If you’ve already read the Technori article on PR basics written by my friend and colleague Rebekah Iliff, you understand the value of PR and know you need it for your brand. If you haven’t yet read it, go ahead and take a minute to do so now before we get started.

…Okay, let’s begin!

More and more entrepreneurs are choosing to handle their own public relations for many reasons. Obviously, there is a cost savings, but what is more important than any financially-driven motive is that you should do your own PR (until you have outgrown the DIY model or have the budget to bring in the pros). Why? No one is more passionate about your brand, and no one knows it as well as you. And here’s a secret—a big one that those PR firms and consultants won’t share. You actually can do your own PR; quite successfully, in fact. After all, it’s PR, not ER…a medical license is not required.

So, where do you start? First things first:

Identify your target audience. 

Who are you trying to reach? Please don’t say “everyone!” I applaud that type of ambition, but there are just a few brands out there with true universal appeal. So let’s take a step back, put on our realistic pants, and hone in on a more targeted demographic—say, something less broad than “North America.” Chances are, you identified a more specific audience as you were developing your product or service. That will be the intended target for your public relations outreach.

Your target list should be broad and all-encompassing of your industry (for example: sports), but also specific (badminton), and even niche (badminton apparel). Keep in mind that you may not be able to reach each target your first time out of the PR gate (In fact, you will need to tweak your press materials and pitches for each category. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—all of this will be explained in upcoming articles!). So, prioritize your categories in order of importance.

Next, think like your target audience. 

Now that your targets have been identified, you need to think like your audience in terms of media. Specifically, what media are they reading, watching, or listening to? You probably already have a pretty good idea, but be sure to put some muscle behind that list—do some research and vet your candidates. This is another place where priorities are key. I counsel clients to break this list into two main categories: “Immediate Targets” and “PR Nirvana.” Again, this is a time when you need to be a realistic optimist with your plan. I was one of many publicists who celebrated Oprah Winfrey’s retirement from her talk show in 2011 because I knew I was never again going to have to listen to one more client tell me on day one of our PR collaboration: “I should be on Oprah.”

As an entrepreneur myself, I know that we need to be our own biggest cheerleaders. I shout that concept from the rooftops with pom-poms in hand! But we also need to apply common sense; a concept as simple as “crawl before you walk.” Instead of starting with Oprah (or whoever you deem her 2013 counterpart to be), how about making a plan that begins with a list of “immediate targets” that will eventually lead you to “PR nirvana,” as opposed to trying to begin with your dream PR target? Do you expect to be among the Forbes 500 within six months? Probably not. And the same goes for your initial media coverage.

I talk with my clients a lot about what I call the low-hanging fruit in the world of media relations. Why not start with what is right in front of you? Your hometown probably has a paper that would love to cover a story about how a local has started a new business venture; and the same goes for the community where you live now. Don’t forget your trade media! If you are a new player in your field, trust me—your industry wants to know who you are. Conquer this first and then we can talk about calling the Oprahs of the media world.

Do your research.

Now we’re making some progress! The audience is solidified and you have your immediate media targets in place. Time to hire a skywriter and let everyone know what you are up to, right? Not so fast!

Have you ever received a call from an uninformed sales person who is peddling the exact same thing you offer, or even better, the exact opposite of what you need (ex: medical supplies for a bakery….hmmm, I wonder how that works exactly…)? The same approach applies for media outreach; you need to do your homework before your first pitch is delivered. Using your new target media list, you need to become your intended audience and consume, consume, consume!

Get to know what these outlets are covering (and what they avoid), how they approach stories, their tone, and who covers what “beat” or topic (you never want to pitch the weather reporter a business story idea). I usually recommend reviewing a minimum of three issues of monthly magazines and at least one month of weeklies and dailies/websites. And if you don’t have time to wait for the collection to be compiled? Review past articles online. The key here is to really understand and get to know these outlets before you pitch them. If there is a website that only covers grapes and you pitch them a story on oranges, you can pretty much guarantee they will flag you and any future pitches you send as clueless—that’s me putting it politely.

FYI – An article on proper pitch protocol is heading your way in a few weeks. And, yes, you have time to wait for it. Remember, you are going to be busy researching your target media outlets in the meantime!

You will also want to start stocking your PR toolbox as you embark upon your new venture. The Associated Press Stylebook is an A-to-Z guide to every rule of writing, from grammar and punctuation, to numbers (is it “1” or “one”?) and titles. As your PR side project progresses, you will notice that you’ll need to do a fair amount of writing (sorry to break it to all you left-brainers), and this book will become your bible. You’ll also want to sign up for HARO (Help A Reporter Out), one of the greatest PR resources (and it’s free!). HARO sends you three emails a day with blurbs from real reporters seeking sources for stories in every category imaginable. When you spot one that matches you, simply reply to the link with your information, and if the reporter is interested, you will be on your way to securing media coverage.

So, remember: here are the two things you should do first when creating your startup PR plan:

  1. Define your audience
  2. Identify the media outlets. Get to know them inside and out.

This will prep you for the next article I write: how to create stellar media lists.