I absolutely crave hearing the back story of how an entrepreneur built his or her company. For this reason, I am a huge fan of Andrew Warner’s Mixergy. Now that I have a daily 20+ minute commute to our office in Durham, I’ve been trying to catch up on the archive of Mixergy episodes. Not only do I find each founder’s story fascinating, but there is often an “aha moment” or two that really stick out. I thought I would start recording those here as a catalog I can refer to in the future.
I’ve spent a bit of time these past few months reaching out to journalists (mostly cold) and trying to drum up some “free” exposure for the company. I’ve had a couple of hits — including a nice article in InformationWeek, as well as exposure in a few key industry publications — but, by in large, it has been a time consuming and draining effort. That’s why I was really excited to recently listen to Grasshopper’s David Hauser talk about his approach to PR in a Mixergy interview from about 18 months ago.
To me, one of the hardest things about “organic” PR is the concept of building a relationship with a journalist. It sounds simple but how exactly do you do that well? The most obvious thing to do is comment on their articles and try to engage them on Twitter. But doesn’t everybody do that? And how do you avoid coming off like you are just trying to pitch yourself? In his interview, David mentioned three examples that I thought were instructive.
The Thank You card
In the interview, David talks about how he sent a physical thank you card via snail mail to a journalist they wanted to engage. The thank you card was in response to an article that the journalist wrote, but here’s the kicker: the journalist’s article wasn’t about David or his company. Instead, it was just an article that David genuinely enjoyed reading. Furthermore, in the thank you card, David did not pitch his business or make any sort of ask. He just said thanks, and included a business card.
Pitching the company
Another example he gave was how they would pitch journalists about the culture at Grasshopper. That’s right. Not the product, or even the core mission of the company (at least directly). Instead, they would pitch something like a charity effort that Grasshopper was involved in. Or perhaps how they FedEx’d 5,000 chocolate covered grasshoppers to influential people across America.
Pitching someone else
This was a very subtle point in the interview, but it’s something that really stood out to me. If a journalist is not ready to write about you and your company, you can still help them write about what they are actually interested in. In David’s case, he could connect journalists with other entrepreneurs (i.e. Grasshopper’s customers) to help them fill out their stories. In essence, he made himself a resource to them until they were eventually ready to write about Grasshopper (or perhaps even felt slightly obligated to!).
Although not completely earth shattering, it’s helpful to step back and think of PR in this way. All too often we are eager to pitch ourselves and get exposure as fast as possible. That seems to be the wrong approach. PR is a long game, and it takes patience. Thank-You-card-sent-via snail-mail-kind-of-patience.