S2 #4: How to Climb the PR Ladder One Step at a Time with Annie Scranton

Joining me on the show this week is Annie Scranton. Her knowledge of PR is expansive, and she’s a pro at leveraging journalism to grow brand awareness and expand opportunities.

Because her boutique public relations agency in New York serves many health and health tech companies, she offers advice about how to begin using PR as a digital health startup.

Backstory

Annie began her career as a print journalist for a small newspaper firm, but it didn’t take long before she moved on to bigger and better experiences. She spent eight years working as a TV producer for most of the major national TV networks - Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, The Good Morning Show, and Good Morning America to name a few.

These opportunities, both in small and large organizations, gave her keen insight into PR and how to make it effective for companies that need to build a stronger following. That’s why she eventually started her own PR firm, known as Pace Public Relations, helping companies such as health tech startups gain more media attention.

Annie Scranton

Why are trade publications important?

For first-timers, it’s easy to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to who publishes the first piece featuring their company. In other words, they often want their first PR experience to be with a big, well-known publication. And while it’s good to have high expectations for digital health marketing, according to Annie, there’s a more strategic way to climb the PR ladder.

The key is trade publications. Sure, they may be smaller and have fewer audience members, but they have a high concentration of your peers. Since building respect and credibility from peers is the first step towards better opportunities, this is a vital step towards getting your first breakout story with larger readerships like Fast Company, INC, or Tech Crunch.

Another benefit of trade publications is that they’re not bogged down by mainstream consumers. As a result, they can go more in depth with your story.

Plus, once you get published with a trade publication, you can also use that article to pitch another mainstream outlet. This won’t be infringing on rights because these trade publications and mainstream media aren’t competitors.

How do you find these publications?

You find trade publications the same way anybody finds anything these days - Google. After you discover them, since many of these are small niche healthcare publications, you can call them and ask for the name of everyone on their editorial board.

From there, pitching is strongly linked with relationships. Annie noted that when she was a journalist and producer she was inundated by hundreds of pitches every day. Needless to say, the pitches reporters notice are the ones tied to personal relationships.

Here’s the pecking order Annie gave for jumpstarting relationships with people you’ve never met before.

  1. Discover the publication

  2. Hone in on 1-2 handpicked reporters

  3. Get to know these reporters through social media

  4. Read every article they’ve ever written

  5. Send a brief pitch email that applauds their work

How do you build a campaign around PR?

Annie recommends starting small if you’re just getting into PR. Begin with the top five publications you want to be featured in and take the steps listed above.

When you’re trying to hone in on specific reporters, you want to look for articles they’ve written that would make them more likely to cover your story. For instance, if you’re technology is designed specifically for prenatal care and maintenance, you want to find journalists in the trade publication who tend to write pieces on this topic.

The benefit of focusing on two writers is that you can really get to know their work and get the conversation moving in the right direction. Even though it may take a while for them to respond to emails, they typically will reply. Then you can use the information you glean from this interaction to fuel more pitches.

Top tips for successful pitches

According to Annie, you want to keep pitches short and to the point. Avoid cliches, but really emphasize how this story could benefit the readership and bottom line of the publication.

In other words, what’s the payoff for publishing your idea or highlighting your company? Since reporters are only as good as their last story, your service to them is that you’re giving them a story that will hopefully resonate with viewers.

In all of this, you want to be as authentic as possible. For example, if you’re not really following their articles, it’ll be obvious in your pitch. By referencing one of their articles that you learned from, you can compare and promote similarities between their work and your own company’s story.

Be compelling but don’t overstate

It’s important to remember that while you may flatter in pitches you shouldn’t be overstating what your company does. Never put anything out there that isn’t totally true.

But what if you find yourself stuck with topics that don’t seem interesting. Annie says you can add interest by thinking broadly. Look for a larger narrative that fits with your story. For instance, what’s going on politically? Are there any national trends or statistics that connects with your company’s mission?

For instance, you can use the direction of future national healthcare to frame your pitch. Consider larger narratives such as these.

  • Will there be a return to a national conversation surrounding healthcare in the administration?

  • Are there any upcoming dates that Congress will be voting on health related bills?

  • Is it open enrollment time for health insurance?

In other words, there are data points that you can leverage to add interest to the solution your digital health company offers while magnifying its repercussions.

PR done well

Annie reflected on a sticky PR situation she encountered a few years ago. Pace Public Relations works with a leading fertility center called New Hope Fertility Center.

Dr. John Zhang, one of the most well known pioneers in the industry, had just developed cutting edge technology that allowed for a three parent birth. It involved gathering DNA from three different adults to create the embryo. (Side note: this technology helps women who have Mitochondrial Disease avoid passing it to their baby.)

However, this technique posed potential moral and ethical questions - questions that could prevent this research from ever reaching the right people. Pace needed to frame this discovery in a positive light. So they found one leading science publication to publish the story.

The reporter presented the facts in a no-nonsense, scientific way, allowing the research to speak for itself. In the end, there wasn’t a lot of backlash. Instead, the discovery was met with surprising excitement as dozens of publications reached out wanting to publish similar stories. This allowed the Pace to pick and choose which publications could present the evidence in a forthcoming way.

Obviously, not all health tech stories are this big, but that doesn’t mean PR can’t help you gain traction. For starters, you need to really look into the readership. Is the publication geared toward a particular region? Or is it focused on a specific subset of the population like women? By gearing your content towards the viewers, you’ll get traction more quickly.

What do most people get wrong?

The top two things Annie sees people get wrong with PR are…

  1. Not reading any articles from the publication they’re pitching

  2. Pitching in a way that comes off as salesly or demanding

In the first case, if you don’t know the focus of the publication, your pitch won’t be convincing. Plus, without reading any articles from specific reporters, you have very little basis on which to found a personal pitch.

For the second misstep, you need to know that reporters don’t make a lot of money and face crazy deadlines. The one thing they control is deciding what they do or do not write about. So give deference to them in your pitch.

How can PR and trade publications affect startups revenue?

PR is cumulative - qualitative not quantitative. A lot of revenue boosting strategies out there have metrics to back them up such as SEO, direct marketing, or sales.

But with PR even if you get recognized in a large publication, that doesn’t mean it will directly show up in your bottom line. That being said, even though PR doesn’t offer any direct guarantees, without it people may never know who you are. Plus, it raises your legitimacy and credibility in your field.

At some point, every company needs to invest in PR. Because if you don’t, you’re probably going to read an article that promotes a similar competitor, and you’re going to be wondering why you never tried.

Must-read book

One of Annie’s favorite authors is Pat Conroy. A well-known American author, he sets most of his stories in the south (which also happens to be one of Annie’s favorite regions of the country).

The Prince of Tides is one of the stories Annie’s enjoyed the most. And while these stories may not have anything to do with business strategy, she’s found them to be a nice escape when she has a chance to relax, refreshing her for her next PR venture.

Want to connect with Annie? Find her here:

www.pacepublicrelations.com/

Twitter: @anniescranton

LinkedIn: Annie Scranton

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