PR for Coaches to Boost Lead Gen with Helen Ryan

Mar 21, 2022

"Everyone is on social media, but not everyone is featured in the news," says marketing and PR genius Helen Ryan, who joins us on today's episode for a conversation on how coaches can leverage PR to boost their lead generation.

In this episode, guest Helen Ryan shares an effective strategy for coaches who want to get featured by news outlets, magazines, and blogs, but who don't quite know where to start:

  • The benefits of an effective PR strategy: visibility, web traffic, and backlinks
  • How to identify the best news outlets for your niche
  • Which reporters it makes the most sense for you to connect with
  • How to pitch a story that grabs a reporter's attention
  • Which online tools and resources can help you along the way

Featured Guest: Helen Ryan
Helen M. Ryan helps small businesses and coaches boost their visibility. She runs a marketing and communications studio, is the author of three books, and hosts two podcasts.

Mentioned in this Episode:

 JACOB RATLIFF: Hey there, and welcome to the Client Attractor Show, where we talk about concrete tactics and strategies that you can use to attract your dream clients. I'm your host, Jacob Ratliff, and I am here today with my good friend Helen Ryan, who really specializes in helping small businesses and coaches boost their visibility. She runs a marketing and communication studio, is the author of three books, hosts two podcasts, and is overall just a pretty amazing person. I am super excited to have you with us here today, Helen.

HELEN RYAN: Oh, thank you. I'm excited to be here.

JR: Today, what we are going to be talking about is how coaches can leverage PR to boost their lead generation. Helen, why don't we go ahead and get started: What do we actually mean by PR? What is it, and why should coaches care? Why is it useful for them, and how could they leverage it?

HR: Well, PR is basically getting yourself covered in different media, magazines, online outlets, even TV and radio, because you want to become an authority in your field. Everybody is on social media, but not everybody gets covered in the general media, and you get a lot more exposure with one single article, or even one single mention, than you are doing even basic social media.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. I seem to remember that you had really good success with being featured in Mashable somewhat recently, or maybe it was years ago and I’m just condensing the timelines there.

HR: No, it just happened, Mashable. I've been in Verywell Fit, Huffington Post, Shape Magazine—or Shape Online—and a bunch of different other publications, too.

JR: So how do you even begin to think about that, and where you should go, who you should talk to? It seems like you have so many different places to go to try and get featured, so how do you choose where you want to pursue?

HR: There are different ways of doing it. I think a really good way to get started is with online outlets and magazines that have websites—well, every magazine now has websites—but any kind of magazine or news outlet that has a website where you can get a backlink back to your own website. But if you're not comfortable on camera, then you really don't want to do TV- or even YouTube-type presentations or media appearances. If you're more comfortable speaking, or if you're more comfortable writing, you can write—just be in articles—just by writing the information that you want the reporters to write about. 

HR: Now, let me be a little bit more clear, because I haven't had enough caffeine today. There are a couple of different ways that you can do it. One thing that I talked to you about was Help a Reporter. There used to be a couple of other ones, and one of them was really good. Help a Reporter is good; you have a lot more competition, but what that is is a website that matches sources with reporters. You and I would be sources, because we have information that reporters need; reporters always need content, and you can provide that content, whether you use a free service like Help a Reporter Out, or if you go ahead and start emailing different reporters. I'll talk a little bit about how you find the right match, because if somebody specializes in cats, you don't want to email that reporter and have them cover your business, which is about coaching businesses. You have to find the right reporters; you don't waste their time.

JR: Say that you see a query or—I don't know if I'm using the right language—you see something, that a reporter needs information about this specific topic, and you give them that information, and they use it—the benefits are that you get a backlink to your website, and you get that visibility of the actual article itself. So there are two levels of benefits there. Is that right?

HR: Right, and just being in the media—if you're in Mashable, if you're in Shape, if you're in Verywell Fit, if you're in Huffington Post—it really lends you that credibility, because the other coaches are not there. The third benefit is you can say that you are in these places, right? You're not buying; it's not like that who’s who, where they're always trying to sell you a space in that directory. These are legitimate news outlets and magazines, and so that whole legitimacy, where you can't buy your way in, makes a gigantic difference.

JR: So you're really earning it, rather than buying, right? How do you begin to figure out what reporters you want to pursue? How do you tell if it's going to be a good match?

