Want to attract great freelance clients? You've probably tried content marketing and cold pitching – but what about PR?
My guest for this episode is Melissa Hobson, a PR consultant who is here to help us with how to get started with PR and get those all-important eyes and ears on our businesses. We discuss:
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Mentioned in the episode:
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LinkedIn: Melissa Hobson
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.
Louise: Hi, everyone, it's Louise Shanahan here, and my guest today is going to help us get more eyes and ears on our businesses through the magic of PR. Melissa Hobson is a PR consultant and works with marine organisations and today we're going to dive in, no pun intended, to the topic of PR for freelancers. Hi, Melissa, how are you?
Melissa: Hi, I'm very well, thank you.
L: I'm really interested in having this conversation because I think when we think about how we attract leads to our business we often focus a bit more on the content marketing side of things where we're drawing people in. And then on the outward facing side, we might think about targeted outreach and cold pitching to clients directly, but PR is sort of a third leg of that stool, isn't it?
M: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's something that a lot of freelancers might not necessarily think is relevant to themselves, maybe it's a bit more something that people think big organisations do. But I think individuals, freelancers, and sole traders, can do it as well.
L: I think that's a great point. I think a lot of us probably assume that, well, I'm just a small business, I'm just one person, I'm not famous, I don't have a big story. What could PR for freelancers look like? What would the goal be and where would we start if we don't feel like we have a big news story.
M: The place that I always start is similar to where you'd look with the rest of your marketing planning. Who is your audience? Who are you trying to reach? And what do you want to say to them? What action do you want them to do as a result of hearing about you in your business? For a lot of freelancers, it's obviously going to be hopefully driving awareness or sales for their business or service. So that's always very much the starting point. And it doesn't necessarily need to be a big news story on the front of one of the tabloids, because actually, that's not necessarily going to encourage the behaviour change that you would want. So yeah, I'd say always starting with your audience and thinking about what do they need to know about my business to be able to take whatever action it is I want them to take. And also, what magazines are they reading? Or what websites are they reading? Because you need to make sure that you're going to the places that they are already, so that you can get your message to them effectively.
L: If we were thinking about a specific magazine, or a journal, or an industry publication that we know that our clients are reading, or it could be something they're listening to or watching, I suppose, what kind of stories should we be pitching?
M: For freelancers that are new to PR, and actually, all of my clients, I usually advise, grab a cup of tea, maybe a biscuit, find a comfy chair, and read it. And really think about from the first instance, where are the opportunities in that publication that you might be able to provide something useful for the journalist. So rather than thinking, oh I have a new course that I want to get publicity around, and then trying to shoehorn that into the place that you want to be. If you're looking at it from the flip side, say you've got a specific magazine and you're reading through, and it might be that they interview an interesting person each week, and you could put yourself forward for that Q&A and as part of that maybe talk about the thing that you're promoting. Obviously, you're going to be thinking about your own messaging and what you want to say, but actually looking at those regular slots, those opportunities, what type of articles are the journalists writing already. Because you want to be someone when you're getting in touch with a journalist that's actually adding value. And is giving them something that's going to make their job easier, whether it's interesting content, stats, insight, all those kinds of things.
L: And should these be things that we look for on a kind of ongoing basis or would it be sort of reactive if we see something in the news that's relevant to those particular publications?
M: It can be both. It can be one or the other. When I'm speaking to clients and helping them pull together their PR plans one of the things that I try and focus on is what's right for you. You can do reactive work, but obviously that can be quicker turnarounds maybe a little bit higher stress. And if you've only got certain hours and you can't jump on things as quickly, you might actually want to just have a drumbeat of activity. So both can be the right answer but you don't necessarily have to do one or the other, or both. I think with reactive communications, that can be really handy for people who have a strong cause or opinion that they are happy to jump on TV or on the phone with a journalist and talk about. For example at the moment, there's a lot in the news about the cost of living crisis, and you might be a business person that's happy to talk about how that's affecting you and your business, or your clients, or whatever it might be. I would say just with those reactive opportunities the key thing to think about is vetting those opportunities and making sure that it's quality coverage that's going to add value to you in your business, rather than just trying to jump on every single thing that a journalist is looking for that you maybe tenuously could answer. Because again, you want to be thinking about where's your audience and how are you getting your insight and information to them. And if you're going in the wrong place, just because you're chasing after all these exciting reactive leads, you can end up shouting into the void a little bit and it's maybe not adding the value that you would want.
L: I wonder if you could say a little bit about how we identify the right outlets to pitch and how we go about preparing a pitch?
M: In terms of identifying the right outlets, again, this kind of comes back to my cup of tea and a biscuit strategy. Start with the audience, think about what they're potentially going to be engaging with and then going down that line. Researching the different publications, picking up copies, having a read of them, and then using that to determine who you're going to start pitching to. And one of the things that I think is good to bear in mind as well is a bigger press list doesn't necessarily mean a better press list. So it might be that to start with, you've got a handful of titles that you're just going to focus on. And I always recommend targeting things so that you're investing the time in a way that's hopefully going to have a better ROI, rather than just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks by pitching to as many publications as you can.
