PR Your Self delves into practices for earning media coverage without a Publicist
By Melissa A Vitale
It may be surprising to hear from a professional publicist who companies hire to execute and maintain campaigns that garner media attention that earning media coverage is actually very easy for entrepreneurs and startups even without a PR agency or freelance publicist. News publications get their classification because they cover what is new, exciting. The very existence of a successful startup that hasn't been featured before is newsworthy. Like the journalists who covered Apple or Microsoft in the 80s and 90s, editors and writers want to feature the latest solutions, technology or products on the market.
Earning one article about your company great, but I like to think of aiming for only a single article as playing checkers. Media relations plays Chess. Rather than focusing on placing one story about your company, prioritize creating a relationship with a journalist. The resulting coverage from a single relationship can be meaningful profiles, company announcements and thought leadership in industry-turning trend stories. Journalists often refer back to their own network for sources of insight or quotes in an article.
If you don't have any journalists in your network who covers your industry, don't worry! When I was growing up, I was given lectures by my parents, girl scout leaders, teachers, and even a priest who told us not to make friends on the internet. Now, I've made initial acquaintances with most of my colleagues and friends through online sources. Social media is your best friend for meeting new journalists and editors who could cover your company or expertise without a publicist. Almost all journalists have public social media handles for their writing, often aimed at keeping in touch with sources. Some journalists will immediately reach out if your social media bio raises their interest. Linking your companies handles, website and relevant awards always helps.
When you're reading an article about your industry or related to your expertise, especially if you think "Wow, I should've been in this article," find the journalist on social media. Most journalists have their social media profiles linked to their author page when you click on their byline in the article. Make it a practice to follow journalists whenever you read an article related to your industry. Journalists regularly make calls for commentary on stories they're working on. Even if they're not following you, they are often looking at their DMs and replies for new sources. This is a great way to start a long-lasting relationship.
Social media makes it easy to stay in touch with journalists and editors you've connected with. Unlike emails where you have to go out of your way to contact them and then wait for a response, with social media, their updates wind up on your feed. A quick like, comment or reply is an easy way to easily maintain a relationship. Once you've been doing this for a while, it gets easier to get a follow back. When editors and journalists see that other mutual connections following you, they assume you're an industry source and will immediately follow you back. Always send a quick introduction if they follow you back. You can send an intro without a followback, but they may not see it as their DMs are much like their email inboxes: full of cold outreach.
Like building any relationship, media relations takes time. It's unreasonable to think that following one editor on social media will lead to a report's-worth of press coverage. Take fifteen minutes today to find and follow ten key editors in your industry. Editors will often tweet out stories and tag the writers who wrote the story. Follow anyone relevant these new connections tweet about. Make it a point every quarter to follow ten to fifteen new media connections. Over time, you'll go from not knowing anyone who could cover your company, to having a soft or even a close relationship with a number of leading journalists who want to feature your brand.
After you've been covered in a published story, prioritize keeping in touch with a journalist; writers often tap their past interviewees first for new stories. Let these connections know about any launches you have coming up in advance in case they want to break the news or cover the launch. Bonus points if you meet up with your journalist connections for drinks or lunch a few months before the announcement; they will appreciate the special attention to the relationship. While social media is a great way to keep up with a journalists' achievements, those who will want to know about your company's news, won't like finding out with everyone else on social media. Make a point to tell them in advance; embargo if needed.
Before embarking on your social media relations journey, make sure you remember your etiquette 101. As stated above, journalists inboxes and DMs are often full of cold pitches. Avoid pitching them in their DMs. Start with an introduction to yourself, and an offer to support them on related articles. Ask them how they would like to receive company announcements or pitches from you. Respect their boundaries and if they don't respond, don't get disheartened. If you followed ten other people like I told you above, someone else will respond. In my experience, non-response is often due to missing the message or being too busy to respond, and they will usually respond well to a follow up at a later date.