HR: The one thing you can do is start searching for articles that cover something similar to what you're doing. So if you are a business coach, you would probably look in Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, but also some of the smaller outlets, and you want to search for reporters that tend to cover that kind of story. If they've covered a similar story, that would be a good match for you. You don't want to contact someone who, for example, covers high tech if you're not in high tech, because they are specialized in that area. So find a reporter who already writes about what you're doing—your business or the industries where your clients are—that's the reporter that you want to contact.

JR: I'm hearing two steps here. There's identifying the publication, and then once you identify that, figuring out who is the actual, real-life, living, breathing person—the reporter, the best match for you in reaching your ideal client. Is that right?

HR: Right. Because if you just email Entrepreneur Magazine, they're not going to respond to you. You've got to pique the interest of the actual reporters who are doing the reporting, and you can do a Google search and find different magazines and outlets that have already covered anything relating to business or anything relating to coaching. You coach coaches—maybe there are other things that you can do, like your client attraction, but you're also lead generation. You can search for all of those types of articles and find out who writes those kinds of articles, and then you give a spin on how you're a little bit different. You entice them, and you give a spin, and you pitch yourself and a potential story to them.

JR: Hmm. So you're pitching yourself and a potential story? How do you start to figure out what that story could be?

HR: Well, you need to look at, first of all, the outlet. Some outlets publish months and months in advance. If you are, let's just say—this is not applicable to you, really—but let's just say you're promoting something that happens over the summer. Well, you don't want to pitch that in June if it's for an outlet that has a really long lead time. You can tie yourself to things that are going on in the news, except right now, it's kind of depressing. You can find some way to tie yourself into a news event or any kind of a national day. Let's say there's Entrepreneur Day, or there's National Radio Day, which just happened, which for podcasters is great. You could have tied yourself to approaching talking about your podcast. 

HR: And you don't just want to blast the media and talk about yourself and how great you are; you actually have to have a story and something they'd be interested in. I've been on both sides. As a freelance writer I've used Help a Reporter to find sources, so I know what they're getting, and I know what they're looking at, and people get bombarded with not even answering the questions or pitches that aren't really even relevant. Or PR agencies will go, “My client can talk about this.” Yeah, but I need to know right now what they can talk about. You need to give them the details. If you have a new service launching, if you can tie it in, not just about the service, but how the service helps people. What is it that you do to help people? If there’s, let's just say, National Women's Day, if you target female coaches and you help them, maybe you could tie a story into that, showing success or quotes from one of your existing clients and how you help them.

JR: Hmm, got it. One of the things that I have heard in the past and that I have done with varying levels of success is several things, the first being to find a ”blind spot” or a content gap. It’s a gap that you can fill, something you can talk about, that they haven't really covered or gone in depth with. Would you say that's a good strategy in this case?

HR: Yeah, that's a great strategy: finding people who already covered the general area and then pitching something that maybe they haven't heard before, or you can read some of their other coverage and see what are they missing? What didn't they cover in this article? Then pitch that. “I saw you covered this here, and I can expand on that,” or, “I can take this further,” or, “This is how I do it differently to help people.” That's a great idea.

JR: Another thing that I think you would agree with me, but I'll frame it as a question anyway. When I have pitched myself, when people pitched me in the past, we've been really intentional about identifying two things. First is how the story or how the content benefits the audience, so the readers, the viewers, the whatever. The second being how does that content or story benefit the actual publisher or the publication? Would you say that those two things are equally important, or is one more important than another in terms of framing a pitch for a PR story?

HR: I think it depends on the publication. A lot of publications, in the back of their mind, are thinking, Is this story going to bring more interest? Is the story going to get people to click on the ads on the website? So I think you should do both, and I think your overall goal should really be to pitch to the publication's audience.

JR: Mm hmm. Yeah, pitching to the publication’s audience and also keeping in mind what's the win for the publication, because it sounds like that “win” can vary.

HR: Right. That's like, I have the Walking podcast, and what I am going to be doing is actually creating a press release, but I'm going to frame the press release on people during COVID have not been comfortable going to the gym, or a lot of gyms were closed. So I created that podcast to get people moving at a time when they couldn't move, although I have to hurry up on that now, because we're opening things up again. But think about tying things into the different things that are happening in the news.

JR: Yes, and what I'm hearing is putting it in the context, right? Placing yourself or whatever you're doing in a relevant context, right?

