In this ultimate guide, you'll discover how to use publicity and PR as part of your MSP's marketing strategy to get new clients
You've heard of public relations right, perhaps called PR or just "free publicity". In fact, I’ll guess that even if you don’t realise it, you’ve probably done PR in one form or another.
But the whole thing can be very confusing, especially if it’s not something that comes naturally to you.
I’ve put together this ultimate MSP marketing guide to publicity and PR. I’ll explain exactly what it means, how you can create some effective PR for your MSP, and I’ll even give you some ideas on how to get started.
Let's do this...
What does PR actually mean?
PR = Public Relations.
Put simply, it’s any form of communication between your business and the public.
That could be something as simple as you writing a letter to your clients to warn them about a new form of malware, or your company holding a fundraiser for a local food bank, or even sponsoring a local football team to do a litter pick.
Publicity is one element of PR where the communication is carried out via the media.
There are two kinds of publicity that your business can get through the media; free publicity, and paid for publicity.
Free publicity is where the media talks about your or your business for free (clue’s in the name). If you pay for that exposure - perhaps in an advertorial (a paid "advert editorial") it becomes advertising.
And there’s a big difference in how these can work for you.
Advertising can be great. It gives you total control over what's being said about your business, because you’re paying for the space on that website, on air, or even in print. However, the cost of that (besides the financial cost) is that you lose credibility.
Most of us understand how advertising works and we’ve become very savvy at ignoring ads. They’re forced upon us left, right and centre. So we’ve developed the ability to filter them out.
Free publicity, on the other hand, is very credible. Someone else (a journalist) is saying these things about your business. And you can’t pay them to do that, so people take notice. But the downside to this is that, while you can influence what is being said about you (by demonstrating your knowledge, impeccable service, etc), you can’t control what will actually be said.
Why do you need free publicity?
While you don’t need free publicity, it can be a great way to grow your business without spending a fortune on advertising.
You get free publicity by making story suggestions to the media. If they like them, they will promote those stories to their readers & listeners.
You can use free publicity to:
- Build brand awareness
- Drive traffic to your website
- Stand out in a crowded marketplace
- Change perceptions about your business
- Educate or influence potential clients
- Give your business credibility
- Make sure lots of people hear your good stories
- Generate word of mouth publicity
- Deal with a crisis
However, while it can be extremely simple to generate free publicity for your MSP, there's a reason that you don’t see all of your competitors splashed across your local media outlets.
And this is it: Most people overcomplicate things.
Have you heard of KISS (not the 70s rock band)? It stands for Keep It Simple… Sunshine 😃
This acronym could have been coined for PR.
The more you complicate or overthink it, the harder it is to get results. Lucky for you, I’ve created the 5 golden rules of free publicity for MSPs. Stick to these and you’ll get it right…
The 5 golden rules of free publicity for MSPs
1.Know your target audience and deliver to it
Journalists are super-focused on their audience. If their readers, listeners or viewers want to know about something, they’ll create content about it. If they don't, they won't. Simple as that.
If you want publicity about something the audiences won't be interested in, the journalists won’t be interested. And yes, they are the decision makers based on years of experience seeing what subjects get the best reaction from the audience.
Let's assume your target audience is business owners and managers in your local area or niche. Take the time to learn exactly what your target audience is interested in and fit your story suggestions with that. When you get this right, it makes it so much easier to convince a journalist to run your story.
Don’t worry, I’ll get to ideas for story suggestions later on.
2. Be so different that you naturally catch attention
Any business that sees any level of commercial success has managed to differentiate itself from its competitors. It’s no different when you want free publicity.
Your story suggestions need ‘standoutability’. Yes, I made that word up, but it perfectly sums up what I’m talking about, don’t you think?!
Journalists receive literally hundreds of press releases every day. The vast majority end up being deleted. But if yours has that standoutability, it’s more likely to be noticed and picked up.