It's easy to get attention around the initial launch and big announcements from an exciting startup. Day-to-day however, entrepreneurs typically don't have the time to constantly come up with new angles for the many journalists and editors who could cover your brand. Maintaining consistent media coverage can be a full time job. Once you've seen a slowdown of initial media coverage is a great time to speak with a publicist. Your brand will still be fresh enough in recent coverage and a publicist can come up with unique campaigns and angles to revive interest in your company, even without a launch.
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By Melissa A Vitale
During an inflation and recession, public relations can help maintain consumer interest and loyalty while increasing brand awareness across consumer audiences to garner new customers. However, the earned media landscape has transformed drastically since the start of the pandemic. Because of that, startups considering Public Relations services this year need to plan strategically in advance for announcements and PR campaigns.
Since 2020, newsrooms have been continuously consolidating. In January 2020, any given publication could have feature reporters, celebrity reporters and on-the-street reporters covering similar topics at the same magazine. However, year after year of declined subscribers and lack of events, travels and other in-person coverage opportunities, roles have been consolidated as reporters are only attending events via Zoom or locally, leaving more time for writing. Every quarter, publicists and journalists alike take to twitter to see if anyone they knew was victim to the latest headlines of mass-journalism layoffs.
Journalism's tone has shifted for 2023. We're going into our third year of a global pandemic, global warming destroys lives and communities monthly, there's a war going on half a world away that effects the prices down the street. Companies that relished profit during the pandemic, now hit hard by inflation, are laying off employees in droves. Individuals, faced with job loss, climate and world crisis, and many experiencing mental illness are searching less about pleasures and more for necessities like mental and physical health topics.
Public relations itself is shifting as the topics journalists are covering, deviate more and more from startup brand messages. When their readers are googling questions about depression and anxiety, editors are less likely to prioritize excessive stories about unrelated individual products. Publicists need to align their clients' products with the conversations that journalists are having with their readers.
Three years ago, it was enough to get the occasional full-feature product review, regular inclusions in round-ups and thought leadership were enough to raise awareness of brand and garner new sales and customers. But as we enter the era of web3, SEO matters less and content is king. Public relations campaigns require individual assets like themed imagery, videos and social media posts. If a product wants to claim it boosts mental health, that needs to be on the package, on the website, in the marketing materials. It is not enough anymore to have an everyday product publicized for a specific mission.
Because of all these shifts in the media market over the last three years, brands need to plan in-advance any public relations efforts they'd like to see return on. Pre-pandemic, publicists needed four to eight weeks to publicize a launch. Now, you'll want to plan about six months in advance.
Due to the budget restrictions newsrooms face, there's less available time to cover announcements, unless there's a publicist with great relationships and even better planning. If a brand knows they'll be launching a product in February for Valentine's Day, the public relations team needs to start pitching the product around September to ensure multi-publication coverage. Brands telling their publicist in January about a Valentine's Day launch are going to have a very disappointing day of love.
With strong relationships and coordinated assets months before, a great publicist can make sure that any launch is a coverage success.
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Industry Insight on the latest wellness craze
By Melissa A Vitale
If you own a computer or a phone, or basically just exist, you’ve probably heard some buzz about CBD oil in the last few years.
CBD oil has risen as one of the biggest superfood ingredients in wellness, dining, beauty and even vaping over the past five years. It’s hard not to be curious about a supplement that people are saying changed their life.
So…. Is CBD Oil Worth the hype?
The answer isn’t so simple, because it’s both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Personally, CBD is my go-to for so many things. When I first jointed the cannabis industry, I thought it odd that all advocates were so gung-ho on hemp & CBD, insisting the plant was in every formulation they used. Now five years into the industry, I use anywhere from 5-15 hemp products a day. CBD skincare has allowed me to maintain an all-natural skincare regimen that actually works. I’ve reduced the number of massages I get with CBD balms and topicals and I literally have a CBD oil tincture in every room of my house. Even my cat has his own CBD topicals and bacon-flavored tinctures.
So yes, CBD oil is worth the hype… EXCEPT: only when it’s quality CBD.