HR: Right, and think about the “why.” Why are you doing what you're doing? Why would people be interested? Why is it timely? Is it relevant? You can tell stories that evoke an emotional response or something memorable. Different people are looking for all different kinds of content, so you just want to try different things to see if you can capture their interest. They get so many pitches, and if you don't capture their interest right away, they're just not going to even look at the pitch if you email them. You don't want to start with “Hello, I'm so and so. I'm this and this and this.” 

HR: Maybe you want to start out with a brief quote from a client or with how you solved a problem. Like I was saying, with my Walking podcast, you want to say, “Well, walking was not…your exercise wasn't possible during the pandemic. I created this Walking podcast,” and then go from there. Grip them right away with story ideas and not just “I'm so and so. I'm a client attraction coach. This is what I do,” because they're just going to get bored, and they're going to go on to something else. You can say something kind of controversial: “You'll see other coaches that say this; this is how I do it,” and maybe it's completely different from other coaches.

JR: Yeah, absolutely. I'm wondering if we zoomed out a little bit and, looking at that pitch, is there a general way that you recommend people structure those pitches?

HR: I would say come out of the gate with something forceful, something memorable, or something funny. 

JR: The hook.

HR: Yes, the hook. You’d think I could speak English by now, but no. The hook! Come up with a hook that's brief and succinct, that's going to capture their attention, and then fill it in with more detail. Think of it in a way, if this was a story, what would it be about? What is the general idea? Instead of just “This is my business,” give them ideas for a story without actually saying, “This is my idea for a story.” Come up with a hook and then come up with content and show your authority, but really show how it can benefit the end readers and how it can benefit the publication.

JR: Absolutely. The cynic in me was thinking, Make them think it's their idea.

HR: Yeah, exactly. You give them, you feed them, little tidbits. PR agencies do say, “I have this client, and this would be a great story idea,” and they expect that from PR agencies. But if you're doing this on your own without being a PR agency, you don't have their contacts. 

JR: You don't have that little Rolodex.

HR: Right, and you don't have that whole relationship with the media, so you want to approach that a little bit differently. You want to just give them some subtle ideas of what it could be about or, like we said, tie it into an event coming up, tie it into something that's going on in the news. Small businesses are struggling right now, so maybe a business coach would talk about ways that they help businesses grow and get more leads, but you structure that in a way that’s like, “This is how I do it. This is how I can help them. This is how I help my existing clients. Would you be interested in this as a story, as something different?”

JR: What I'm hearing is that when you're pitching a story, it doesn't necessarily have to be something big and amazing, hosting this giant charity event that I'm, you know, pouring millions of dollars into. It can be pretty simple and just around what you're already doing. Is that right?

HR: Yeah, because they need content, and they don't always need the big, splashy content. They need content and content ideas to fill. Think about how many articles they have to publish, and they have to keep fresh content coming through, so if you help them come up with ideas for fresh content, it could be anything. You're a client attraction coach, but you could talk about podcasting—you've been doing it now—there are other things that you can talk about. You can talk about business failures and turning a business around. 

HR: There are a lot of things that you can do. You just want to get your name out there. It doesn't have to be exactly the topic that you'd normally cover. You get your name out there, you get more backlinks, because you never know where your business might take a little detour and where it might grow into a different direction. So get your name out there, and then you can say, “I've been in Mashable,” and you could put that on your website. It doesn't matter if it's not exactly the niche that you're covering, as long as it's in the same general space.

JR: I want to actually go a little bit deeper into what you just mentioned about, like, once you've been in Mashable, you can say you've been in Mashable. So let's say that I got featured in a news article somewhere, awesome success, and they link back to my website. What do I want to do then? After the story has been published, what can I do to really increase the results I'm already going to be getting?

HR: Well, you want to share the story through your social media channels, and change it so that it's not just like, “Look, I was just in Mashable.” You can say, “If you've having problems generating leads, I was interviewed by Mashable, and this was the result,” or, “Here's how that can help you.” You want to put it in your Instagram, your little story highlights, you want to put it on LinkedIn, you want to put it on your website. Then, you can also put— if you have a one-page or one-sheet that you send to media—“featured Mashable,” or something, at the bottom. That can also show that… If you've been in other publications, they feel like you are worthy of being in their publication.