3. Position yourself as the number 1 expert
This is the single most effective idea in getting free publicity. If journalists know you’re an expert in your field, they’ll come to you time and time again for stories, to comment on news, and for quotes. You could quite literally get them doing all the work for you.
This also means that your clients and potential clients know that you’re an expert too. It doesn’t matter who is the one true expert on IT in your local area, what matters is who positions themselves that way first. Let that be you.
4. Give journalists what they want and need, when they want and need it
99% of press releases and story suggestions sent to journalists end up being ignored or deleted. In fact, many of this 99% don’t get read or even opened.
It’s because the people who write them don’t understand what the journalist wants, so they don’t (and can't) deliver.
Boo hoo for them. But this is your opportunity to fall into that 1% of people whose press releases are read and acted on. Because you do know what a journalist wants and needs (or at least you will do when you’ve read the rest of this guide). And you’ll be able to give it to them time after time after time, whenever you’ve got something interesting to communicate, or even if you need a bit of a boost in business.
It’s important to note here that when you do attract a journalist’s interest, you give them any follow up information they ask for as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s really easy to lose media attention if you don’t act fast to help a journalist do their job. Imagine them bring like a client. Fulfill their needs as quickly as you can, before they get fed up and go elsewhere.
5. Generate creative and imaginative story ideas
Again, this doesn’t have to be hard. There are a few easy ways to generate great story ideas, even if you don’t consider yourself to be the most creative of people.
You simply need the right strategies to help you generate ideas.
How to spot a great PR opportunity, and what actions to take
Journalists - especially local media journalists - have to generate a lot of content. A LOT.
Take newspapers for example. Times are changing, and now instead of journalists working on articles for a paper that's published once a week, they have to churn out a constant flow of articles to publish online, daily.
That means that finding good stories is increasingly difficult.
I should know. I was a journalist for 13 years before I got into marketing. I would often spend evenings at my radio station sitting with my head in my hands, stressing because I didn’t have any news for the breakfast show the next day. And this isn’t unusual, even today.
But although the way we consume news is changing, there is still a real hunger for local news. Local journalism is no longer just in the papers and on the radio stations. It's online along with everything else, on websites, blogs, and social media.
The good thing about this? It gives you and your business more of an opportunity. More content is being produced to faster deadlines. And that means people who give local media the right kinds of stories are far more likely to hog that valuable free publicity for themselves.
Even better, it’s highly likely that your competitors don’t realise that journalists need help to generate this content. Heck, few business owners at all realise this. It’s not about having great contacts or a good PR firm on your payroll. All you really need is a great story, and the ability to communicate it to the journalist.
So what exactly makes a great story, you ask?
Sometimes a great story can fall into your lap. Follow the news and something will crop up at least once a month (the way news about cyber crime is increasing, it could be every week). Let's take a very emotive example - supply chain attacks. I realise these understandably scare you, but they are also a huge marketing opportunity for you, in your role as the expert IT support company owner.
Before you think it, this isn’t taking advantage or cashing in on a disaster. It’s about understanding how ordinary business owner readers think, and providing them with some reassurance and education on a scary issue the media will already be talking about.
Compared to your clients and prospects, you’re not normal. No offence 😃 When it comes to IT and data security, you’ve probably forgotten more than most people will ever know about the subject. Even if some of these readers are tech enthusiasts, most of them don’t know what they don’t know. They’re not immersed in IT every day in the same way that you are. They don’t read the blogs or stay up to date with industry news. They’re too focused on the business thing that they’re expert at.
So when a supply chain attack is splashed all over the national and even global news, they’re going to be unsure and fall back on an emotional response. "Could this affect my business? Is my data safe? Will this happen to me? Can I trust my suppliers?"
They simply can’t make a cognitive decision about the impact of this piece of news, because they don’t have the right information to hand.
But here’s where you come in. When something like this happens - or indeed any big tech news that people are talking about - there are 5 PR activities I recommend you do, quickly.
