A few years ago, the head of a startup pursued me relentlessly for a story. I wasn’t so sure about his company and I wasn’t so sure about him. He was in an already risky business and his plan seemed even more riskier that most. Oh, all right, I’ll just go ahead and say it: on the lunacy-genius scale, his scheme slid well toward the lunacy side.
The thing was, he knew it. That’s why he pursued me. He knew there was a fair chance I could land his company on the cover of a well-respected magazine I was then writing for regularly.
I don’t really advocate this, but he persisted until he finally wore me down enough for me to pitch the story to my editor. It was a good faith pitch, too, because although I had my doubts about his project, the man’s passion finally won me over. He believed in the project, and that got through to me, and through me, to my editor, who ended up assigning me the story. It almost but not quite, made it as the main cover story for the magazine (at the last minute, it got relegated to a smaller image, but still got on the cover).
Why did my contact need that story? Because his extremely risky venture had a lot of skepticism to overcome to win over backers and customers. A story in a widely-read, well-regarded publication serves as an endorsement in a way that is very difficult for mere advertising to achieve.
A story in such a magazine has to get past gate keepers (in this case, me and my editor) who, in effect, give it their seal of approval. Simply by publishing the story, the writer and his or her editor say to the world, “This idea/product/venture has some merit and is worth knowing about.”
How did he get that story? By establishing a relationship with me, a writer for the magazine with a demonstrated interest in his field, and convincing me to pitch it. In short, by making a personal connection with the right person at the right media outlet. And all it cost him was the time to send a few emails and make a few phone calls.
Unfortunately, good publicity alone wasn’t enough to keep the project afloat. The business really did have serious problems (although I was able to retire my skepticism about the technology in the process of writing the article). But some well-placed publicity can do a lot to overcome initial objections and at least put a new venture in the running. Just ask Donald Trump.
For more on DIY PR, check out Scott Jordan’s excellent post, “Pocket Wisdom from the Other Side of the Shark Tank: Do Your Own PR to Win.”