That’s why it’s also a No. CBD is not worth the hype when it’s not premium CBD. There’s a lot of trash, what we call “snake oil,” on the market. Poorly manufactured or mislabeled CBD products are causing tons of consumer confusion and making it harder for quality brands to stand out. I’m going to clarify that in a bit.
But first, let’s dive into the Wild, Wild West of Cannabis aka the CBD market.
CBD oil: What the heck is it?
CBD (Cannabidiol) oil is a dietary supplement first introduced to US Markets in 2014 that has gained rapid popularity and has saturated health, beauty and vaping markets since 2018 when the supplement was removed from the DEA’s list of Federally Controlled Substances. CBD has been found to be a powerhouse supplement for symptoms related to sleeplessness, anxiety, topical relief and inflammation.
Now as a publicist, there’s only so much I can say on the issue – I cannot give you any medical recommendations, nor can I even cite many of the medical issues that CBD oil has been shown to be useful for. Thankfully a quick google search can help you dive into press articles on the topic, though be careful where that rabbit hole leads you. Check your sourcing and make sure the journalists are quoting quality sources (Doctors, Advocates & Recognized Brands).
The human anatomy is hard-wired with the endocannabinoid system, a system of cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body. The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was discovered in 1992 and controls neurologic, endocrine, immune, behavior and cognitive functions. Our bodies make our own cannabinoids and we have our own cannabinoids receptors. The system is located in the brain and all the major organs but especially the nerves and the intestines. When these receptors are activated, they enable two-way communication between body systems. Our bodies were designed to regularly supply our ECS with the nutrients (cannabinoids) it was designed for, in support of vital communications between the control centers of the body and every other system. In addition to the few endogenous cannabinoids the ECS is also activated by foods, drugs, activity, and phytocannabinoids, like CBD.
Replenishing the naturally occurring endocannabinoid system, regular CBD (cannabidiol) tinctures and capsules can bring the body to homeostasis, allowing it to perform at its best. What does all that mean?
Basically, since hemp was removed as a prime dietary source during the Reefer Madness scare early last century, humans have been undersupplying our bodies with the cannabinoids we need. Consuming CBD oil (or getting cannabinoids through other methods of cannabis) helps keep your endocannabinoid system regular which keeps the other systems that rely on the ECS—basically most bodily function—regulated.
Why has it become so popular in the last five years?
The 2014 Farm Bill defined industrial hemp as 0.3% or lower and provided for pilot programs, sales and research to begin on industrial hemp, which is why we have hemp products, including CBD, in the United States currently. The problem was hemp, despite its low THC content, as a member of the cannabis family, was still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA, even though it was legal to grow and sell and purchase by definition of the 2014 Hemp Farm Bill and even when other federal agencies, like the FDA, were approving hemp products like CBD.
In December 2018 Congress put forth the second Farm Bill which included all the language known as Hemp Farming Act of 2018. The passage of this final version of the Farm Bill removed hemp products including hemp-derived CBD oil from the federal list of controlled substances and removed any federal regulations from growing and selling hemp products. The 2018 legislation also allows for wider audiences to be educated on the benefits of CBD products while providing agriculture protections for hemp farmers previously unafforded due to hemp’s federal controlled status.
Besides these bills for CBD oil, and state-and-local ordinances, CBD oil is largely unregulated.
The only thing the FDA, the agency overseeing CBD oil, monitors for is health claims: brands cannot make health claims such as “This CBD Oil is great for Epilepsy”. Brands can say “CBD has been shown to relieve symptoms associated with sleeplessness, anxiety and inflammation.” Outside of that, any health-related claims are in violation of FDA regulations of supplement health claims.
Think about that: Other than claims, there is no oversight agencies that make sure what the company claims is on the package is actually in the bottle. This is why Third-Party testing is paramount, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
First, let’s navigate a confusing topic in this sector.