L: And when you're putting the pitch together is that something that you would normally send in an email, is it something you should try and do over the phone, or DM and social media? Are there any kind of pitfalls to avoid there?
M: It does a little bit depend on the journalist, but usually, if you can find an email address, I try and pitch those on an email. Try and keep everything together in the body of the email if you can. I do bits of writing myself outside of my PR work so I have lots of PRs pitching to me, when things are sent as attachments, say your press release or your bio or whatever, that can clog up inboxes and be more likely to either not get through or be deleted and it can also make things easier to get caught in spam filters. Try and keep everything in the body of the email, make sure that you've got everything together, keep things concise, but giving the journalist as much information as they would need to make a decision about whether it's something they're wanting to cover. Journalists are super, super, super busy and every time you're putting an obstacle in their way by making them come back to you and ask another question, it's one step closer to them going, you know what, let’s not bother. If you've got extra information, images, all that kind of stuff can be really great in a Dropbox link, or a non-expiring link, I tend to say, Flickr or an upgraded WeTransfer, or whatever it might be. Because sometimes a journalist will not reply, file your email, look at it in two weeks and then realise all of the lovely images you sent them have expired, and maybe you're on holiday or whatever, and it can be a bit of a faff to get all that stuff together.
L: Just when you were saying there about potentially being willing to speak on TV or to speak to a journalist on the phone, that might feel a bit daunting to some freelancers who don't do that in their daily work. I wonder if you've got any tips for people who maybe feel a bit daunted or apprehensive about reaching out to journalists?
M: There's something about the word journalist that makes you maybe feel a little bit nervous, a little bit overwhelmed. But I think the thing to remember is that just people and they're trying to do their job, and on the whole they're not trying to catch you out or trick you or anything like that. People I think sometimes see the backlash when a big corporation has a stressful interview or something like that and for most freelancers that's not going to be the case when they're working with journalists. On the whole, they're a really friendly bunch and it can be really nice to build up a relationship. One of the things about PR, it's not just about that one article that you're pitching for now, it can be a really long term relationship. I've got good friends and work contacts who I originally met by setting up an article years ago. So thinking about that long term relationship like you would with any other business networking is really important. But yeah, it's completely normal to feel a little bit nervous speaking to journalists, but you don't need to, they are a lovely bunch.
L: Yeah, so it could be worth following and connecting with journalists that you think you might like to build that relationship with on Twitter and LinkedIn and things like that, couldn't it?
M: Yeah, absolutely.
L: And actually, that also makes me think of things like HARO, Help A Reporter Out, and Help a B2B Writer. These are both accounts on Twitter and websites where if you follow them writers and journalists will often ask that they're looking for a source or a quote on a particular thing, often with quite short turnaround times. If you keep an eye on those, you might see something relevant popping up and then you can obviously get some coverage that way, is that something that you think is worth doing?
M: Absolutely. There's also the hashtag PR request, which is I think more in the UK, I think HARO is more international. I actually have on my Tweet Deck, I have various threads set up with different search terms for PR requests and those kind of things so that I can see really quickly if there's something coming up that's relevant to one of my clients or something I'm working on. And yeah, that's a brilliant way to filter out all of that white noise and get those quality leads coming in. Because as you say, things can come in with a tight turnaround and if you can jump on it really quickly and get that information over that's a great way to get ahead of the game and get in touch with a new journalist contact.
L: That's brilliant. Are there any other tips that you would recommend or any pitfalls that we should be avoiding when we're getting into the world of PR?
M: The main thing that I tend to recommend for my clients, which I've touched on really briefly, is really thinking about tailoring and targeting your comms. So personally, I think it's more worthwhile to spend time really crafting a few well-honed pitches than, you know spamming an email or a press release out to 100 journalists. If you're taking the time to make sure that what you're suggesting is really relevant to the journalist or the publication that you're getting in touch with, and that's the way I tend to work, I do find it gets better results. Because otherwise, you can send an email out to 200 journalists and annoy 150 of them, rather than pitching to 5-10 people who actually pick up and engage with your content.
L: Oh, there's so much that we could get into isn't there, 15 minutes is not enough to talk about this is it. If people would like to find out more, if they have more follow up questions for you, where is the best place to find you?
M: They can visit my website, which is melissahobson.co.uk. I’m also on LinkedIn as well, I try to share some tips and bits and pieces on there. But if you hop onto my website you can see all of my services, I have some resources including a template press release that you can edit and use yourself. And you can book my PR power hours straight from my website, as well, and you don't need to be an ocean-based organisation to do that, I work with all different types of freelancers.
L: That's brilliant, thank you so much. It's definitely given me a bit of food for thought and a bit more confidence about embracing PR as part of my marketing strategy, because I do tend to focus more on the content marketing and outreach side of things. Thank you so much Melissa, I really appreciated your insights.
M: Thank you, it's been lovely to chat to you.
L: And thanks to everybody for listening remember you can get all the links in the show notes and we'll see you next time.
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