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How This Online School Is Turning Small-Business Owners Into Public-Relation Pros

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Imagine that you’ve started a business in an area where you’re skilled. You’ve put in time, energy and money, and now you realize you need to get your brand out into the world but you don’t know where to start. Sabina Hitchen’s insight might be able to help. Hitchen is the founder and CEO of PressforSuccess.com, a publicity school and membership community that serves thousands of entrepreneurs and small business owners around the country. She sat down with Jessica Abo to share her tips and tricks to help the press fall in love with your brand.

Jessica Abo: Sabina, what is PressforSuccess.com?

Sabina Hitchen: If you’re a small-business owner or entrepreneur, you can be the best at what you do, you can be the best graphic designer, the best cupcake-maker, but if nobody knows your business exists, you’re not going to survive or thrive, and that’s where publicity comes in.

For a long time, you either had to rely on Google and good luck, like the DIY way, or hire a publicist, which I highly recommend but they are a lot of money. There’s some overhead there, and to use them right, you’d have to commit for a long time.

The solution we came up with was Press for Success. It’s an online publicity school and membership community that helps entrepreneurs get press strategically and confidently. What we really have done is given them access, access to resources, education of all kinds, stream it, get it live, expert resources, publicity opportunities … everything you need to do and to have to run your own PR campaign, we’ve made for you.

How did your previous life as an educator play a role in developing this course?

I worked in education, I worked in curriculum design, but then I knew teaching high school was not meant for me. Fast forward, and I moved to New York City. I started a publicity agency after working in public relations (PR) there, and that’s really where two powerful things happened for me: Number one, I really anchored into how essential and powerful publicity is for businesses. I also saw, as somebody who wasn’t just a publicist but also was a small business owner, an entrepreneur herself, I saw that so many people didn’t have access to it.

Like so many entrepreneurs, I was doing publicity as an agency and then I was teaching it and speaking about it and talking about it everywhere from my apartment to coffee shops, and then it became bigger and bigger stages. I was basically drawing on my previous career as an educator and my current career as a publicist, and I married those two. And that’s where Press for Success really was born, where we create more than just a course. It’s a thriving educational community, it’s a hub for publicity support for small business owners all over the country, and it really came from this marriage of both of my careers — it’s just a reminder that wherever you start, you never know what you can take with you and really exponentially change your professional trajectory.

Let’s say someone is a small business owner. They might think, “I barely have time to do what I need to do on a daily basis to run my business, I don’t have time to learn about PR, let alone do my PR.” What do you want to say to that person?

First of all, I hear you, especially now when a lot of us are working from home and have so much added on. But I tell you this: You have spent so much time, money, energy, hope on this business, growing this business, creating this business, it would be a shame not to share it with the world. You need to share it with the world. You need people to find you, to discover you, to shop from you and now more than ever, you have access to the tools and resources, the information to help you do that. I can’t exaggerate enough how much of a tragedy it would be if you weren’t putting yourself out there when it’s so possible.

The second thing I will say is it’s really a tragedy for the rest of us, because if we can’t find your products and your services and your expertise and your books and everything else you’re trying to publicize, we miss out as well.

One of your mantras is “publicity is a possibility.” What do you mean by that?

Publicity is always a possibility, and I want small business owners and entrepreneurs to know that it’s not just for other people, it can be for you. Over at Press for Success, literally, we have thousands of students and we’ve seen success stories, local press, regional press, Oprah lists and morning shows. But, my favorites aren’t just the success stories that are about the publicity opportunities — my favorites are when entrepreneurs actually learn a skill set, because that’s where the real power is, right? Not just the one big moment in your local or national news, but learning the skill set so you can do it over and over again. To know that whenever you have a story, you know how to put it out there. That, to me, is the true measure of our success.

How do you see publicity for small businesses changing this year?

We used to often think of publicity in a silo or publicity in our marketing, but what I’ve been trying to encourage people to see now in 2021 is to really make sure your business is visible and getting exposure. Connecting with your potential and current customers and clients is publicity and content and community. It’s all sort of swirling together like a nice stew or some kind of good recipe, so you want to focus on your publicity. You want to find ways to connect that to the community you’re growing — the community around your business. I believe every business has to be its own content machine, so you’re connecting your publicity to your own content as well. What I’m really saying is publicity doesn’t live alone, it works in this big picture.

What are some of your go-to tips for people who are trying to land press starting today?

Here are a couple of things you can start doing as we are speaking. Everyone’s talking about all the new forms of social media, TikTok, Clubhouse, Reels, Snapchat, all this stuff, right? I want you to go back to good old-fashioned Twitter. Twitter is where so many journalists live, so you can reach out to them, you can get to know them, you can get their contact details and you can figure out what stories they’re working on.

Most journalists these days, like those for the Associated Press, different local and national news stations, are actually required to have things like Twitter and a professional Facebook account, so that’s going to give you the chance to connect. Because going beyond the context, what you really want is a relationship with the press, that’s what gives you that solid gold publicity, and that comes from connecting with them on social media. The first thing is to go back to Twitter and use it to mine relationships.

The second thing I want to tell you is to put more emphasis on getting to know your local news media and pitching your stories there, because in the past year, people have become so dependent on their local news for updates on everything from the pandemic to the election. They’re already connected to their local news and local news has now, more than ever, wanted to highlight local small business owners. So it’s a perfect storm for you to go to your local news, connect with them, find them on Twitter, find them on their professional Facebooks, and get ready to share your local small business story.

Do you recommend that people actually send the journalist on Twitter a tweet on their feed or try to send that person a direct message, and then how long do you like to wait after your first attempt before you reach out again?

Before you even think of pitching yourself, first say, “I’m going to engage with them so my name sounds familiar. I’m going to tweet with them, whatever they’re talking about. I’m going to respond. I’m going to start a conversation. Then after I’ve invested a little bit of time, even just a week, getting to know them, I’ve checked out the content they do so I’m not a stranger to the content they do, then I can introduce myself and say I’d love to share my story with you, would you prefer I do that on DM or maybe an email?”

I would ask permission first after you’ve already been engaging, and then if you don’t hear, wait a few days and follow up again. I’m a big believer that follow-up should happen within a few days because otherwise, so much time has passed and so much content has been thrown at them, they may have forgotten. Persistence and polite persistence is queen.

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