1. Reassure existing clients
In a case like this, you can explain how a supply chain attack works and that this particular incident is unlikely to affect them.
Side note: In the event this is one of your vendors that has been compromised and it could affect your clients, of course you wouldn't use this as a PR or marketing opportunity. Then you have to communicate to clients in a completely different way, being honest with them about what's happened, how it happened, how it affects them and what happens next. Transparency counts for everything and will protect your long-term reputation in a situation like this.
Create a basic Q&A about the situation and publish it somewhere on your website. You can include a link to this in your email and stress that this form of attack is increasing in popularity, so they need to be aware of the situation.
Stress in your email that if they have any concerns, that they can contact your help desk for a risk assessment. People are more motivated by the fear of loss than the opportunity to gain, so your technicians may find themselves a little busier than usual after an email like this goes out.
And though it may be unlikely that you’ll have to take any action based on the issue at hand, it’s possible that your techs will find something else that needs addressing instead. Leveraging this kind of news can also be a really effective way of reactivating clients who have been quiet for a while.
2. Email your prospect database to warn them
If you’re doing the basics of good business marketing, you’ve got an email database of:
- People who’ve given your their contact details through your website
- And people who’ve enquired but never bought
- And people you've met at events and pocketed their business card
(As a quick aside, if you don’t have a marketing list like this, start creating one now. Pull in all your business cards, gather emails from people who’ve contacted you before, anyone who’s come in via your website, etc., and add them all to a list in your CRM. Grow this daily by adding contact details of people when you get them, and you’ve got yourself a great list of leads for future marketing activities.)
Send this list of people a link to your Q&A, too. But for this group of people, make the call to action a little different.
Perhaps you could offer a complimentary remote security and data review? Or even a paid-for strategic review on-site? Something that gets you a foot in the door, enables you to meet the decision makers, and to demonstrate your expertise. It’s highly likely you’ll identify an issue that you can help with, which opens up a conversation about your other services.
3. Educate your social media audience
Shout about your Q&A on your social media channels and encourage all of your followers/friends/connections to share the link to their audience too.
You may even consider boosting your Facebook post for this kind of thing. It’s a really cost effective way of reaching a larger target audience of decision makers, while giving them some genuinely helpful information.
4. Educate the local media
Remember those journalists with their heads in their hands? Well they’ve probably reported on this big supply chain attack story already. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they were able to offer some solid, expert advice for anyone who thinks they could be affected? Or to help give the ins and outs of the story to their readers, listeners, or viewers?
Call your local radio stations, newspapers, and news channels, and tell them (using this example) you’ve created a Q&A on the supply chain attack for anyone who's worried they may be affected, and to help keep everyone protected from this kind of attack in future.
Most of the journalists you contact will ask you to email over more information. Have something ready to go - the quicker you are to send something, the more likely it is to be used. And don’t think that you need a fancy press release ready for this kind of story. It’s nice, but it’s really not necessary, so long as you’re able to communicate what you've created clearly and concisely.
Yes there's a chance you’ll be ignored by the journalists. In fact it's a high chance! Sadly, this is the harsh reality of PR… much of your effort can and will be ignored. The important thing to remember is not to take it personally, and not to be put off trying again next time.
In the best case, you’ll get a short interview on the radio, or be featured in the paper, or even on the local news, discussing supply chain attacks and cyber security.
When this happens, make sure you put any coverage you receive on your social media and your website. Be aware, there are often copyright restrictions when doing this, so it may be that you need to post a link to the media outlet’s coverage instead of pasting their content into your website.
5.Prepare a response for next time
You know as well as I do that this type of supply chain security breach is going to happen again and again. If you want to create good, proactive marketing, you should create a PR response that’s ready to go the next time it happens.
If you want to take things a step further, you could create commentary for all kinds of security issues that are likely to hit the press. Think high profile ransomware attacks, phishing scams, brute force attacks, etc.
