A good friend of mine, who runs the artwork marketplace kazoart.com, recently shared her disappointment with the results of her PR agency. You could object she had a small budget and little experience to manage PR professionals, but I wouldn’t.

Even with a lot of both, it’s hard to meet even reasonable expectations. Having been on the other side of the fence for several years, struggling to promote well-known brands, I know the hardships of the task. 

Embrace your mission

"Sell a good story" is the main peace of advice you’ll hear from all Anglophone PR websites or journalists. But what does it mean? Does story equal news? I’ve banged my head against this question for a long time before I began to figure it out.

A good story in PR does not start with what the brand has to say, but with what the audience is keen to hear at the moment. Like in any good storytelling strategy, the hero must be the audience. People want to hear about themselves. "What’s in there for me?", they will ask (unconsciously). 

Feel what's in the air

I will use as an example the first PR strategy of Airbnb. In 2008, they had reached their proof of concept a few months earlier, renting 3 airbeds in their own apartment during a designers’ conference in San Francisco. They now wanted to promote their offer at a bigger scale. 

Most entrepreneurs would have just sent a press release announcing their launch to a wide range of media. Actually they did during the SXSW festival but got only two articles. So they started looking for a more appealing hook. That’s how they decided to use to their own benefit the hottest event every news outlet would want to cover that year: the nomination of Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. 

Speak clever

They knew every hotels would be booked. First, they sent a press release to local outlets, highlighting the upcoming lack of space problem. Journalists were happy to find a new angle to write about, and so they did. 

The Denver Post: "Residents to the rescue: cheap rooms for DNC."

A little later, when reporters of the national press were sent on the field, they were also thrilled to get a fresh perspective on the convention to feed their readers/listeners/viewers with. And since it had already been considered news by local media, it was sort of "interesting" by default. 

The Wall Street Journal : "The Business of Politics"

I don’t know how much media coverage they had as a result of this clever PR strategy, but it was more than most startups would dream of. Most importantly, they brought in 800 bookings - which is, as you know it, the main purpose of this merry jumble!

So if you want a good advice for your next campaign, the cofounder of Airbnb, Nathan Blecharczyk, puts it perfectly:

"When you're starting, ride the wave. Don't try to create it."


If you're interested in a more extensive exploration of the Airbnb case study, I've done a presentation focusing on it. You'll find the video here and the slides there.