By Karina Foo
Being a journalist for eight years has taught me a thing or a two about press releases. They are a pain to read – usually cold, impersonal and uninteresting, except for a few very creative exceptions.
I have worked with the creme de creme of Malaysian publications such as The Malaysian Reserve, The Malay Mail, The New Straits Times and The Star.
But it was VERY different then, as I was on the receiving end, it was really up to me to access when the release was good enough to see print.
Yes, that was my attitude.
Of course, this was what most journalists would do, not just me.
It was just so easy to let it get to my head.
However, the tables were turned when I was sending press releases making cold calls to publications to get my new business some much-needed publicity.
This time, the grass wasn’t quite greener on the other side.
I learned that writing press releases was painful but necessary to write.
I realised that my experience of dealing with the press releases as a journalist had helped.
But before we get into that, let me tell you how press releases helped propel my own business, LadyBold Athletic Wear, beyond my wildest expectations.
It started as a dare from my dear husband.
I used to lament that many of the fitness brands were plain and boring.
I remarked to him that I could do better.
Well, he unexpectedly challenged me to prove it!
Being the person that I am, I accepted his challenge and therein started the long-drawn journey of mind in starting LadyBold.
I am originally from Malaysia but have been living in Australia for 11 years.
Instead of starting the business in my home country, I decided to start my bespoke fashion brand here, in Melbourne, as I’d just moved back to this city after living in Malaysia for a couple of years.
The brand started in September 2014.
But by the time I had finished conceptualizing the label and designing, I got my first shipment out at the start of the following year -early January 2015.
Looking back, I can say I was boldly tenacious (pun intended) because I didn’t have a business plan in mind.
My very simple goal was – I have to sell this stuff, no matter what it takes!
So I proposed my business idea to a few people who I thought would support me but they didn’t believe in the product.
That fired me up even more.
After such encounters, I used AUD$5,000 from my savings to start the business which included 100 pieces of the bespoke yoga pants with my hand-drawn designs.
What happened next, was rather unexpected.
I had no business degree or knew how to run a business, but I broke-even within the first five months.
I’d like to attribute that to my ability to craft a mean proposal to newspaper and magazine editors, but it was also good timing and luck on my side.
I was given free features in more than 10 Australian media outlets.
The first feature landed in The Herald Sun, followed by The Age, Fitness First Australia Magazine, Women’s Health and Fitness and Shape Magazine Australia to name a few.
Mind you, these were all some of the top publications in Australia.
The Malaysian media gave me a lot of solid publicity through publications, TV and radio interviews, but as I’ve been a journalist there it was easy to get my story across since I had some good and helpful connections.
In Australia, I knew no one.
All my pitches were done through cold emails and awkward phone calls.
I bit the bullet and did all the publicity myself because I couldn’t afford the luxury of paying for a public relations company to handle the media publicity for me.
My business operates at a lean level where I designed the website, social media platforms and even modelled the clothing myself until I had my awesome friends to help out!
Anyway, what did I do to get into the publications I wanted?
I’d scope the magazines to get a real feel of the publications that I wanted my brand to appear in (you can flip through them at your supermarket or news agency).
This involved looking at it cover by cover and page by page.
Next, I made it a point to locate the name of the editor as I didn’t want to write a generic email that started with “Dear Sir/Madam”, or worse “To whom it may concern” as that’ll get binned straight away.
Instead, I asked myself: “What would a newspaper editor or magazine producer want to hear?”
With this in mind, I wrote each email with a very personal story on how I created the brand, why I believe that it was the next big thing.
Most importantly I described why their readers would love the bespoke designs and how featuring Lady Bold would enhance the image of their publication by featuring an up and coming designer of unique, never seen apparel.
Support small, support local. Yay!
It was something that I think resonated with most of the editors, resulting in the number of the high volume of publicity I got.
I was once flown to Sydney for a photoshoot and interview with an editor for a renowned magazine.
I think writing a personalised email was the trick in getting my press release being picked up, being worthy enough for a response.
You have to invest the time in this and please don’t send a generic email and expect your story to be featured.
It takes a lot more than that.
Don’t make your emails sound sales-like and desperate.
Editors can smell desperation.
Just leave your email sign-offs with a simple thought of action: “Look forward to speaking with you soon!”
Still, waiting to hear from them? Pick up the phone and call them.
I hated doing this as an introvert but the conversions were great.
I spoke to the editors and their PA’s like friends and I guess they sensed I wasn’t desperate, just hopeful.
After all the resounding number of media write-ups, I had for the year, the business that I created as a challenge was thrown by my husband was doing so well as it was my main source of income for the whole 2015/16 financial year.
I have since had a son and now run Lady Bold alongside my content production business, where I assist my clients with copywriting, visual and website design, video editing and social media content.
I can’t guarantee that every entrepreneur will score free write-ups just by developing a really solid story and being personable with editors because times have changed.
Media outlets have become very competitive and many would want you to pay for a feature.
But I can say that if you did put considerable effort in researching who you’re writing to, thinking about how they’ll benefit from featuring you – that itself will give you a higher chance for a call back for a free feature.
Best of Luck!