Remember, the businesses that win media coverage are normally the fastest ones to respond. Speed beats size these days, so if you can respond to a news story before your competitors you have a much better chance of getting a good revenue return on your investment.
How to become the local expert
Back when I was a journalist and radio presenter, I honestly can’t remember a single local IT support company that I gave publicity to. Most MSPs do it badly; if they even do it at all.
That's a great opportunity for you, because it means you’ve got a much better chance of winning the free publicity. Less competition pushes up your odds.
And here's the thing. If you successfully respond to enough of the right news stories at the right time, or generate enough good stories of your own (more on this in a minute), there may come a point when you can stop doing all the hard work and let the journalists come to you.
Because once you’ve demonstrated that you really do know what you’re talking about, you might be added to a journalist’s ‘little black book’ of contacts. That means if they’re reporting on a relevant story and need an expert comment, they’ll come to you for it.
Not only does that mean that the local press views you as the local expert, but it also has the potential to affect your reputation with your target audience. And may even generate new leads for you, too.
Sometimes great success comes from just showing up.
How to generate your own PR story suggestions
Sometimes, something may be happening within your business that your local press may have a genuine interest in. Perhaps you’re offering local businesses a free guide to help them spot phishing emails. Or maybe you just foiled your 1,000th ransomware attack. For stories like this, you’ll want to create your own press release.
It’s important to note that you don’t always need a press release. Often, picking up the phone is a more effective way to communicate your story. But usually a journalist will ask for more information, so it’s a good idea to have a press release, or even an email, ready to go.
If you haven’t created a press release before, it can feel a little daunting. That's OK. It's actually quite a simple thing. There are some simple guidelines that, when followed, will ensure you’re covering all the vital elements of a release. The most important thing to remember is that you get the basics right and communicate the whole story without missing any crucial information.
Every press release you create should have:
- An attention-grabbing headline that tells the story basics
- A good opening paragraph that grabs the journalist’s attention
- A main body that spells out the story and answers the 5 questions below
- Quotes from someone relevant to the story (ideally you, the expert MSP owner)
- A notes to editors section at the end of the press release. This is where you can leave contact details for a spokesperson on the story without fear they'll be published
You must answer these 5 questions for every story you want to tell:
Who is the story about?
What have they done / are they going to do?
Where did / will it happen?
When did /will it happen?
Why are you doing / did you do this thing? (this is the most important question)
Sometimes, you should also answer how the thing will happen, too.
Next, you need to pass the ‘So What?’ test.
When a journalist looks at your press release, they’ll think “so what?”. Or "who gives a damn?".
They’ll want to work out how relevant it is to their audience. And if your story doesn’t answer this in seconds, it’ll be deleted with all of the other unusable press releases.
Sometimes you can be so close to something that it stops making any sense to you anymore. The same goes for a press release. So if you can, ask someone who has nothing to do with your business to take a look at the release before you send it. Ask them for their honest feedback, and see if they can answer the above questions.
Now it’s time to ask yourself some questions.
First, what do you want to achieve with your free publicity? There’s no point in doing it for the sake of it. You need a clear goal in mind to measure whether it was worth the time you invested into getting it, and to see whether it would be worth doing again. Will it help you reach a goal? Will you get some new leads from it? Will it give your MSP increased credibility?
Have you told the whole story with your press release? If you’ve left something out it could be very obvious, and the reader will feel that something isn’t quite right.
Can your target audience relate? As an example, if your target audience is local business owners, a story about knitting won’t appeal to most of them 😃
Is the story good enough? Remember golden rule #2? Does your story set you apart from the rest? Does it have standoutability?
Leaving press releases to one side for a moment, it’s a good idea to apply the ‘So What?’ test to all of your marketing. It will really make a difference.
Some specific story creation ideas
When it comes to story ideas, some are so powerful that they generate publicity for businesses year after year after year. In my media career I kept seeing variations of these ideas come up, and kept giving free publicity to the businesses behind them! Perhaps you could try some of these for your MSP?
