist for people, so that whenever someone’s sitting down in front of their editor and they come up with an idea, they think of you, right. So this particular writer for the Wall Street Journal had been someone that we had been reaching out to in one way or another for the past several years. It’s much easier to send something to their desk that’s unsolicited than it is to get them to respond to an email or call you on the phone. But it’s all those actions that have to happen in order for them to know you exist, so that whenever they are writing an article, they think to call you.

Laura: Almost 10 years later, the Wall Street Journal called again, and this time Kirby landed on the front page.

Kirby: It wasn’t until I was standing the Starbucks line later that morning that I saw the Wall Street Journal and that the header piece was featuring the article on which we were written about, and I was just like blown away. So it’s a framer. I’ll frame it and hang it in my office.

Laura: Did you do like a victory dance in line at Starbucks?

Kirby: Oh, my goodness. Probably. I think I bought every single issue.

Laura: Kirby didn’t hire a big PR firm to land him this story, though he had tried that route before. He’s convinced that no one is better at selling a brand than the founder.

Kirby: Everyone enjoys the entrepreneur story, right. If you’re an owner or operator and the founder, no one is capable of better speaking about or better pitching your product than you are.

Laura: But not everyone lands great press after a decade of building relationships through reporters. Mac Bishop is the founder of Wool & Prince. When he first had the idea to create a wool shirt line, he wanted to prove the value of a wool shirt, so he wore one for 100 days and chronicled the experiment.

Mac: There was always a sniff test. It was just the running joke. I’d show up to a party or something like that, and my friends would be like, “Oh, I haven’t seen that shirt before. Nice shirt, Mac. How’s it smell?” Yeah, friends would give me the sniff test and all that stuff.

Laura: Mac launched on Kickstarter, where he featured his 100-day experiment in the campaign. When it went live, he sent emails out to friends and family, and within the first four or five days, they did really well and hit their $30,000 goal. A day or two later, Cool Materials, a cool gadget and clothing blog for guys, covered the campaign. Then Gizmodo picked it up, and it went viral.

Mac: I literally sent three emails. The only person that didn’t cover it that I sent an email to was Uncrate. I sent an email to Cool Materials, Gizmodo, and Uncrate, and the first two picked it up and Uncrate never picked it up. Then from there, it was literally like I had to control the amount of exposure and media attention.

Laura: After that, TV and radio stations all over the world called to hear about his 100-day shirt challenge. Made the front page of one of the most prominent Italian newspapers and was even covered by a TV station in Tokyo.

Mac, it’s so funny to hear you talk about this so casually. I think a lot of store owners and especially people launching Kickstarters, this is like a dream scenario, and you’re really essentially chalking it up to luck.

Mac: Yeah. We didn’t have a lot of competition that, I would say, week in the news. It was just a dead week. There wasn’t a lot going on. I don’t think that ever would have happened with all the election press and media going on right now.

Laura: The press was great, but Mac was more concerned about nailing the shirts and making sure his Kickstarter backers were happy. Instead of worrying about getting press, he was now in what he called an expectation leveling campaign after going viral.

Mac: Just to give you an idea on how the campaign ramped up, on the second to last day before we sold out, we did $70,000, or maybe it was $60,000 on Kickstarter. The day before we sold out, we did $90,000. So this campaign–

Laura: In a day?

Mac: In a day.

Laura: Wow.

Mac: And we just decided, “This is too nuts. We’ve got to shut this thing off. We are very happy with the progress right now.”

Laura: The viral Kickstarter covers was what launched Wool & Prince from a crowd-funding campaign to a full-fledged business. But now Mac’s a little more careful and intentional about how he tries to germ up press for Wool & Prince.

Mac: If we can get a couple of bloggers, that’s normally better than one of the large publications, in terms of the results that we see.

Laura: Like Kirby, Mac also thinks that no one can build brand awareness better than the store owner can.

Mac: I tend to think that, just as a founder, that should be your thing. You should be doing press or just media relations yourself until you get to a certain point. I’m not really sure where that certain point is because I haven’t hit that. But I think people just like talking with the founder, and I think no one cares the business like the founder does.

Laura: Sometimes, it takes a little bit of everything to get press: good timing, a great story, and a working relationship with a reporter. Allen Walton is the owner of Spy Guy Security, and he wrote this post in our private forum on February 3rd. He said, “I’ve successfully reached out to a CNBC writer that covered me previously, she pitched to her editor, who loved the idea, and I did an hour-long interview with them. They think they’ll have something written up next week.” Okay. So that’s what Allen writes in the forum. The story he’s talking about was about the increase in sales in his business during the weeks around Valentine’s Day. Since most people think about buying teddy bears and chocolates around this time of year, he thought that a peak in Spy Gear sales was interesting, and so did CNBC.

