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How To Get Publicity, Without a Publicist With Alex Abramian

Megan Hill
How To Get Publicity, Without a Publicist With Alex Abramian

You just need to listen to Alexandria Abramian, founder of The PR Collaborative—an online community that helps interior designers and photographers secure publicity in top-tier publications. A former writer and editor for The Hollywood Reporter, Architectural Digest, LA Times, House Beautiful and more, Alex knows what editors are looking for and she's going to teach you too!

We invited interior designers in the Visualist community to a PR-power hour, where Alex Abramian debunked common media myths for interior designers and answered their most pressing press-related questions. In case you missed it—here are the highlights...

Can I still get my work published even though I don't have any contacts in the media?

Absolutely. In a lot of ways, editors prefer someone with fewer followers because it's like they've discovered something new. However, because these people are inundated with emails, I strongly advise anyone who's thinking about reaching out to the media to "flirt" with journalists first by engaging with them on social media. Most of the editors and the writers you'll want to reach out to will manage their own social media which means when you follow and leave a comment, they'll remember your name. Then, when they see your name in their inbox 2 weeks later, it is going to feel familiar and will be more likely to capture their attention. Don't flirt at noon and then email them at 4 pm. Give it a second. Editors are sensitive to people wooing them on Instagram and then immediately going to their inbox and pitching them. Give it a week, give it 2 weeks.

It is also important to familiarise yourself with editor's socials because it gives you a sense of who they are. Whether they like to bake bread on the weekends, or they love tulips, or they have a corgi, or they're building a barn or whatever that, knowing a little bit about them personally will flavour the tone of the email and help you stand out in their inbox as an actual human. To be clear, you want to be engaging with an editor's personal accounts, not the publication itself.

I have my eye on a feature in a certain magazine but I can't find details of the editor—how can I conduct my research?

Step 1: search the name of your chosen publication + "Masthead" in Google. If you get the actual masthead—sorted!

If that doesn't work, step 2 is to go to the website of that publication, scroll to the bottom and find their Contact Us page, the email you're looking for might be listed there.

A third way is to scan the bylines. Is there a certain writer's name that crops up a lot, someone who is really cranking out the content for this publication? Now you have the name you can plug that into Google and find out more about them, their Linkedin perhaps. Ultimately, you want to find out if they are freelance or staff.

If they're freelance, they most likely have a website. You'll find their contact details there. If they're staff, now you just need to find the format of emails for that publication and plug in their name. A great way to find the company email format is to go to that magazine's advertising section because there will always be an email for the one responsible for selling ads. Let's say it's joe.schmo@condenast.com. Now you know the company email format you can swap in the editor's name and you can guarantee that your email will reach them. If in doubt it is tempting to use the info@ address, but I suggest avoiding doing so because it probably won't reach who you're looking for and sometimes gets siphoned over to the ad side. In that case, you'll receive a quick, positive response but it's likely because they want to sell you an ad.

I'm considering paying for an ad with the view to getting some editorial in return, is this a worthwhile approach?

I know that ad teams have been known to promise designers that they would be under consideration for editorial if they bought an ad and very rarely does that come to fruition. So, I'm hesitant to let you spend money, because it doesn't always turn into actual editorial that you would want.

But there is one exception. There are some publications where ads are referred to as sponsored content and these really give the designer a lot of leeway into how that piece is laid out, it almost looks like a piece of editorial content. If you love the way the ads look, and you feel that they are designed to really target your audience, then it could be worth pursuing. But in general, I think that directly pitching an editor is a better allocation of your time and effort.

Who is the right person to target on the inside: features writer, editor, senior editor, etc?

Here's the answer: it depends.

If it's a small, local print publication, you want to go for the editor—the top person. If it's a big old publication, this may surprise you, but you need to contact the digital editor. A common misconception is that print features are the most important. No—print is not the most important, getting published is the most important. You build your way to getting into print.

If you're looking to get into a national print publication, it's going to take a snowball effect of years of doing your own PR to get there. You want to start building now. In the United States, we have some beautiful print publications—they publish 18 homes a year. A digital editor is going to be cranking out 18 homes a week. So we want to start your snowball by getting you published in digital publications.

Another really good thing about a digital versus a print story is that digital can go live in 2 weeks to 2 months after emailing the editor. Print, you can wait 2 years for that to happen. So digital is great for those starting out.

