One of the best things about being in business for myself is the people I’ve had the privilege to meet, and Sabina Hitchen is one of my favorites. Not only is she a walking ray of sunshine, but she is a wealth of knowledge about all things public relations and a diehard supporter of small businesses. She is one of those people who, after an hour of chatting with her, you walk away with pages full of ideas and action items. Not one to be selfish, I’m sharing some of her wisdom here.
You’ve carved out a unique space for yourself in PR. Tell us a little about what you do.
Sure thing! I run an online education platform called Press for Success that teaches small-business owners, entrepreneurs, and experts how to get publicity and grow relationships with the media, strategically and confidently. I’m actually a former high school teacher and curriculum designer turned New York City public relations agency owner, so this career path sort of makes sense when you break it down! I like to tell people that both of my former careers got married, had a business baby, and that baby is Press for Success.
I also appear on television regularly talking about wow-worthy products from entrepreneurs. Basically everything I do is rooted in putting a spotlight on small business!
You specialize in empowering small brands to do their own PR. Describe your services in a nutshell.
I believe with every fiber of my business being, that no matter how good you are at whatever you do (run a beauty brand, do makeup, bake cupcakes, graphic designer—you name it), if people don’t know you exist, and aren’t consistently reminded of who you are and why you are of value to them, your business will not thrive, perhaps not survive.
I also knew from my decades of being really active in leadership roles in the small-business community, that most business owners wanted publicity and buzz for their businesses, but didn’t know how to make it happen. I’m the answer to that, via my work at Press for Success: PR Prep School.
It’s an online classroom with everything you need in order to learn how to do your own PR. We offer everything from free trainings and e-books to multi-part video courses. I’m most excited about our ongoing PR Prep School, that allows businesses to “enroll” into an ongoing learning environment where they have access to new courses every month, PR challenges to keep them moving forward and accountable, and so many other perks!
Empowering them and giving them access to these with these skills brings me so much joy and fulfillment, I’m not exaggerating!
You offer a lot of free tools for businesses. Describe a scenario in which a brand would benefit from investing in your paid services.
Press for Success has free video classes. For instance, we have a free 7-Day PR Shift you can take to go, as we say, “from PR hot mess to publicity express,” along other must-watch free classes.
For those who want to truly make publicity happen for their businesses in a successful and sustainable way, I suggest they 100% take our Masterclass, that guides them step-by-step through a full PR education, which ends with them actually executing outreach to the press. Students who take it have been SO successful publicity-wise (Oprah Magazine, TODAY show, Elle, Real Simple, etc.), but most importantly, they have this awesome PR tool in their business toolbelt they can use forever.
I also encourage every business to enroll in the ongoing PR Prep School membership because it’s super affordable with a massive value—from new monthly courses to weekly “office hours” for live support to “insider” opportunities they won’t find anywhere else.
What is your opinion about using a PR agency vs. doing PR in-house?
People sometimes wonder if I’m anti-agency because I teach small-business owners PR but I’m anything but! I owned an agency, my colleagues own them now, and they bring years of strategic experience, relationships, while also having an eye on the future and “what’s next” in PR and marketing.
That said, if you cannot fully and comfortably commit to the overhead that requires, because a good publicist isn’t cheap nor should they be, it’s not a good move.
I like to tell business owners to first get some momentum going on their own, get to know the media and PR worlds, and then when they feel like it’s no longer manageable in-house AND that they can afford to commit for at least six months, hire a PR agency.
When do you think a PR agency is necessary?
I believe that when your businesses is growing and thriving enough that you need an extra set of hands to come in and manage the PR and buzz you’re already building, and you can afford it without worrying if you’ll make office rent or payroll (including your own!) you hire an agency.
Before you do, I think you should make sure you have reasonable expectations and understand what they will and won’t deliver, and check references. Try to find someone who is a specialist in your field, so that they have relationships already built where you need them!
What are the three most important PR-related things every brand should be doing on a regular basis?
- Always make building relationships with your target media, getting to know their beat, and following their content a #1 priority. Being familiar with the people who cover the content you want to be in—and the content itself—will change everything.
- Research – Plan – Execute. Follow that flow, so that you make time for each of those pieces of a successful PR puzzle. Sure there is so much more I could say, but be sure you’re researching the magazines, websites, and TV shows you want to be in, you’re making timely and strategic PR plans, and that you’re actually taking action instead of just talking about it or thinking about it!