Allen: She was like, “Actually this sounds pretty awesome. Let me talk to my editor and see what she thinks.” Then I got an email 20 minutes later and they’re like, “They love this. They want to do a story about it, so let’s hop on the phone for an hour tomorrow.”

Laura: Ten days later, Allen’s story was on the home page of CNBC.

Allen: She sent me an email and says, “Hey, we’re going to put your story up tomorrow. It’s going to be on the home page. It’s going to be up all weekend long. So thanks for your help, and check back tomorrow, Saturday morning, and let us know if you see the story.” So I woke up really early, like 8:00, which is really early for me, and I went to the CNBC home page, and I just couldn’t believe that it was the leading story and the traffic that we were seeing on our website. It was really cool.

Laura: How do you actually prepare for this, in terms of a potentially huge sales spike? Isn’t that super last minute, two days before as things going by? How do you prepare?

Allen: Well, here’s the thing, is that I’ve gotten press before. I had that Forbes article. I’ve been doing this for seven years. I’ve been at other companies that were getting coverage in the same type of industry. This type of coverage never correlates to increased sales for us. Other companies, it definitely does. I don’t sell the type of product that people are like, “Oh, I want that.” I sell the type of product, where people have to think about it for weeks or a month and then decide, “You know what? I really need this product,” and then they buy it.

Laura: When Allen gets press, it hardly ever results in an increase in sales. Unlike Kirby and Mac, he tries to get press for very different reasons.

Allen: I do the press because I want to improve the organic rankings of my e-commerce store. That’s a vote of confidence in Google’s eyes, and over time they’re going to rank me higher as a result, which is going to generate more traffic and more revenue for my business. Everything I do media-wise is with the goal of improving my Google search results.

Laura: Elaine Pofeldt is the journalist that wrote Allen’s story. She’s written for Forbes, CNBC, Fortune, and Money, to name a few. I wanted to get her take on how to best appeal to a reporter.

Elaine: One thing I would recommend is being prepared to provide the information that journalists need. In my niche, for instance, a lot of business publications require businesses to be willing to share their annual revenue and say if they’re profitable. A lot of companies are uneasy about doing that. They don’t want to tip off the competition. They just are very private about it or whatever. That puts them at a big disadvantage in getting publicity.

Laura: Elaine says it’s important to remember that reporters aren’t there to do your PR. They are there to be a resource to their readers. Another key is to make yourself available when an opportunity for press comes along.

Elaine: The companies that I see that do best with getting media exposure, the CEO or someone else very high up in the company makes this their top priority. They don’t cancel it because they have a staff meeting or some other thing has come up. This is one of their number one priorities, being the face of the company. If you’re not willing to do that and you’re only willing to try to get publicity, in between all the other things, you can still get publicity, but you’re not going to get the level of attention of somebody who really puts a lot of effort into it.

Laura: Another tip, don’t put your reporter a beat they have never written about.

Elaine: Not doing additional homework on who you’re pitching, I think it makes you waste your time. Even if you’re spending five minutes sending out a pitch, you cut and paste it, that’s five minutes you could be sending me a relevant pitch on something I cover. So I would say that’s one thing. People say, “Do your homework.” Homework takes a lot of time, and I understand people don’t have unlimited time to do this. But I would say limit the number of people you pitch, but make the pitches well-targeted to what they actually cover.

Laura: It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get press to launch your brand into infamy or if you really just want to rank better in Google, more often than not, getting a media mention is worth the effort, and there’s no harm in shooting for the stars either.

Allen: I heard Tim Ferriss is going to be doing a 10-year anniversary edition of the “4-Hour Workweek,” and I guess that would be next year 2017. I would love to be featured as an example of a successful muse, which is his idea for a business that can create and come for you and fund your lifestyle. I would love to get featured in that. I can’t think of any other thing that would make me happier.

Laura: If you get featured in that book, you’ve got to try and get Tim Ferriss on the podcast for me, okay?

Allen: Dude, I’ll try.

Laura: Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs like Kirby, Mac and Allen? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight knit vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com. Thank you for listening. That will do it for this week, but looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.

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3 Comments

  1. These are some awesome tips! I had a lot of success with PR as well when I had my t-shirt business and my soap business. One of my main goals was to get my products in holiday gift guides each year (national magazines start looking for products in mid May – mid August) and I would pitch my products as “eco friendly gifts,” “gifts that give back (since we planted a tree for every item sold),” “gifts for mom, dad, etc.” I have to say, PR does take a lot of effort, but it’s so worth it when the sales start rolling in. You just have to keep going, follow up every time you don’t get a response and be consistent with your outreach!

    1. Thanks Andreea! Yeah, it’s definitely a long term game with some serious rewards if you’re willing to stick with it. Appreciate you listening!

    2. Nice! I think gift guide pitches are a no-brainer for stuff like soaps and tees. Thanks for listening, Andreea!