Hemp Seed Oil Vs CBD Oil:
The confusion of Hemp Seed Oil versus CBD Oil is further evidence of the mess that is the current CBD market. Since the Farm Bill, CBD oil has become this year's must-have ingredient. Hemp and hemp-derived CBD oil have taken over formulations because they're both rich in the nutrients that soothe, heal, hydrate and pamper skin. Many consumers and retailers often confuse CBD Oil and Hemp Seed Oil, but while they technically come from the same plant--Industrial Hemp-- Hemp Seed Oil and CBD Oil are 100% different.
Have you ever noticed that its relatively easy to buy marijuana seeds? Government restrictions on cannabis only apply to the psychoactive component THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) which is only present in the plant after photosynthesis. Therefore, cannabis seeds can be shipped across state lines because they contain no THC. The same is the case with CBD in hemp seeds. CBD is only present in the hemp plant after photosynthesis.
Because CBD only occurs in mature hemp plants, CBD (Cannabidiol) oil is extracted from the harvested and dried out hemp plant. The CBD extraction process often determines the quality of CBD: CO2 is the cleanest, and most environmentally-friendly method that produces the most potent CBD oil. CBD oil is naturally anti-inflammatory and has shown to protect, restore, and brighten skin leaving the complexions feeling awakened and nourished. CBD applied topically can interact with the cannabinoid receptors in your skin to fight inflammation, promote healing, provide relief from short-term setbacks, and refine stressed, puffy or tired skin.
Hemp Seed Oil, however, is extracted from pressed hemp-seeds, which contain zero CBD. The seeds are still packed with ingredients vital to healthy & nourished skin. Sustainably-sourced hemp has the highest naturally occurring polyunsaturated fatty acids like Omega 3, 6 and 9 and is rich with Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that can reverse UV damage. Hemp Seed Oil also contains Gamma Linolenic Acid, an anti-inflammatory compound rarely naturally occurring. Hemp seed oil is hypoallergenic and absorbs rapidly making it popular for chapped and dry complexions.
You don’t have to look any farther than Amazon.com to see just how confusing all this is. Hemp Seed Oil producers know that consumers will pay higher margins for products with CBD oil in it; They also know that many consumers don’t know the difference between ‘hemp extract’ (CBD oil) and ‘hemp seed oil’ on the ingredients list. Amazon is a perfect example of this. Amazon prohibits the sale of CBD oil but consumers who rely on Prime for everything aren’t aware that the retail giant restricts CBD sales. Hemp seed oil sellers will bump up the price of their oil (usually $15 for a large bottle) to $60 to be a comparable price to that of CBD oil. They know they’re selling hemp seed oil and consumers will know it too, but only after they spent the $60. That’s why so many CBD brands sell on Amazon anyways: if there are going to be bad players who take advantage of consumers, at least let them have real CBD options available.
As a publicist, Hemp Seed Oil vs CBD Oil has been my personal education mission. I represent quality CBD Brands. There are some Hemp Seed Oil brands, with their beautiful packaging and luxury price point, that have been stealing the spotlight under the guise of being CBD Oil. Even editors are confused by CBD vs Hemp Seed Oil and recommending products without any CBD oil under headlines like “Best CBD Face Oils” or "I tried this CBD Lube" and there's no CBD in them.
How to find quality CBD Oil:
The 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial-hemp derived CBD oil from the DEA's list of Federally Controlled Substances opening the floodgate of hemp-based and CBD-infused products saturating the market. With so many CBD brands available, it's hard for consumers to discern premium quality from marketing tactics.
If you’ve ever spoken to someone who says CBD oil doesn’t affect them, it’s because they probably didn’t have quality CBD oil. When buying CBD oil, a few factors will help determine the quality and reputability of the product including:
What is CBG? CBN?
You may have heard a couple other acronyms around CBD; the two hottest ones to be discussed in the space are CBG & CBN. I'm not a scientist or a doctor by any means, so my explanation will be a working one, at best. There are tons of other cannabinoids in the hemp plant besides CBD. CBG & CBN are cannabinoids that appear in smaller quantities in most hemp plants. However when isolated on its own, CBN has become a popular supplement for night time use as its a powerhouse for sleeplessness. CBG is now coming to the market as the next big thing in CBD as it provides more targeted relief for anxiety, digestion and pain.