JR: Yeah, that's why on my website, for example, I definitely have the four or five big-name influences or businesses that have featured me, and I've been talking with prospects who've seemingly come out of nowhere. They found me and reached out to me, and I said, “How'd you find me?” and sure enough, it was a podcast interview that I did maybe two years ago.

HR: Mm hmm, and the more that you can do that, the better, because it does get your name out there, and that's all you want. You want to get your name out there or your business name, whichever you prefer. I prefer using my name, because then people can usually find me.

JR: Yeah, and you'll always be Helen no matter what your business is called.

HR: Yeah, and people change direction; they change businesses, but that PR is still good PR.

JR: So zooming out even further, what would you recommend the process be for a coach, maybe a newer coach, but for someone to whom this idea of PR is totally new? We talked about researching publications and researching reporters and how you're finding that gap, identifying that story, and reaching out. Those are two big pieces of the process. What other pieces of the process are there that we haven't talked about?

HR: Well, we briefly talked about Help a Reporter, which is a great service. Help a Reporter, I think, it’s Three times a day, you get newsletters that have queries from reporters that they need sources to answer, and I subscribe to the main newsletter so I get everything, because some things are misclassified. For example, if you just sign up for the business newsletter, the query could be misclassified under general, you know, it could be under technology. If you don't know exactly where that query is going to fall, you can get the main newsletter and then go through it every day and find—even if it's not directly related to exactly what you're doing—if there was something about podcasting, you can answer that. Maybe in a previous rendition of yourself, you have some other experience, you can still speak to that, even if it's not directly related, because it shows that you have authority with business in general.

JR: Yeah, for example, I have done several things that are just specifically related to the LGBT community, don't have anything to do with business, but get my name out there. And whenever my name is mentioned, client attraction coach is also mentioned.

HR: Right, and you never know who's going to be coming from that community and needing some coaching, needing client attraction.

JR: Exactly. My other big one that I've really done a lot with in the past has been Bullet Journaling. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but it's a big phenomenon, kind of a cult following, and I love Bullet Journaling. Several years ago, I wrote a blog article that they put on their website. It's a little bit different in that they're not a news outlet, but they have several hundred thousand people coming to their website every month at least, so that's huge. And it's not just media, right? There are a lot of other ways you can take the same approach. 

HR: There are a lot, and a lot of blogs are looking for content, and if you can give them content, again, it's just like getting your name out there. Some people write for Medium. Mixed results, but you can write for Medium, and you can get your name and your backlink through that. You can write for different blogs; just find out what they're looking for, like the Bullet Journal. I think the Bullet Journal is great, because people need some kind of outlet, and they can learn how to organize, and they can probably learn how to organize their leads through Bullet Journaling. I use mind mapping a lot. I use mind mapping for marketing. I don't use it just to come up with content for books; I use it for everything, and it's amazing. So your Bullet Journaling could be the same thing; it doesn't have to be exactly what you're doing. Also, you don't want to limit yourself. It's a big world, and it’s a short life, and we have so many skills that we don't even know about. What can we help people with? It doesn't have to be exactly what we're doing. Helping people in general just causes more goodwill to come your way and more good feelings about you.

JR: Absolutely. As you were talking, a question came up for me that's about something we talked about a second ago, which was one of the big values of getting your name in these publications: getting a backlink. So I'm wondering if you could give us a quick definition of do-follow versus no-follow backlinks, and whether getting a no-follow backlink would still be worth it in terms of benefit for being featured.

HR: Yeah, it's still worth it. They go back and forth, back and forth with “Is it good? Is it bad?” and everybody has their own opinion, but it's still worth it, because it still will get that relationship between your website and their website, even though it's not a follow. So it's still worth it, even if it's a no-follow.

JR: Could you quickly just define the do-follow versus no-follow distinction for anyone this is unfamiliar to?

HR: Sure, so follow-on websites, if you put a link and you leave it, or you put “follow,” it allows the search engines to jump off the article and then go and index your site. It creates a relationship between the publication of the other website and your website. No-follow means that they don't want the search engines to jump off and go to your site, but your mention is still there. It’s just that they're not going to jump from your site or from their site to your site, because it says that search engines don't follow this link over to this other website.

JR: Got it. So you still would get most of the benefits of having your name mentioned, and you would also get the traffic that comes to that…

HR: Yeah, the traffic is the most important.

