A Beginner’s Guide to PR for Your eCommerce Store
Color me qualified to write this post: I have a communications degree, did the unpaid PR intern thing, and started my career in the hard knocks of agency life – stuffing gift bags, making media lists, clipping clips, and account coordinating like a boss. From there, I transitioned into marketing roles at startups and saw how the brand strategy and media relations from my PR days could be incorporated into a broader user acquisition plan.
After all of that, here’s what I know about PR for sure: Writers/reporters are always looking for good story ideas, but they always feel like they are getting pitches for crappy ones. Marketers want press coverage, but they don’t know how it translates into sales.
This is why I think we struggle in these areas: The typical approach to PR is to come up with one big media list for a company, then for every single announcement you have, you pitch the entire list.
I like to flip that approach. Come up with the announcements first, then build little baby micro-lists of targeted contacts you’re going to go after.
When it comes to measuring your PR efforts and seeing how they translate to sales, direct traffic and referral traffic sources are a good start. Having a good follow up plan for converting those new visitors is also key.
In this post I’ll take you through the step by step of what this approach could look like for your store.
Step 1: The Big 5 Messages For Your Brand
Think about the elevator pitch that you probably tell for your company right now:
“XYZ is a _________ for _________, which helps _________ do _________. This is important because _________ and _________ and _________ and it’s different than other _________s because _________ and _________ and _________. After all, _________ and _________, so that’s why _________’s need XYZ…”
Elevators pitches like this happen because entrepreneurs are passionate and have a lot to say about the space they start a company in. But for the most part, everything after the first sentence can be cut from your elevator pitch. But those follow up sentences? The “because”, the “why this is important” and the “why this is different?” Those are fantastic supporting messages and great pitch ideas.
Use this framework to come up with 4 or 5 supportive messages:
- Who we are: What is your company and what do you do? This is your elevator pitch that you’ll use with writers/reporters.
- Who we do this for: Who is your customer? What do they need?
- Why it matters: What direction is the world heading in that gives your product a reason for existing? Find a trend and back it up with a metric or scientific fact (an increasing cost, a lost cost, a toxin, a time-waster) and hitch your wagon to it.
- Why we are different: Draw a line in the sand. Pick an enemy. You are the anti-what? What have you had enough of?
- Why we are better: Show that you are the unique solution to something, approaching a problem from an angle that no one else is.
As an example: The Lean In movement has this overall broader message that we need more women in leadership roles in business. Their Getty Images partnership and Ban Bossy campaigns were related, supportive campaigns to that broader initiative.
2. Turn Your Messages Into Pitches
Let’s take one of these and turn it into an idea for a pitch.
Say your online store sells consciously-made cosmetics, specifically, paraben-free makeup. To play off the “why this matters” part of the above exercise, to get customers to shop at your store you need to educate them about the dangers of this toxin.
So let’s come up with a few pitch ideas. Your pitch ideas are simply the press story you hope to place. A few to consider:
- Infographic: Can Your Makeup Cause Breast Cancer?
- TV segment: How Parabens Can Put Your Health at Risk
- Guest blog post: The toxic ingredient hiding in your makeup
You’ll notice I turned the same topic into several different formats – TV, infographic, and a guest post. It’s good to think about your PR strategy in this way. You want your story to get out there in different formats so you can appeal to a wide variety of users. The message should be consistent, but the medium you deliver it in can be varied.
3. Build Your List
Once you have a pitch idea, create the necessary content if you are doing an infographic or guest post. Then, find 10 or so writers/reporters who have covered this subject or a related subject recently and approach them.
If you can’t find the contact information for the writer him or herself, go for the section editor. Whatever you do, find an actual person to email and avoid emailing a tips@ email address at all costs.
You want to be extra targeted in your list building. Think about the motivation behind the pitch. In the paraben-free makeup pitch, I think you’d have better luck with a writer/reporter who has covered organic food rather than someone who has covered general makeup tips. At the root of it, this pitch really is more about conscious consumerism than mascara.
Some other tips:
- Bloggers are writers too. They can carry just as much, if not more, influence as a traditional journalist nowadays. Include them in your pitch list, but keep in mind that you may need to have a specific strategy for them. Unlike reporters who work for traditional media companies like TV stations, bloggers have to pay themselves. Sometimes this comes from sponsored posts. Be sure to check their PR guidelines and know their policy before you pitch. Know whether or not you are willing to pay before you reach out and proceed accordingly.
- A person’s individual email address can be tough to find. Google is your friend. Search, dig, and poke around until you find the right contact information.
- Sometimes writers/reporters put them in their Twitter bios, so search there.
- Install the Rapportive Gmail plugin. It pulls up someone’s Rapportive profile on the right hand side of the Gmail UI when you type in the correct email address. Test several different formats until the Rapportive profile pulls up.
4. Sending Your Pitches
Now you are ready to send those pitches!
A good pitch is short, to the point, and friendly. If you have longer details to include, consider using bullet points to break out the details and make it easy to read. Or, take the approach I love, which is to write up a blog post in full that you’re going to publish on your own blog and paste it below your own signature in the email pitch. This gives them all the information they need to write their own story.
Here is what a sample pitch email may look like:
5. A Note About Building Relationships
“Build relationships!” is just about the most common PR advice that you’re going to get, and the people who mindlessly peddle that advice may not like this post.
In truth, providing value and being helpful is a great way to start a relationship. The trouble with “relationship building” (asking someone out to coffee, creeping on them at a conference…) under the veil of hoping they write about you is it comes off as fake. Build relationships by offering value, and offer value through relevant story suggestions. This is a lot more honest, and it’s a baseline conversation starter for more organic meetups and relationship building down the line.
6. We Got Coverage! Now What?
Share the coverage, thank the writer/reporter, and pay attention to the comments section on the article. A lot of times people ask questions about your product or store in the comments. Monitor the conversation so you can respond.
7. Driving Conversions
It is totally possible that someone will read an article about you, go directly to your website, make a purchase, and you’ll be able to directly attribute the value of PR from sales from referral traffic.
You and I both know that things don’t work that way though.
Typically, sales is the result of many little touch points over the course of a few months that build up and drive a conversion through the ever-so-mysterious direct traffic.
So how do we know if this PR stuff is working?
Well, an overall increase in direct traffic and referral traffic is a good indicator of progress. But you should also use not only the PR content but also the PR traffic to your advantage. Use a retargeting solution like AdRoll to follow up with new site visitors. To get granular with your campaign, specifically target people that visited a page that was linked to or mentioned in a PR campaign. Alternatively, use content recommendation platforms like Outbrain or Taboola to drive new audiences to your PR coverage. This is a light touch way to get your brand in front of relevant audiences.
PR for Your Ecommerce Store: A Recap
Here are the key things you need to keep in mind.
- Take the top-down approach. Think about your overall company mission, why that’s important, who you’re doing this for, and why it’s different. From there, you can think of some specific pitches that get these points across, and these are your first PR campaigns.
- Sell makeup? Don’t just make a big list of every makeup writer ever and pitch them with every announcement you have. Think of what you want to say and then find the specific people who you think will want to hear it.
- Be friendly and concise in your pitches.
Any other tips to share with the class? Lemme know in the comments.