How We Built Software
That Helps People Do Their Own PR
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Dmitry Dragilev, the founder of JustReachOut, software that helps people do their own PR. More specifically, we help marketers and entrepreneurs learn about the most effective PR strategies and tactics and provide them with a suite of tools to find and connect with the most relevant journalists, bloggers, publications, and other media channels.
I run the company with my wife, Corey McAveeney and we have a small team of people who help maintain the site part time. We’re a manageable and affordable alternative to hiring an agency.
Our customers are especially successful if they have a story and have had a bit of luck with getting press in the past. We got into this business because we like the idea of teaching the underdog or the little guy how to get ahead with PR without needing deep pockets. The ethos of our company is to teach others how to connect with and build relationships in a personalized way, in order to grow your audience and brand. It’s highly effective for smaller organizations that have a unique story or are addressing a growing demand.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
We’ve both always worked in tech. I started out as a software engineer and then got into marketing when I was getting my MBA. The term growth hacking became popular around the same time, and I really identified with that approach to marketing and that’s certainly influenced my approach to PR.
Corey’s background is quite varied but an underlying theme in her work has always centred on levelling the playing field for marginalized people and making opportunities accessible to everyone. Working on JustReachOut from the beginning (but in an unofficial capacity) she dubbed herself the ‘late night kitchen table strategist’ before officially joining the company in 2018.
My work as a consultant before starting JustReachOut allowed me to see what startups and small businesses were in dire need of: PR guidance and tools. I set out to develop a suite of tools that would be the swiss army knife of PR for a marketing team that didn’t want to hire a traditional PR expert.
Our search tools allow customers to find and reach out to the most relevant people – people who have an interest in their topic or a related topic. This high level of relevancy and personalization is what prompts a person to open an email pitch or a response to a press inquiry.
Most of the people who are seeking PR come to us with very little knowledge about the type of research they need to do to track down the right people to contact, let alone what they should say to them. So we coach them through the process.
After developing our search tools and outreach capabilities, Corey wanted to help people get organized, to manage their strategy and overall campaign. So she built out a custom strategy to guide people through the different stages of their campaign and educate them about the different outreach tactics as they experiment with different types of media outreach (i.e. podcasts vs. blogs) and different pitch angles.
The software guides our customers but we still offer a lot of support for customers as they learn how to think about what they’re pitching and how to think more like a journalist and less like a marketer.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Our stance on traditional PR is that it’s outdated. For large companies, traditional PR campaigns that utilize a one-to-many approach (press release distribution, for example) can do the job.
For the small company with a brand or product that relatively no one has heard of, unless you’re connected to some big-name industry leader or investor, it’s difficult to get the attention of a publication. You don’t have a track record, you don’t have any well-known influencers to vouch for you, in the eyes of the media, you lack credibility. So you have to go about building it yourself, as you craft the stories and relationships that will garner the press you’re after. It takes time and patience to survive; it’s an exercise in rejection.
Our biggest challenge is that this type of work needs consistent effort and attention. For some customers, this means blocking time on the calendar just to get it done a few times a week. For others, they need more support in the shape of our group calls for customers to stay motivated and get inspired. The PR industry itself is tricky and much of it is broken. It’s viewed as disingenuous while the profession of journalism and the media landscape is itself evolving rapidly.
For entrepreneurs and marketers who have personally experienced the benefit of connecting with their audience via mass media, the effort is no easy feat. The outcome of brand recognition; however, is not the only prize. Building relationships and broadening the reach of your audience when you’re not a large organization makes you feel invincible. But the feeling is short-lived.
We work continuously to keep our customers engaged; which is especially tough when we know they will soon forget how good it felt to get the recognition they were striving for, because the path to landing that next podcast interview or article seems too far away. We’re here to shorten the path.
Who is your target market?
We typically work with marketers and entrepreneurs, depending on the size of the organization. Our most successful customers are motivated and eager to learn how to run a modern PR campaign with the guidance of our team and our software. Most people have a few story angles or data that they want to share with the press or reach a larger audience.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Corey: We do interviews for various tech and small business podcasts and publications, but most of our business is by word of mouth. Over the past decade Dmitry’s personal blog has garnered a lot of attention and we’ve grown our audience of entrepreneurs and marketers substantially by way of our newsletter subscriptions.
We remain committed to supporting our customers, educating them about PR and we’re lucky not to have to put much effort or money into marketing.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Scaling! When we first launched, we weren’t a purely SaaS business. Today our customers are onboarded personally and our software has built in guidance to assist our users as they manage their PR campaigns. Before we had the education and guidance built into the platform, we were doing things based on what was requested by our users, it wasn’t a uniform process that offered a comprehensive introduction to PR like we have today.
After our initial onboarding call with a customer, we remain in close contact with them, checking in and encouraging them to send us questions and pitches to review. We hold group video calls for customers, it’s a space for everyone to share what they’ve learned and how they’ve tested their stories and angles. It’s a great opportunity for customers to learn from each other – and we get great feedback and insight from them as well.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We are a super small husband and wife software company with remote support staff. Dmitry and I work side by side from our home and our office vibe is pretty laid back. We don’t work traditional hours and we’ve created an incredibly flexible schedule that allows us to serve our customers and spend plenty of time with our kids.
It’s been challenging more recently, but consciously choosing not to take on more than we can handle has helped us maintain our productivity and our sanity.
If our main objective for 2020 had been hockey stick growth, we would be exhausting our resources, spending little time with our kids, and trying to chase after someone else’s dream. Our main objective is to teach people how to do PR in a personalized way that will have a long-lasting effect on their business.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use Profitwell to monitor customer engagement in addition to the customer data we have on our own platform. We use Bench for accounting. Our favourite productivity tool is a combination of Asana and good old fashioned index cards and sticky notes.
We like Google Meet for video meetings and our platform integrates with Gmail, making it easier for our customers to monitor and respond to their contacts.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Corey: Dmitry would say that teaching someone to do something is far more valuable than selling them a service. When people are motivated to learn about PR tactics and add it to their marketing toolkit, they’re going to be more involved, interested, and passionate about what they’re pitching than if they were to outsource the task to an agency that doesn’t get your business.
I would say that I’ve learned a lot about myself, my ego, and my true priorities. When I was younger, I heard the word career and visualized success much differently than I do today. I like being in control and I’ve learned that I can’t make all of our customers happy all the time but I can build rewarding relationships with many of our customers most of the time and this keeps me excited about serving our customers and constantly delivering a better product.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Flexibility. We have the freedom and control over building our business in a way that our customers and other professionals in the industry get our full attention. We are privileged to choose and design our work and give people the tools they need to put their best stories out there. It’s satisfying to apply our creativity and expertise toward something that gives us more inspiration and motivation to continue serving our community of customers.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The feeling and pressure that it’s never enough. Our culture reminds us constantly that our approach to being entrepreneurs is against the grain. Learning to block out the noise and judgments from others and stay focused on our priorities takes a lot of discipline. Because even if I worked 168 hours a week, there’d still be an inbox full of requests and items on the to-do list.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
We see ourselves working with even more loyal customers – over time, our customers become more attached to and dependent on their PR campaigns. This isn’t going to change. Small businesses that are finding their voice, have great stories to share, and want to connect with the press will always value the investment in a personalized and efficient way to reach a bigger audience.
If we don’t grow too much (but just enough), I’ll be really pleased with our discipline to say ‘no’ to the prevailing work-life ‘balance’ and happy that I get to watch my kids grow up.