Ask Elise: Your PR advice column

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of my brand-new blog column, ‘Ask Elise’.

I’m forever receiving fabulous questions about all things PR from my Instagram community, and I wanted to find a way to address those queries while helping as many of you as possible.

So, from now on, I’ll be rounding up every question I receive throughout the month and answering them in a monthly ‘Ask Elise’ column. I’ll be sharing a dedicated ‘Ask Elise’ story on Instagram once a month giving you the opportunity to submit your questions, but you can also send me a DM with your queries any time you like.

Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s get started, shall we?

Hi Elise! Do you have any tips on pitching yourself to publications and what to include in emails to journalists?”

This is a great question and I could honestly write an essay in response but I’ll try to keep it snappy.

Pitching can be a bit of a minefield even for seasoned PR professionals, so I understand that it’s incredibly daunting for small business owners who have no experience in media outreach. Unfortunately, there is no formula for the ‘perfect pitch’, but there are things to keep in mind to improve your chances of success!

With a pitch, our aim is essentially to supply the journalist with everything they need should they want to cover our story. I’ve put together the following checklist in hopes that it will help you to cover all bases when reaching out to the media:

  • Personality: in an effort to secure themselves coverage, many people forget that the journalist on the other end of the email is in fact a human being rather than a publishing machine. It’s important to keep it professional but, by injecting a bit of your personality into the pitch (both brand personality and your personality as the business owner), you’re setting yourself apart by giving the journalist something to relate to. They’ll be grateful to receive something that’s not just another ‘cardboard cut-out’ pitch.

  • Personalisation and adaptability: if I was asked to list the seven deadly sins of media pitching, copying and pasting a generic pitch template would be number one. I totally understand why this approach is appealing because it saves us time (business owners are busy people!) but the likelihood of actually securing results from this method is slim. Let’s break down the two main points here:

- Personalisation: it’s vital to address the journalist by name whenever possible. Nobody likes to be spammed with emails they can tell have been sent to hundreds of people, so addressing the journalist personally will immediately help to get them on your side. You could also refer to a recent piece of their work in your opening line, highlighting that you have a genuine interest in their publication and emphasising why you’re approaching them specifically with this pitch. - Adaptability: as well as tailoring your pitch emails to each journalist, it’s important to adapt your pitch to the publication you’re targeting. Mirroring the formality (while maintaining professionalism) and tone of the publication will help the journalist to visualise your piece as part of their content. For example, a pitch you’re sending to Country Living will likely have a very different feel and tone to a pitch you’re sending to gal-dem magazine.

  • Realism: where appropriate and possible, it’s beneficial to emphasise the human side of your story. Personal stories always perform well because we’re programmed as humans to be receptive to them. Consider including quotes or case studies where possible to add that personal, realistic touch to your pitches.

  • Relevance: why should the journalist be interested in your story? Why now? What context can you supply in your pitch to make your story all the more irresistible? Perhaps you’re pitching on a topic of pertinence at the moment, or you’re sharing a story to coincide with a specific holiday. These act as hooks for both the journalist and their readership, so use that to your advantage.

  • Imagery: most publications are keen to include visual content alongside their pieces, be that video or stills. By supplying them with these up front in your pitch, you’re making their life easier. This is the overarching aim with initial pitches: making the journalist’s life easier by supplying them with everything they need should they want to cover your story. Providing high-quality accompanying materials means there’s one less reason for them not to cover your story.

“I’m not sure where to start with email marketing. Any advice?”

There’s a misconception that the rise of social media is leading to a decline in the effectiveness of email marketing, but I’m pleased to report that the numbers don’t reflect this.

Without going into too much detail, figures from Statista suggest that there are approximately 3.7 billion email users worldwide, more than any of the major social networking sites. So, if you’re interested in implementing email marketing into your strategy, don’t let the fake news deter you.

I’d say it’s best to start by identifying the platform you’d like to use to distribute your emails. There are some great ones out there that are super user-friendly, from Mailchimp to HubSpot. Do some research into which one fits best with your budget and other requirements.

The next step is to develop your strategy. As you would have done before launching your business, consider who your target audience will be and what your goals are. Decide on your emailing schedule and content pillars. Have fun with drafting a few emails to see what the final pieces might look like. This will all help to get you into the rhythm of email marketing.

Once you feel ready to go, you can start building your mailing list. There are several ways to do this, but adding a ‘Sign Up’ section to your website and social media channels is by far the most effective. You might find that offering an incentive helps to grow your list, like “10% off when you sign up” offers, etc.

When you’ve got the beginnings of a good mailing list, all that’s left to do is take the plunge and get going with your plan. You can start by sending an introductory email providing the backstory to your brand and outlining what your audience can expect to receive from you. This is a great way to get the ball rolling and ensure that you keep your subscribers.

“What are the best prompts for email marketing?”

I love that you guys are so keen to hop on the email marketing train! This is a really important question because email marketing is a ruthless game.

Consumers are cut-throat when it comes to their email inbox: if you don’t grab their attention in the first two seconds, you’re gone.

Thankfully, there are some tips and tricks that will help to ensure that your emails are seen, opened and interacted with.

Here are some of my top tips to help with crafting a subject line that converts:

  • Be clear & concise: no one likes a lengthy subject line, so it’s best to keep yours snappy. It’s also good practice to make it clear what your email is about. This doesn’t mean it has to be boring and give everything away up front, but it certainly shouldn’t leave your audience confused.

  • Reflect your brand identity: it’s vital that your email marketing is reflective of your brand. Diluting your brand identity with misaligned subject lines will only damage your brand credibility and make your audience question their understanding of your business. For example, if your brand identity centres around luxury and sophistication, a cheesy pun as a subject line probably won’t do it for your audience.

  • Ask a question: this technique isn’t as common in email marketing as you might think, so asking your audience a question in the subject line is a great way to stand out. The question mark alone catches the eye among an inbox full of exclamation points.

  • Use FOMO to your advantage: if you're running an offer that's on a limited lifespan, mentioning this in the subject line creates urgency among your audience to at least see what they could be missing out on. My friend Natalya has a great post on this which I'll link to here.

"I'm interested in getting started with PR for my small business but I don't know whether to outsource or try to do it myself..."

This is the million-dollar question for many small business owners when it comes to PR and Marketing. The truth is that there is no right or wrong approach: it's all about what works best for you.

If you have budget to spare but little time to spend on comms activities yourself, then hiring an agency or freelancer to take care of your PR can be a lifesaver. On the flip side, if you have some time to dedicate but funds are limited, it's entirely possible to take matters into your own hands and DIY your PR.

I'm a firm believer in the fact that PR doesn't have to be this ‘great unknown’ or a source of stress for small business owners. By taking some time to learn about PR and develop a concrete strategy, you'd be surprised at how much you can achieve on your own, with little to no expenditure.

In the coming weeks, my content will begin to focus on practical PR advice that will help you to take control of PR for your small business. I'll be walking you through the basics of small business PR and showing you how you can achieve the same results as PR professionals, for a fraction of the cost. So, if you're interested in DIYing your PR, make sure you're part of The PR Pocketbook community over on Instagram.

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted questions for my first 'Ask Elise' column, I hope this has been useful for you all. Don't forget that you can drop me a message any time with your questions for the next edition of 'Ask Elise'.

I can't wait to hear from you!

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