- Be courageous! Realize that YES you can get publicity, no it isn’t just for other people, but you do need to be professional, consistent, strategic, and courageous to put yourself out there regularly and get it!
What are some of the big hurdles small businesses are facing today?
Oh there are so many hurdles, but also so many great opportunities for small-business owners these days. A couple that stand out …
I think that social media has made business , PR, and marketing both easier and more difficult at the same time. You have access to connections and information like never before, but there is also so much more noise!
When I say noise, I mean from other businesses (making it harder to differentiate and stand out), from sources of “content,” from online marketing, constant posts and tweets—it’s’ all a lot to keep up with both professionally and mentally!
Small businesses are also trying to survive and adapt in an ever-changing world, and when I say changing I mean in every way. Media is changing rapidly, from how we consume it to what “is” media. I mean, People magazine has Snapchat editors! Things are changing and we as business owners have to catch up! It’s also changing politically, economically, etc.
So what we have is a lot more access, but also a lot more noise and change!
What are some of the bad habits brands slide into—and how can they avoid them?
I think one of the biggest bad habits brands slide into is trying to do too much all at once—whether it’s PR, marketing, production, you name it! We rush, we multitask—which by its very nature means we aren’t paying attention fully to either task at hand—and we often take away planning time. All of this actually creates more work in the end, as well as higher levels of stress—I know I see that when I slide into this habit from time to time as well.
I combat it, and urge others too, by making time for planning every single day, by saying no to things that I don’t truly have time to do, and by making sure my actions are always aligned with my overall goals and intentions, professionally and personally.
What is it about a brand that convinces you that they will be successful at doing their own PR?
I know a brand will be successful when it comes to PR and brand building when: They are willing to put in the work and they are willing to be brave, no matter where they are beginning from. By work I mean they are willing to learn, they are willing to slow down and research to be sure they are creating relationships with the right members of the press.
They are willing to work by committing to consistent outreach and not expecting to be an overnight success. Sure some publicity moments come quickly, but brands are built over time.
There also has to be some spirit within them that lets me know that yes, they may be nervous or unsure, but they are going to take a chance on themselves and their business and go for it! Some you can see they aren’t there yet, and aren’t going to commit to take action and take a chance!
You stress that there are several things a brand must do before diving in and pitching. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Like I’ve said before, research is huge. Reading the magazines and websites you want to be in, getting to know who their editors are and what stories they write about. Figure out what columns and sections you belong in. Research is your POWER!
Next up—you must begin building relationships with your target press the moment you discover them—through your research—kapow!
You need to be very clear on what you want the press and the world to know about you, meaning you need to have core messaging about your businesses and products that you will use and weave in continuously to your outreach and other places (social media, conversations, etc.)
You also want to be sure you have all of your pitching materials ready to go—from your media kit, to high-resolution photos (with white backgrounds), to line sheets.
The truth is, it’s the pre-pitching work that is the most time consuming. Once you get your PR materials and plans together, executing is basically “just take action.” “Plan your work” takes time, “work your plan” is then easier.
What are some of the common misconceptions about PR?
Top misconceptions include: Buying contacts will help you get publicity. f buying email addresses would make us all famous, trust me, they would run out of room on the cover of Fast Company! Email contact lists are not the same as media relationships. Don’t get them confused!
That it’s something impossible, unattainable, or stressful. It isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, any of those things. It is fully accessible, doable, and necessary, in my opinion!
What is your opinion of the influencer marketing space? Do you think that brands need to include influencers in their marketing plan? And if so, is there an affordable way to do it?
I think like every part of the PR and marketing world, things are changing, and the way we tell stories, share products, and connect is always evolving. For some businesses, I think influencers can be a great way to reach their market. Heck, I shop off Instagram regularly!
The key is to treat it like any other part of your business: Learn about the space, research micro-influencers (less expensive, more impact in my opinion) who could be a good fit for your business, study how they work and who they work with, and never do anything that isn’t doable for you in terms of budget.
Like so much of PR & marketing, influencers are one more touch-point with your customers and one spotlight moment in many you need in order to become a sustainable brand!
Don’t have a budget? Try to partner with a newer influencer with some followers, but not five digits and beyond. Explore ways you can work together that work for you both. Maybe you create a brand ambassador program and they get a portion of sales they bring in from their posts. Maybe you cross-promote with each other. Perhaps you shoot some product photos with them and let them use other photos from the shoot for their blog. Get creative! Ask! Closed mouths don’t get fed!