As we wrapped up this issue, I received an unusually personal note from a woman in Chicago. She and her boyfriend had overcome great setbacks; now she wants to help him build a restaurant, but they’re struggling. She hoped I’d run a story about them. “I felt I needed to reach out,” she explained, “because I worry at times that he may not be discovered or ever have a chance to fulfill his dream.”
I told her I sympathized but that her timing was wrong. I’d run a story only about what happens next, when they achieve their goals and can inspire others. Entrepreneur is full of problem-solving stories, which means a problem must have been solved. But frankly, I told her, a story today would do her no good anyway. “When you look to get press, you need to have a purpose,” I wrote. “And personal validation is not a good purpose.”
I see entrepreneurs make this mistake all the time. They know they want press, but they’re not sure why. Yes, a story about you is flattering and motivating. But it can also be time-consuming and expensive -- because attracting press means contacting a bazillion journalists (most of whom will never reply), possibly giving out tons of freebies (most of which will result in no coverage) and maybe even hiring a publicist (which guarantees nothing). Like all investments, this one must be worth the time and cost.
So before you begin contacting reporters, ask yourself: Do I have a clear goal, and can media coverage help get me there? If the answer to both is yes, then consider which media outlets will be most valuable to you. Every newspaper, magazine or website is read by a specific audience -- and if you chase the wrong one, you’ll have wasted your time.
I’ll admit it: Depending on your goals, even a story in Entrepreneur can be worthless. For example, in December, the creator of CapBoom emailed me hoping I’d cover his Kickstarter campaign; he’d created a bottle-cap opener that flings caps 33 feet into the air at 60 mph. (“I came up with this idea when I and my friends drank beer in the park,” he wrote, to nobody’s surprise.) Now here’s a clear goal: He needs Kickstarter donors. But he wasted time tracking down a business-magazine editor. Even if I wrote about his gadget, it’d make little difference. Our readers want inspiration, not tips on what to buy. He should have targeted only consumer-focused publications read by young men.
So why would someone strategically reach out to me? Truthfully, it’s not my job to know. My focus is finding good stories for my readers, and I’ll tell those stories regardless of whether they fit someone’s media strategy. But out of curiosity, I asked some old friends who’d founded PR shops, who I knew would shoot me straight.
“Everyone wants to be a ‘known quantity,’ and being in Entrepreneur helps my clients to achieve that level of familiarity and trustworthiness essential for doing business,” says Gregg Delman of G Three Media, who reps a lot of tech startups. He says he wouldn’t pitch a magazine like mine to boost sales; it wouldn’t get the job done. “My biggest client goal is to have them perceived as subject-matter experts in their field.”
Jon Bier, who runs Jack Taylor PR, thinks similarly. A story in this magazine, he says, “is a key piece in a larger strategy but, on its own, not a direct sales driver.” He does make one exception: “If you are an agency doing something innovative, this is about the best advertising you can get, since a significant amount of Entrepreneur readers are entrepreneurs themselves and may be in the market for these sorts of services.”
But maybe you aren’t sure if media coverage is worth the chase. Maybe, like that woman in Chicago, you’re just not ready for prime time. That’s fine, too. In fact, you’re in better shape for realizing it. Recently, I met the founder of a media startup who exemplifies this perfectly. He had long been tempted to tell his story to the press, hoping it would help him find new partners. But instead, he held back and found those partners on his own. Now he has a big, impressive business and an impactful story to reveal -- and he’s begun reaching out to the publications that can help him the most in his next phase of business.