To take a deeper dive into each, check out the Leafly Articles on CBG & CBN.
CBD & Beauty
Now I'm going to try to make this a short section because as a former beauty publicist, I really could rip into this topic for a few hours. The CBD Beauty Market is one of the most saturated areas of CBD outside of tinctures.
There are three main types of companies fueling the CBD Beauty Craze:
- Beauty Companies adding CBD into their existing Formulation
- New Brands creating CBD Beauty Products to jump on the fad
- CBD Companies creating beauty lines with plant science at it's forefront
There are a lot of CBD Beauty Products on the market that are obviously made to pick up on the fad of CBD and this makes it confusing for consumers. Nails and Hair do not absorb CBD so if you see anything like CBD Mascara, CBD Shampoo, CBD Nail Polish, these are gimmicks that I would avoid. The scalp however can really benefit from CBD so any hair mask or conditioner with CBD targeting the scalp not the hair itself is likely Something I see on the beauty market that makes me cry out in exasperation is anything that washes with CBD: CBD Body Scrubs, CBD Face Washes, CBD Toners. CBD needs time to sink into the skin, so using a CBD infused formulation to wash is just putting a very expensive ingredient (CBD ain't cheap!) into a product that doesn't sit on the skin. Consumers are quite literally washing money down the drain. Skip the washes and scrubs with CBD and focus instead in topicals and lotions that will give your body enough time to absorb the formulation like balms and face serums.
With so many brands pumping out CBD Beauty products, I only use CBD Beauty products made by CBD companies who understand the potent ingredient and pair their formulations to compliment the power of CBD. Other companies are usually just throwing CBD isolate into a beauty formulation without a care of how everything works together. All that confusion above? That's usually negated when you buy from trusted CBD brands who know the plant.
Thanks to my time as a beauty publicist, I learned all about natural & organic beauty and the mass consumer beauty market that pads incredible ingredients with fillers and stabilizers that don't do anything for the skin. While I prefer the way my skin feels with natural beauty products, I always felt they weren't as anti-aging and restorative on their own. Since discovering CBD Natural Beauty products, I've stopped using my retinol serums and anti-aging masks. Between all natural ingredients and the restorative and nourishing properties of CBD, my skin behaves better just from being fed skin superfoods. Something you should note about CBD Beauty products is that you're rarely going to see Full Spectrum CBD in Beauty; The full spectrum doesn't interact on the skin the same way as when ingested, so CBD Isolate is powerful in topical formulations.
I'll leave all brands that I trust below from anything from Tinctures to Topicals. I've been very blessed to work with tons of great brands whose work aligns with my own. A trusted industry recommendation can often times save you all the time and research. I've done the work for you. Many of these brands are women-run. I'm not biased because I'm a woman; research has shown that women business leaders tend to cut the fat on the consumer model. There's tons of great brands for however you'd like to integrate CBD into your life!
MAVPR Recommended Brands:
Working with so may brands, it's no surprise that I'm often asked for my recommendation. With my position as a publicist and knowledge of the industry, it's easy for me to discern if a brand is quality or marketing gimmicks
Tinctures: Elixinol; New Highs CBD
Beauty: TRIBEAUTY, Her Royal Hempress, Soul Addict
Topicals: TribeREVIVE Pain Relief Cream, Elixinol Extra Strength Balm
CBD Vapes: TribeTokes, Her Highness
CBD Lubricants: TOCA
Pleasure Oil: Her Highness
For Pets: Pet Releaf, Mary
While I do partner or represent some of the brands above, I only recommend brands whose brand mission, consumer transparency and attention to quality is one that I would trust for myself and my family. I only work with brands I myself am proud to represent.
Updated July 6, 2020
For CBD brands looking to explore cost effective public relations packages, learn more about MAVPR via: melissaavitale.com/services.html
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups across plant and intimate wellness