Here they are.
Be the first, the newest, the oldest, the biggest, the smallest
Different is great. Journalists get sent a constant stream of “average” all day long - so make sure you stand out.
Introduce something new or improved
Make it clear what’s better and why, and what problem it solves.
Mark the passage of time
Has it been 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years since something significant happened?
Win a big contract
Don’t be afraid to boast – big contracts attract other big contracts.
Offer free information
The years of experience you have in your profession makes you an expert. Journalists and readers appreciate an expert’s opinion
Offer a series of articles
Share your expertise and help a newspaper or magazine fill column inches with interesting new content. Don’t worry too much about your writing skills; they employ sub-editors to worry about that.
Survey your clients
Find out what people think about specific issues (related to your business). Ask enough of their target audience, and the media won’t be able to resist.
Spot a trend and comment on it
Turn yourself into a commentator on your industry. Remember that few people except other IT support experts know about the stuff you read on the IT websites. There's an endless source of ideas there for you.
Journalists get a constant stream of boring, predictable corporate press releases. Be anti-corporate. Don’t be afraid to stand out.
Now, if you’re satisfied with your story and you’ve answered all of your questions, you’re ready to send your press release. But who do you send it to?
How to send a press release to your target media
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, right? When it comes to PR at our level of business... wrong!
If your story is good enough and if you’ve answered all of the above questions with your press release or email... you really, really don't need to know anyone. The story suggestion will catch people's attention for you.
To find the right people to send your story to, you just need to do a little searching.
First you’ll need to decide which media sector your audience consumes. If your target audience is local, look at your local media. If you’re looking for decision makers within a vertical or niche, you’ll want to look at the relevant trade magazines. If you’re after your peers, you’ll look at the tech press, like Computing, or IT Pro.
Google the names of the media outlets, find their websites, and go to the contacts page.
Then it’s simply a case of looking for the most relevant contact information. A general email address is OK, but ideally you should look for a specific journalist to send the press release to. Most journalists prefer email, so while it’s a good idea to call on the phone first, you will usually be asked to email over the information anyway.
Once you have all of your contacts prepared, you’re ready to go.
If you’re sending your release to just one journalist, you’re fine to use your usual email account. However, if you plan to send it out to several contacts at once, I’d recommend using an email marketing tool like Mailchimp or MailerLite. This allows you to send to multiple contacts at once, while still looking like a personal, individual email. There are free options available.
Never send an attachment, unless you’ve specifically been asked to (if you’ve been asked to supply photos of an event, for example). It will significantly reduce the likelihood of your press release being read (you know the dangers of opening unsolicited attachments 😃).
Copy your headline into the email subject box, and the bulk of the release into the body. Great... you’re ready to hit send!
The 3 biggest PR mistakes to avoid
1.Using stories that aren’t good enough
Please always bear in mind that journalists don’t care about you or your business. Harsh, but true. All they’re interested in is good stories that are of interest to their audience. So it doesn’t matter how great your story is... if it’s not going to interest their audience, you’re out of luck.
2.Giving up after one try
Think of it like this: if you send 100 direct mail letters and stop because it didn’t work for you, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for your business. You simply haven’t found how to make it work for you YET.
The same applies to PR. Just because one story isn’t picked up, doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. Not every press release you send will be successful, but the more you do, the better your chances.
3. Not using PR to generate new leads
Make sure that any coverage you generate makes it really simple for the interested audience to find you. Then use that coverage to help generate more leads and to keep converting prospects for years to come.
And there we have it. If you’ve read this guide in full (well done), you’re now have a great basic grounding in PR for MSPs.
Next time you hear a news story that relates to what you do, or you have something exciting that you’d like to share with your local audience, try gaining a little free publicity from it.
Remember, don’t feel dejected if your first attempt isn’t successful, just try again next time. And if you do manage to gain some media coverage, I’d love you to share it with me!
You can email me any time: email@example.com