This is a writeup of my notes on a talk given by Brian Kateman, founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, on marketing and public relations for effective altruism.
The first stage of any new project is information-gathering. Get to know a lot of people starting related projects: you can ask them to go out for a coffee, Skype with you, or call you on the phone. You never know where initial conversations are going to go; while some are going to be a dud, a lot of people can provide useful advice or help. Don’t be scared! People are usually excited and receptive: they love being able to share their insight and knowledge. Aim high: think about the presidents of organizations, great documentarians, and so on. They’re probably a lot more accessible than you think.
In this initial stage, create a platform to get people excited: for instance, a basic yet cool website, a prototype of a product, or an outline for a research initiative. Come up with something that looks exciting and awesome.
It’s okay to think that you’re awesome and it’s worthwhile for people to talk to you. What you’re doing matters, and you have to believe it’s a good use of their time for influential people who know and do a lot more than you do to talk to you. It’s totally fine to come from a place of doubt and insecurity, because people like being mentors and giving advice. But you have to be enthusiastic about your idea: if you think your idea is stupid, other people are going to think your idea is stupid too.
It’s important to develop social proof and authority. People base their behavior on the behavior and actions of others, so build social proof into your projects early on. For instance, Brian Kateman reached out to experts for testimonials. Don’t start with super-high-profile people– after all, there’s no reason for them to help you– but you can work your way up incrementally: Kateman started with Peter Singer, whom he knew through his connections in the effective altruism movement, and then used Singer’s endorsement to get endorsements from people like Richard Dawkins. It is always better to go for it than not to go for it. Make the ask. There’s no reason to be nervous. Once you have social proof, build it into your messaging and pitch.
Authority is seeming like you know what you’re talking about. Appear to be an expert, and get the initial credibility. For instance, Kateman got a TEDx talk by luck really early on, which made him look like an expert.
There is no one in the world you can’t reach if you’re proactive and smart enough about it. It’s possible to just guess people’s email: make a spreadsheet with a bunch of different variations of their name. Firstname.firstname.lastname@example.org is very common. You can also go to events you’ll know they’ll be at, like book signings or lectures or EA Global. Don’t stalk people: if you’ve talked to someone and they’re not interested, drop it. But feel free to send followup emails every now and then. Remember, they’re not celebrities, they’re just people.
Be willing to help your connections! By the principle of reciprocity, people are more willing to help you if you’ve helped them. If other people are promoting your pet project, promote theirs; if you have knowledge about some topic they’re curious about, share it with them. And try to approach your networking from a perspective of intentionally building up relationships with awesome people: it’s not about what they do for you, it’s about getting to talk to really cool people who are doing good things for the world.
It’s important to grow your platform and scale up through online advertising, conferences, social media, and traditional media.
The best way to get media attention is a good press release and a story to tell. You can do tactics all day long, but if your story is boring or sucks no one is going to write about it. Find reporters who have covered similar stories. Get to know them and email them; connect with them on LinkedIn. Try writing reporters fan letters: “I liked your article about X Related Thing, keep me in mind if you ever want to talk about Y Pet Project.”
To find their email, you can make a spreadsheet like that one above (be sure to try variations like @nyt.com), look for their emails on the newspaper’s webpage (Washington Post has them available), or buy media lists (although those can be quite expensive). To message a bunch of different people at once, use a mail merge: this automatically fills in key information like the person’s name and newspaper, so you only have to send one email to reach ten thousand reporters.
Smaller notes: Keep your elevator pitch short. Give yourself an impressive-sounding title. Sincerely compliment people like crazy: everyone loves to be appreciated. Don’t be ashamed to namedrop: if Richard Dawkins has endorsed your nonprofit or Peter Singer emails you regularly, say so. Read Robert Cialdini’s Influence for more advice; it’s a tremendously insightful book.