What’s the biggest mistake I see when people are ready to get their message out, get big press wins, and ramp up their web traffic? They start WAY too late. Even if you don’t have the cash, I’ll explain how to do PR without a budget. This way, you can build the foundation and work toward your goal of getting public wins before you have the cash to hire a great team or agency.
Building a public brand can take six months up to several years, but by the time most companies come to me, they only have a matter of months. Yes, we can put strategies in place, and I’ve had some significant successes in as little as ONE week, but it’s not ideal. (Plus, it costs more money.) So, it’s important that you take control and start on your PR efforts NOW.
If you don’t have the budget to hire PR for the long game, here is how to do PR without a budget.
PR requires a clean mission and vision
This is where most founders go off track. On a deep emotional level they understand what their company does, so they assume everyone is on the same page. Here’s a little secret: you’re wrong. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t even fully understand who you are. Try to write out your mission and vision right now.
Spend some time creating a vision and mission statement, and make sure EVERYONE in the company can recite it at the drop of a hat. If no one is aligned on how you speak about your company, your audience will not be aligned either. Preparing for PR without a budget requires eliminating all confusion. Confusion means no coverage, no audience, and no engagement.
PR requires media assets
Building the foundation of your PR strategy requires professional assets. Nothing undermines your outward brand value like having an unpolished image and staff photos ripped from Facebook profiles. If journalists interview you and ask for polished assets, you will cause them to second-guess your legitimacy. I
Polished photos do translate to internalized brand value—it’s called sensation transference. Stated simply, polished visuals and photos of your company “transfer” to the real-world experience people have with your brand. Great photos help people see a great brand. Bad photos, even after someone meets you, result in them second-guessing your brand.
It’s very important you use a professional, not your niece or friend. If a photo equals one thousand words, using an amateur will actually send the wrong message. To see an example of high-impact photos, check out Justin Meyer’s commercial portraits. His work sends a very strong message.
Get A Properly Developed Website
To prepare for PR without a budget, a proper web presence with an easy-to-update CMS is non-negotiable. If the site isn’t being updated frequently, search engines rank you lower. Their algorithms equate inactivity with relevance. The less active, the less likely they assume people are looking for your site. Do your best to update weekly and scale up if possible.
In the same way you want to fully control the message you’re sending in your photo assets, you need to fully control the message your website is sending both visually and behind the scenes. This is an area worth spending some cash to do correctly. Code you can’t see impacts your search ranking and makes the difference between ranking on page two or worse.
I equate good “code” to good engineering on a building. Sure, a designer can make a beautiful structure, but if an engineer doesn’t work on the project, the building will fall. You can’t see great code, but if you don’t develop your website properly, your brand will fall through the rankings.
Post attractive content
As mentioned in the paragraph above, posting frequently increases your “relevance” score in search engines and ranks you higher. Start posting regular content that your target audience will find beneficial. Regularly posting education content increases your web authority score over time, resulting in higher search engine rank. Nothing is worse than getting a big press hit later and having people NOT find your website.
Get public speaking experience
One time I booked a charismatic client on a national news show, and he choked. The interview certainly wasn’t an embarrassment, but he didn’t get the message he wanted out of his lips. This is why it’s important to get experience to determine how you form phrases and ideas. Doing so in a controlled environment is key.
Speak at some colleges or for local business groups to get some practice, and make sure to record yourself. Later, when you watch the recordings, take detailed notes on where you can improve and what was confusing. Have your team do the same thing. You will be horrified, and that’s a GOOD thing! It’s better to fail at low-risk events, so you don’t mess up the higher-profile opportunities.
Engage with brand builders now
Follow (do not connect) with every journalist and influencer in your community and engage with them. Reply, click on their links, engage, read their work, and get to know them. You will form a great idea of what their audience likes and how to position your messaging. When it comes time to pitch, they’ll be ready to listen.
To build the PR foundation, create a spreadsheet of all media targets and how you’ve interacted with them. PR without a budget demands you build some of these relationships before your PR person gets involved. Journalists don’t want to hear from PR people; they want to hear from you. Build that relationship in advance.
Start building stories
Start building a story library based on this question: what do YOU know that your customer would find fascinating. Be self-critical here—I see too many founders go into a sales pitch with this question. If YOU don’t want to hear some BS sales pitch, neither do YOUR customers. Pull your head out of your rear end.
If you need help thinking of stories, take a moment to review how my PR pizza method works in this guide on how to get media coverage for your startup.