The Art of Building Media Relations in Southeast Asia on an SME Budget

I joined a young tech startup founded by the ex-Ensogo Thai-American Srivorakul brothers two years ago with the simple enough marketing task: make the company famous. aCommerce is a very ‘unsexy’ B2B ecommerce solutions entrant (think trucks, warehouses and nerdy software developers) and I, myself was also new to the market – a foreigner who had moved to Thailand from North America.

The marketing challenge I faced was daunting and was what many SME business owners face: great product or service but no budget to get the much-needed publicity for it.  What to do?

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Why Bother Listening to Me

After three months of testing various media marketing strategies, I was able to take the little-known aCommerce to page one of Google – front of the internet – when searching for ‘ecommerce in Southeast Asia’. The company also won massive regional coverage onTech in Asia, TechCrunch and even tier 1 global media such as Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. Six months later, aCommerce was able to raise one of the highest Series A fundraising rounds in Southeast Asian history, partly because of the buzz and FOMO (fear of missing out) that my media strategy was able to evoke in the investor and business community.  

I managed to put aCommerce on the tech media map and I hope to share some easily actionable tips when you don’t have an established network of media contacts and the resources for large PR campaigns. The first step begins with building media relations.

Step 1: Flirt. Build your press database with relevant journalists. When you find them, tweet and say hello.

Small business owners often send their press releases to generic email addresses, such as contact@media.com, and are disappointed when their press release is not published.

The solution to getting attention from media is to make human contact. Find a couple of writers in your desired publication, whether it be a trade journal or a global news outlet, who writes about your industry. In my case, for ecommerce in Southeast Asia I searched for the biggest player, Lazada, in the New York Times. I figured that any journalist writing about Lazada would also be interested in our company. Use this process to create your media wish list database and try to populate it with at least 50 contacts. The second step is to follow them on Twitter. Everyone says Twitter is dying, but it is alive and a favorite tool for writers and PR professionals. Tweet to them with a mini introduction. By finding the relevant writer and reaching out to say hello, you are establishing the beginnings of a relationship—the most critical part of publicity.

Step 2: Build a Relationship

Now that you have created a database and have said hello on Twitter, it’s time to build upon that foundation. There are many ways to cultivate relationships, but what worked for me, for both regional and global press, was Twitter. My goal was to get on the writers’ radar, which I accomplished by tweeting their articles with my insider commentary.  Notice I wasn’t asking for anything from them, this is purely digital relationship building. To gain traction with local Thai press, face to face meetings work best. Come prepared with a physical press kit that includes a brief company profile, press releases, a USB key with relevant images and pitch for your company.

Step 3: Before the Press Release, Warm Up the Media

Before you decide to share news with your well-cultivated database of writers, make sure you understand what is newsworthy and what is not. We’ve modified Salesforce founder Adam Gross’s Seven Types of Media to shape the angles of our press release. The seven types of news in the order that we’ve seen works best in Asia are:

Controversy

Acquisition/Expansion

Financial/Funding

Partnerships

Metrics & insights

Product launch

New Hires

Before a big announcement, we allude to the news and the rough timeline for its release without sending the press release or giving away too much information. For example, I would write to say, “We have a fundraising announcement coming up in a couple weeks. Is this a story you would be interested in covering?” Writers are human, too. It doesn’t hurt to pique their curiosity in a story.

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Step 4: Send the Press Release – Customization is Key!

One of the most important things to do in this step is to tailor your message to each writer. PR agencies often end up using blind carbon copy (bcc) for all contacts or use mail merge to create an impression of personalization with the writer’s name inserted automatically. Unless you are Apple or Uber with a recognizable brand, your email will be lost in the sea of messages media outlets receive each day. Taking the time to send an email to each contact separately with a short personalized message goes a long way. Secondly, you should be tailoring your media pitch as well. Do your research and try to understand the nuances of each publication. Who is their target audience? What do their readers want? For example, if it is a tech media outlet then focus on the tech innovation side of your company’s work; if it is consumer media, then focus on the buzz-worthy product angle.

Step 5: Follow-Up

After the outlets publish your story, the media romance does not end there. For aCommerce, when we finally got published in TechCrunch (the media mecca of tech startups), we immediately shared on all our social media channels and shared it with our newsletter database consisting of 9,000 key business and ecommerce stakeholders. Why? Because in the digital media age, traffic and pageviews are the writers’ main incentives and indicators of success. If you are able to show that writing about your small business is interesting to his or her audience, you will greatly increase your odds of being published again. The first publication is the hardest to get so make sure you prove it was worth the while of the writer! After you’ve proven that their audience has a palette for your news, scaling up will be less challenging.

Some Useful Communications Tools for Your SME

TweetDeck is your first step to world domination and by world domination I mean knowledge. You are able to quickly monitor what your preferred writers, journalists, publications, politicians, thought leaders, bloggers etc. are saying in real time. Tweetdeck is amazing because you can create lists to help you sift through the noise of Twitter and really focus on the channels relevant to your brand. My lists include: ‘Tech journalists’, ‘Hong Kong tech’ (when I was launching Jaha in HK), ‘Ardent Capital’, ‘aCommerce’ and of course ‘Reprieve’, where you can find my indulgences from The Atlantic’s contrarian David Frum to Frenchie English fashion blogger Camille Charriere.

Bufferapp.com allows you to do 3-click social media marketing across the majority of your channels. I can instantly share content regarding my industry across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and even for my personal pages. When you have a hectic daily schedule, saving even 10 minutes makes a big difference making tools like Buffer extremely valuable at conveniently building a consistent brand voice across all your online channels. I recommend taking half hour of every day to read your favorite news sites and schedule content across your channels.

SEO Moz Bar is a browser plug-in that determines the SEO value of any online publication. The higher the domain authority, the more valuable your published work is (particularly if you have a back link to your website). Be aware that a website can have a high ranking even without high traffic. Ergo, don’t ignore the little guys because a good back-linking strategy optimizes your site on Google.

These strategies are in no way exhaustive, they are simply what we have employed at aCommerce and scaled into aCommerce Strategic Communications for other business clients. If there is a key take away from this, it is to build human relationships.Understanding that the media are also people too will change everything!

Felicia Moursalien is Director of Research & Strategic Communications at aCommerce. She can be contacted at: felicia@acommerce.asia and appreciates all comments and feedback on Twitter: @LilFel