Tip: don't underestimate local publications, they are incredibly important in your PR Portfolio. Firstly because you want to have a diverse portfolio of PR—national, local, digital, features—all of these different flavours of PR. Secondly, local is where your future clients live. Those free publications that come to your doorstep or those smaller local ones, might be the only print media that people in your area are consuming, so these smaller local pubs can truly be your gateway to grow in your business. You want to use local publications to attract clients to you and then use national publications to convert. Here's the perfect scenario: a local resident gets the local paper through their door. They open it and see your ad/feature, so they go to your website. Whilst there, they see that you were featured in Architectural Digest and the Wall Street Journal and think, "I gotta hire her!"

PR is a multi-pronged attack.

Do I have to be honest about my work having been published before?

Here's the thing, you've got to be transparent. Because ultimately you want to play the long game and establish lifelong media relationships. That's what will grow your business. That doesn't mean you can't spin it in a positive light: "Oh shucks! This actually has been published, but I'm working on some other projects right now, and I'm going to be sure to reach out to you the minute I get the photos."

Some publications won't worry so much about if it's been published before but your top targets will always want something that's unpublished.

What is the number one mistake you see people making when reaching out to editors?

While an email might start with "Hi Kelly" or "Hi Brittany", the body of the email has very little personalisation. When I was an editor that was the bane of my existence—I knew that when I received a long perfectly polished email, it was also sent to all my competitor magazines as well. That's why you want to craft emails that are shorter, more casual and way more personalised—you want to do everything we can to make an editor feel like we are seeking out them and them only.

PR is a lot like online dating. You don't want people to feel scanned. You don't want people to feel like you're looking for a quickie, and you don't want these editors to think that you're playing the field. As with online dating, we go back to those first three important questions: where are you located? Are you playing the field (have you been published before)? And what do you look like?

One of the quickest ways to an editor's heart is to read their publication. Look at what they've most recently published and really understand what their approach to design and architecture is. Do they only do home tours? Do they have a house of the week? And what departments do they have? Every magazine has departments—reference those in your short, sweet and specific email to this editor: "Hey, I absolutely love that Marc career marble bathroom that you just featured. I did something a little different, but it kind of reminded me of what you just covered..." And then go into it. I cannot tell you how meaningful that will be to an editor to know that you took the time to read their publication.

What is an acceptable amount of times to follow up with an editor?

Reach out 2 to 3 times over the course of say 3 weeks—so once a week for 3 weeks. Be politely persistent. If they don't respond, move on.

How do I use media coverage to help me land new clients?

If you get any PR placement, it needs to be all over your Instagram, website and LinkedIn. That is the single hardest part of the entire process, because people are really hesitant to celebrate their success. But don't be shy, your future clients will be very interested to know that you have had this media recognition!

To maximise the exposure of your features, Instagram is your friend. All your press should be visible on your feed and on your stories—every interior designers should have an Instagram highlight called "Press" to use as s a library of media wins. The same applies on your website, a page called "Press" or "Recognition" is a must. I refer to this as your "trophy wall" and you want to keep that trophy wall up to date with your latest features, whether it's a full-page spread or a single quote about stone slabs.

I’ve got an upcoming portrait photo shoot, any tips on how to get the perfect pics?

First things first, the shoot should take place inside a room you have designed.Secondly, these pictures need to tell a story that is cohesive with your brand identity. If your style is cottage colourful, you want to dress in jeans and a beautiful sweater, not expensive designer wear! You want there to be some cohesion between your look and your interior design style. These pictures should reflect you and the environment that you've created as a unified aesthetic.

You need two types of shots:
"Action shots" - pictures of you actively doing something (plumping up a cushion, arranging flowers in a vase etc.) Top tip: these are really good for social media.
Media portrait - a portrait (3/4 or full body—not a headshot) of you looking directly at the camera.

And don't be shy—remember you can always retouch photos, so don't let any insecurities hold you back.

What makes a great bio to include in my pitches?

Don't craft a bio that talks about how credentialed or capable you are—nobody cares. We assume you're credentialed and capable, we want to know how you're different.

You need just 2 to 3 sentences that crystallise how you are different, in the PR Collaborative we call this your “unicorn bio”. What is it about you that is totally different from any other designer out there? I really encourage you to be specific about who you are. Do not try and be a generalist to the media or your clients— it is the quickest way to not make money. And have fun with it!

Every month, we invite industry experts to answer the practical questions of our creative community. Brand messaging, financial management, legal contracts—you name it! Want to join our club and bag an invite to our next session? Sign up here.Attention interior designers! You don't need a publicist to get publicity.