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PR Strategies For The Uninitiated

I’ve been in public relations for a decade and in communications, both as a journalist and crisis adviser, for nearly twice that long. Inevitably when I’m at a cocktail party (remember those?) or a networking event, I’m cornered by someone who wants to know how to elevate their brand. Usually, I’m chatting with lawyers or accountants or software engineers or scientists, and these conversations usually begin quite innocuously. But increasingly, I’m asked how to get on something like the Today show with no prior thought leadership or media experience.

So here’s the deal: the odds of you sitting with Jenna and Hoda in matching club chairs and talking shop is pretty low. (I said what I said!) But more specifically, if your goal is to enhance your business development pipeline, ask yourself how that kind of exposure is going to get you a client? In many cases, talking to a reporter that covers your area of expertise for a trade publication, or getting involved with a professional association’s blog or other owned content, is far more beneficial.

Nearly a decade ago, I had my first exposure to the world of commercial real estate when my last firm served as PR agency of record for a global brokerage’s retail platform. I remember sitting across the table from some of the firm’s top producers and asking where they’d like to see themselves quoted. I was ready for the list of usual suspects: the Journal, the Times, CNBC. But the first words out of their mouths were a list of trade publications highly focused on the world of CRE.

With that said, my first PR strategy for the uninitiated? First, think in terms of what your clients are reading. Are they reading your local business journal? Are they subscribing to highly technical niche publications? Ask yourself (and them!) what kinds of media they’re actively consuming, and make a list of these targets.

Then, learn about reporters who cover your subject area. If I don’t have existing, solid relationships with reporters – meaning we’ve emailed or talked on the phone a minimum of a dozen times or worked together on other stories – I spend time reviewing their coverage over the last few months and checking out their social media profiles. Do they invite tips by DM on Twitter? Are they actively engaging with sources on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other platforms? Connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, and set Google alerts both for their coverage and for specific topics of interest.

If you see an opportunity to lend your voice to a reporter’s coverage, reach out! Reporters love to hear from potential sources. As a journalist, I had a very small list of PR folks I trusted (because they got things done, they didn’t send me garbage mass pitches, and they genuinely cared about the clients and causes they aligned themselves with). I really relished the opportunity to flesh out my source list to include people I could pick up the phone and call directly when news broke on the beat I was covering. Don’t underestimate this step.

Make yourself unavoidable in the channels where your people are hanging out. I was recently chatting with Melissa Alexander, a (phenomenal) commercial real estate executive who left an established career at a well-known firm to develop her own industrial brokerage business with a new shop in her native Nashville. She was starting over from scratch and spent much of the early days back in Music City cold-calling and knocking on doors to drum up business. But at the same time, she had what she called a second job: making herself “unavoidable” on social media. She engaged daily with LinkedIn, both in posting content and engaging with colleagues’ content. She started a podcast and harnessed Twitter to source material for her weekly episodes. And she credits that work – which she truly called a second job – with helping lay the foundation for her book of business, which is now thriving.

New to PR? Bootstrapping your own branding efforts? What questions do you have? Email me at, comment below or send me a DM!

Holly Amaya is co-founder of Story Imprinting, a full-service training and communications firm dedicated to teaching companies the art and science of storytelling through corporate training, executive coaching, and communications strategy. She has enjoyed a multifaceted career as a journalist, attorney, communications strategist, and leadership development trainer, but she’s been telling stories professionally since she snagged her first newspaper column in the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press at age 11. Her C.V. includes stints at Harper’s Bazaar in New York City, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, in the office of a U.S. senator, and as general counsel of an international retail services provider.

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