How to get featured in USA Today like the PR pros
Written by Angel Mora
Absolutely all marketing portals seem packed with the same advice: Prior to even considering launching and promoting an offer, you need to follow a route that complies with the overall objectives of your business. This should cover aspects such as internal and external contexts; also known as a communication plan, USA Today-style.
Let’s be honest.
All of us at some point have witnessed the launching of “the next big thing” or the viral-component that a press article gets, and elt some level of envy. So much so that the usual question we have is “How do I replicate that with my own business or brand?”
The USA Today effect
During the past 2 years, advisers and influencers have popularized the thought that there is only one single communication plan capable of effectively approaching your target audience and standing out from the competition, and that is “going viral”. Such a plan usually involves paid surveys, invasive programs, projects, PR campaigns (both in the short and long term), and advertising.
However, there’s usually a common goal: to obtain media coverage in prestigious sites such as USA Today based on social media shock, praise and even backlash, as is the case with youtuber Jake Paul before looting accusations in the middle of the tense political scenario facing the Donald Trump government.
That’s why in today’s post I decided to prove these are nothing but inaccurate and dangerous ideas meant for discouraging rising entrepreneurs, and instead teach how to boost your brand’s presence earning a place on USA today off of just the resources already available in current technology.
Let’s start by demystifying USA Today and what clout really means.
- From conventional to exceptional
Being USA Today formerly the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, it would be very logical to believe that it is still a platform reserved for rigid communicators and scandals.
But the reality is that today it is a website with a very wide target with very good performance on social networks. This gives it 3 characteristics that make it a very convenient platform to reach out to:
- Social: Readers as well as users who surround the medium do so because the information shared is reliable and has a human burden. The qualities that the online presence of your brand must have.
- Transparency: As can be seen in the article They maintain a transparency policy, so they do not participate in sponsored advertising. This allows you a fundamental advantage when it comes to finding a spontaneous access route for both Google and your target audience.
- Outreach: with more than 150 million visitors, it is at the top of the options when it comes to giving visibility and platform to your corporate narrative.
- The real secret behind the “pro” tag
At this point it is more than clear that the barriers of Marketing and Public Relations have been blurred, going from being independent branches in businesses to become interchangeable assignments. Nowadays the first one accomplishes more than mere selling and the second provides more benefits than just networking.
That said, one of the great myths behind the big corp relies on the positioning practices. With such a convergent PR and marketing model, they “can be everywhere, do everything.” At least that’s what “pros” and gurus seem to do looking from the outside.
That’s supposed to be the archetype of every business looking forward to succeeding, right?
According to recent studies, With 582 million managers in total globally and 25 million starting new projects each year, the failure rates are at an alarming state as they’ve officially surpassed the 25% barrier.
Such a distorted view of reality omits how the vast majority of companies can’t count on millionaire budgets or the visibility required to compete under equitable conditions with the “pros”; and that the role of extravagant campaigns is to strengthen a previously-settled reputation, not build it from scratch.
On the other hand, taking a closer look at corporate success from its roots, we can see there is a functional and adaptable scheme that can be replicated in our own communication plan. This is comprised of 3 major phases:
- Market study
- Brand message
- Coordinated actions
The great lesson you need to take on from this is: Market “Pros” are not because they “made it” overnight, but rather they put effort into accomplishing realistic goals.
Ergo, if you want your communication plan to work and receive that long-awaited USA Today feature, you must first understand how each of the previous phases works, and then apply them to the reality of your company.
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3 keys for developing a communication plan
- Market research
Make sure to take the time and carry out an introspective diagnosis of your corporate situation, as well as the external dynamics of the industry. The goal is to find out what are the commercial risks and opportunities available.
The methodology I recommend the most covers organizational aspects, the performance of the competition, consumption patterns, and valuation of the communication channels regarding the public’s interest – in other words: advantages, disadvantages, and challenges.
- Advantages: This section is meant to highlight all those elements in which you outperform the competition.
Regardless of how new your proposal may be, it still makes part of a demand previously supplied by other offers, and that is something news portals take very seriously. In the same way, no business is free of weak flanks, so there are niches ignored by your competition that your brand can attend.
These may be that your offer provides delivery service instead of the face-to-face exchange (very convenient these days), the company has the ground to expand on a national level and is not limited to local operations only; or that the reputation of your brand has not yet been stained by any backlash or complaints.
An introspective study that covers these topics will help you to:
- Define the stage your business is in.
- State what you can provide to potential customers
- Catalog the benefits that can be exploited to differentiate yourself from businesses appealing to a similar target audience.
- Classify the aspects within your approach that need to be polished or modified.
- Disadvantages: In contrast to the previous case, a disadvantage analysis grants a detailed and precise view of arguments and brand concepts that may affect your growth in the digital landscape.
Perfection does not exist. So, accept the fact that there are weak links in the foundations of your startup or small company, even if you already have a small base of customers and followers on social media. There is always room for improvement; and who has a better grasp on than you (the one carrying out these operations) what are the least favorable characteristics of your product or service?
- Are you running a sole proprietorship or do you count on a limited team?
- What is your response capacity?
- Do you lack business allies?
- Is the experience you offer inherently inferior to that of your rivals?
Take these principles as motivation, after all it doesn’t matter (that much) what you sell but how you do so, this is something that companies like Apple understand very well.
- Setbacks: These are the obstacles that stand between your current position and the meta-objective (succeeding) that are beyond your control.
At the time when you signed up for this job you assumed that there is no linear, unflappable growth, also that there is no such thing as a full command. There are endless circumstances that exceed the possibilities of the brand. In that case, observe:
- On what level does the shift in recent consumption patterns affect you?
- What are the new commercial opportunities that are opening for your company and which ones are closing?.
