This weekend I went to a great panel discussion & networking event on using social media for PR. Hosted by Smak and MassChallenge, the panel featured a number of PR and Media panelists — specifically, Kimberley Ring of Ring Communications; Steve Annear of the Boston Metro (he recently wrote an article about T the Musical!); Dave Gerhardt of Constant ContactSanti DeOleo of Jam’n 94.5 (a local Boston station) and Modus Collection Clothing; and moderated by the Smak CEO Matt Hooper — giving advice and talking about some of their experiences on what works and what doesn’t. It was great meeting some more people in PR (among them, Peter Gett of Yodle, Inc.) and getting said advice, and the biggest takeaway for me was how important it is to build relationships.

Largely, this meant don’t just blindly drop a press release on media members whom you don’t know and expect to get anything out of it. I felt like a rookie when BCC’ing was mentioned as an impersonal method to be avoided, but the more I thought about the context in which I advised on using it in, I think it still makes sense. That is, if you’re emailing a press release to people who have already said, yes, I would like to be on your press list for announcements, I stand by the BCC method when emailing said announcements.

But when making contacts anew, the building a relationship advice was excellent. If it’s a name you’ve gotten from another contact of yours, mention who referred you to that person right up front when emailing the new contact. “Hi, I’m Katie; I was given your name by John Doe who thought you would be interested in This Cool Thing.” If it’s a brand new contact, tell them why you’re writing and where you got their name from in general. Be personal and personable, don’t only talk to them about what your selling and nothing else, because it’s the email equivalent of a telemarketer calling you during dinner: Everyone hates it, and no one is going to buy what they’re selling.

1. Make New Contacts

There were a lot of great things about the event. The advice was solid and I’m glad I heard all of it, even if not everything said was stuff I’d never heard before. (Actually, I think I’d have been really worried about what I’ve been doing if it had all been new information.) The new tips here and there were well-received, and it was good reinforcement of the things I did already know. And what’s more? I got to meet some fun new people! So in addition to having fun chatting with them there, and in the past few days over twitter, they are new contacts as well. Now, maybe none of them personally will be able to cover something I’m promoting, but even so, they may know someone else who would be interested and able to cover it. Or even just retweeting about it can be huge!

To get to my point, make new contacts whenever you can! Be a people person, talk and make friends. Events like this one area  great way to do that (bonus, it was free, and there was pizza and beer), so if you get the opportunity, go for it.

Another way to do this without leaving the comfort of your home, research. Go to the websites (or pick up a hard copy of) the place you want to get coverage in. Look for articles about similar products and who wrote them. Hunt down that person’s contact information and get in touch. For me, when promoting Phoenix Online, I’ll go looking for other coverage of adventure games and companies that make them, and tell the author that’s why I’m contacting them and why I think they may be interested in our company’s products. For T: An MBTA Musical, I’ll look for people covering the arts, the local scene, the MBTA (that, or the T for short, is the local subway & public transportation system; some good friends of mine have written a great and hilarious musical about it!), or even more specifically, local theatre.

2. Build Relationships

If contact has been made, work on the relationship, especially if it’s a new one. I am learning more and more how great twitter is for this, and the panel discussion only reinforced this. It’s ridiculously easy to interact on twitter, to find shared interests, to just plain have a conversation. Get out there. If you’re anti-twitter, as I admit I was for a while, it’s kind of silly at this point. Put yourself out there and start talking!

This can also go for emails as well. Just the same as you hope the people you’re talking to might be able to help you out with getting coverage or spreading the word someday, you can do the same for them. Maybe an interesting event or product will come to your attention that you aren’t necessarily working on or involved with, but you realize, hey, John Doe at Awesomesauce would totally be into this! So you send him the link and the information. Or maybe Jane Smith at is looking to get in touch with an insider view on a local grad school, and you happen to know someone who went there, so you get the two of them in touch.

Yes, from Wendy’s, because Wendy’s fries are THE BEST.

It’s all a huge multi-way street, and like just about everything else, it’s who you know. Which doesn’t actually mean it’s about knowing the guy or gal at the top of food chain, it’s just about knowing people in general and what amounts to a larger personal circle and social community. Knowing a lot of small fries, if you will, ’cause let’s face it, one way or another we’re all small fries.

Man…now I want fries.


3 thoughts on “DIY PR: Building Relationships and Making Contacts

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