JR: …but you wouldn't have those almost fringe SEO benefits. Is that right?

HR: Right, and usually they have an active link, but if they have a no-follow, it just means that they can still click through to your website, but the search engines won't go in and jump from their website to your website.

JR: Got it. The reason I asked is that I have seen, more and more recently, news outlets and blogs specifying one of their conditions is that they only do no-follow links.

HR: Right, and it goes back and forth. The search engine world is so constantly changing, so I've been reading, and some people say, “Oh, it doesn't help.” Some people say it helps, and so I just go right in the middle. I figure that it does help, especially for the traffic.

JR: So for coaches out there who are listening and thinking, Wow, I really, really want to take this approach. I really want to see how a PR strategy and getting my name out there can really boost my lead generation, what would be your top recommendation for the first thing for them to do?

HR: First thing I would do is sign up for Help a Reporter and start getting your feet wet with that. Go through all the queries, see what you can answer. The most important thing is to actually answer their questions. A lot of people, when I was getting the sources responding to me, they weren't answering my question, so I just went on to the next one. I used to get 70-80 responses to one query that I posted, so really think about how you're going to make yourself be seen, how you are going to be different. How are you going to stand out and become more visible over the others? You want to make sure you answer their questions. Start out with a little bit of a hook. Don't be too verbose. I’m the queen of verboseness. Don't do that. Be short, succinct, and then they'll ask you more questions if they're interested. That's the first thing I would do.

JR: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. You obviously have a lot of expertise in this area, so for coaches out there who are listening, who want to connect with you, who want to learn more about how you can help them, could you could you tell us a little bit more about how you could help coaches, one-to-one, to implement this strategy?

HR: Sure, I work with people, I work for my clients, I help them with general PR, but I'm also helping people learn how to do it themselves, teach them step by step how to find the leads, how to respond to the articles, and then how to reach out to reporters. That way, they don't always need to come back to me. They're more self-sufficient, because PR agencies charge between $3,000 and $5,000 a month. 

JR: Oh, really? That sounds low to me, from what I’ve heard. I've heard higher rates.

HR: I’m in the budget realm, but it could be a lot higher. When you reach a certain point, you want a PR agency, but in the beginning, I help people with their PR, but I really like to help people figure out how to do their own. I'm more than happy to help them write the pitches, and really figure out how to find the reporters. There's software out there that you can get—it's a little bit pricey—but that helps you with that and keeps track of who you've contacted. I can help people with everything from DIY to actually doing it for them, done-for-you.


JR: Absolutely. Perfect. If people want to reach out to you, connect with you, what's the best way for that to happen?


HR: Email [email protected].


JR: Perfect. That's simple enough, and I'll make sure to put that in the show notes down below.


HR: Like we talked about before, I do web development, but I also do not have a website because I've always worked from referral only, so I haven't needed to. But now we're going to be changing the structure a little bit, and so we're going to be building a website and offering more services. I've been really lucky; since 2007 I have not had to have any kind of marketing. I've just been getting work.


JR: That's pretty impressive. Not too shabby there. Thank you so much for joining me here today. Is there anything you want to share, any parting words of wisdom or anything you'd like just to share in general before we close out this episode?


HR: I would say, ask some of your closest clients what your skills are; ask them how—maybe one sentence—how they would talk about you. It's really hard for us to talk about ourselves, so ask them and then take that information and put that in the queries, or put that in your emails to reporters. Step away from yourself, because we don't really see the benefit a lot of times, what we actually do for people. Get some outside feedback, then don't be afraid to toot your own horn because we, again, don't always toot our own horns; we don't realize how much we know and how much we can help people. Don't be afraid to lay that out, and don't be afraid to share information that “Oh, I would get paid for that normally,” but sharing a little information is, as you know, the best way. Giving something for free helps people learn to trust you and see the quality of what you do, so don't be afraid to give away a secret or two.


JR: Yeah, that is a really giant, golden nugget: finding better ways to talk about yourself just based off the data of how your clients talk about what your skills are. Then, the value of giving some stuff away for free, giving information away for free. That's done wonders for my business as well. 

JR: Thank you so much for joining me. I've really enjoyed our conversation, and for those of you listening, make sure to check out the show notes for links to all things Helen below. Thank you all so much. I'll see you for the next episode. Take care. 

HR: Bye.

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