- What communication channels prevail in the current environment.
- Should you rethink your offer momentarily or wait?
So far in 2020, businessmen have had to row against the current in aspects such as security, customer service, economic stability, and even political measures. But even in that panorama, projects emerge and conquer market sectors. But the ones accumulating all the headlines in USA today’s mainpage are those brands that don’t hold back.
And this is exactly the point that leads us to the next topic.
- Brand message
Mind that, as a leader, you own the power to decide what are the objectives that make up your ideal situation, these can be as broad or specific as you aspire, and how you will reach them is through the effectiveness achieved by your communications efforts.
Accordingly, there are 4 overall priorities:
- Reputation: If you have just begun the positioning efforts, you’re probably interested in starting to build the brand’s reputation from scratch. But more important is to keep it. A unified image can penetrate the consciousness of the target audience accurately.
- Management: On the other hand, you must prepare to manage or anticipate crises, since in the digital ecosystem these are quite frequent questions.
- Opinion: While reputation is a status that precedes the offer, opinions, and beliefs that audiences take around the brand vary constantly. Your job is to reinforce, and strengthen perception standards.
- Promotion: As part of the identity that the company embodies, push the need for its product or service within audiences.
After contemplating the above elements, you have all the ingredients to start developing a brand message that meets the prototypical requirements. This is based on the purpose of transmitting the aforementioned message via the content surrounding the offer.
On the other side, I want to emphasize the importance of avoiding making the one mistake that many businesspeople make constantly, and that is pretending to sell their message to every single person available. Instead, the goal is to push the story on your brand and make it noticeable for USA Today’s readers.
While initially appealing to everybody may sound logical for winning the most customers, in reality the less specific the message is, the less influence it will have (and the less important is going to be when considered for a press coverage). Remember that online success is related to solidity and consistency – the ultimate one-on-one connection.
But then how do you get your message to be specific?
By developing your buyer persona through KPIs. Ask yourself, according to the characteristics of your offer:
- How do your ideal clients behave? Internet users trace a particular media consumption path depending on the economic sector, age, and even gender.
- What are their most common needs and questions? When you research the keywords most related to the business you’ll obtain great insight into what the most popular needs in that particular market are.
- What role does the buyer persona play within the industry’s digital ecosystem? This acknowledges users according to their level of involvement (the accounts followed on social media or their topics of conversation).
- What kind of news are covered by USA Today?: News portals have an individual editorial line, as well as a network of journalists and independent contributors, therefore, analyzing articles released the last month by USA Today can give you a good indication of how to project your brand to get their approval.
These are basic questions to shape your buyer persona, which is nothing more than the user conditions that your message will face. Keep in mind that the simpler the message you choose, the better it will perform on networks.
Once you have identified them, it is time to reach out to the public and begin the positioning work. This will function as a preliminary phase in creating solid bases of authority, which will give much more credit to your online presence when reaching out to journalists.
- Coordinated actions
During this outlining phase is where you will put into practice the information collected and the indicators created so far in order to finally shape the communication plan. In this space we talk about three aspects: impact, distribution, and evaluation.
As you must already assume, one of the first steps is to define which channels will be used for generating interaction, traffic, and leads. The approach can range from sending press releases to USA today as a tool for the conviction to distribute the brand’s message (I talked about that in a previous article where I cover how to find press portals’ publication entries), to mailing campaigns.
However, before getting to that point you need to rack up backlinks, comply with Google’s algorithms, and set schedules per goal. Here your main resource will be valuable content.
This additional value provided relies on notifying, educating, and entertaining on topics relevant to previously established interests from your buyer persona and USA Today’s readers.
The purpose behind providing additional information as a complement to the offer is to provide accessibility to your brand and make it easier to find in search engines. Following the principles of PR, there are various elements and external actors involved.
Therefore your main resources will be:
- Blogs, forums, and communities.
- Complementary pages.
- Newsletters, magazines, and programs.
- Domains managed by collaborators (guest posting).
In addition to the execution and stipulation of courses in which you hope to achieve results, make sure to include progress evaluation procedures.
This is quite useful as you’re tracking the level of brand engagement. Depending on the data obtained you can modify policies, hold actions, or give a higher priority to specific methodologies.
Arrange it by creating a spreadsheet where you rate the levels of interaction (positive, negative, neutral), reputation analysis, and whether the goals achieved lead to further growth or not.
And finally at this point it’s time to contact the USA Today staff. Of course, its direct channels are quite saturated so you must work on a headline for the pitch or press release that it catches, in addition to making shout outs to journalists and collaborators on your content.
It is not an immediate process but it is an effective one, since what editors and directors are interested in is getting clicks and generating even more traffic, which benefits you directly.
It must be made clear that a communication plan from the PR 2.0 perspective should be seen as a system of continuous evolution. Your duty as an entrepreneur is to take charge of your business and communicate to your audience a message nurtured with the changes that are taking place in the digital ecosystem.
Ultimately, the feature and later success of your business life depends on two fundamental aspects:
- The ability to adapt your message and –
- The level of learning you manage to accumulate.
That is why I hope today’s post has provided you with more clarity on how to achieve all your business objectives from a narrative perspective and receive the attention of a medium as prestigious as USA Today.
In case you still don’t have enough confidence to execute a strategy with your current resources or on the contrary, you want to receive advice to start it up, you always have the option of leaving your positioning tasks in charge of a specialized external team like Media Coverage.
With our media plans we make sure you stand out from the competition and generate clout from your Owned Media as well as a spot on a USA Today’s section. All you need to do is clicking on “Pricing” or leave us a comment below.
In the meantime, I recommend you take a look at the rest of our articles as we are constantly publishing material on marketing and publicity that can also be very useful for your journey.