Life & Business

8 Tips For Getting Publicity (Without a PR Agent)

by Sabrina Smelko


Brooklyn-based Malene Barnett has gotten her business, Malene B Carpets, featured in the glossy pages of major magazines — from HGTV Magazine, to New York Magazine, to Interior Design magazine — and featured on popular websites such as The Selby and Apartment Therapy. She has appeared on nationally syndicated talk shows like The Nate Berkus Show and rubbed shoulders with the icons of the industry — and she’s done it all without a publicist.

Of course, the skill and expertise of a professional cannot be denied, but sometimes making due with what you have is your only solution — especially when you’re first starting out. While Malene admits that she could have benefited from the professional management and media connections of an experienced publicist, when she first launched, foregoing hiring a publicist was her way of not only curbing some startup costs, but cutting her teeth in the market and gaining confidence in talking to people and press. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to gain more traction to get your business noticed, Malene’s eight tried and true lessons in self-promotion are ones that she continues to live by. —Sabrina

Photography by James Ravenell Photography

Tip 1: Define Your Brand Mission: Know what your brand stands for. Perfect your business model, get intimate with its source of inspiration, and be well-versed in your brand’s design process. Remember, you are your brand’s best advocate and you should consider yourself the leading expert on the ins and outs of your business.

Don’t think that you have to define your brand on your own. I worked with a brand consultant who created a brand blueprint that has been a helpful guide in steering my business.


Tip 2: Be Different: Create products that stand out in your product category. If you are a textile designer, and flower motifs are a popular search, offer options that are not typical within that category; make it unique. This creates interest that generates more interest.

My first design was called “Wolof” and it was inspired by a trip to Senegal, West Africa. I created a graphic pattern that celebrated the fashions of the Wolof people. This was not a typical motif for a carpet, and because it was so different, the pattern attracted tons of press in national design magazines and television, and garnered a full-page spread in Interior Design magazine.


Tip 3: Network: You need to network and connect with editors and build a relationship with them. Sure, connecting with magazine editors on social media platforms works, but don’t underestimate the old-fashioned (and not yet completely outdated) forms of connecting. Invite an editor to tea or coffee to touch base. I’ve done it, and I know a few creative professionals who swear by editor meet-and-greets in person.

Whether you reach out by email or in person, consider your exchanges with editors an opportunity to genuinely build relationships with them. You will not connect with every editor on a personal level, but take the time to invest in getting to know the ones you do. I have, and not only do I reap the benefits of new friendships, but I’ve also become a resource for them when they need suggestions for people to contact in the industry.


Tip 4: Attend Events: Research events sponsored by the magazines and websites that you want to be featured in. Attending events on your own can be intimidating, but before you exit the party, be sure to greet the host. Introduce yourself and thank the host for such a fine event. Then ask who you should connect with in the room. I do this all of the time when I really don’t know anyone. It works wonders and I’ve met people who I may not have met on my own. Another tip: Familiarize yourself with the publication’s masthead, then introduce yourself to the top editors and associates who cover your product category.


Tip 5: Be Portfolio-Ready: Have your bio, product images and descriptions, and self portraits ready. I update mine seasonally, including my portraits, so that everything reflects the freshest, most experienced version of my brand.

Don’t ever think that you have too many pictures of yourself and products. I always plan for at least three different looks for head shots. Once you start getting press, you don’t always want to use the same headshot image. Plus, at times, some publications want images that have not been published. Always have a variety of images ready for submissions.


Tip 6: Update Photography: Hire a professional photographer. If possible, select someone who works with the publications that you want to be featured in. You will have a better chance of being featured. And don’t forget to book the makeup artist and stylist! You want to look your absolute best. If you don’t personally know any photographers, review magazines and websites where you would like to be published. Make a list of the standout photographers, do a Google search to review their websites, and reach out to the ones who fit your aesthetic.

I’ve been fortunate to work with so many talented photographers and I understand photography can be expensive. But there are ways to get what you need, all within your budget. My first portraits were a barter exchange with a photographer who was looking to change direction in their style of work. I modeled for a number of shoots in exchange for professional portraits. I was able to receive professional images and the photographer built a new body of work. Be creative with ideas if there are budget constraints.


Tip 7: Make Contact: Send out product images in a friendly email introducing your brand. You are emailing real people, so it’s okay to drop the formality when appropriate. I keep my messages short and sweet with no fluffy lingo. It’s an editor’s specialty to add the spice to copy. I don’t pitch at all, but rather send a quick hello/introduction with highlights to the product line and a few images. I’ve created an example email below:

Hi (Name)

My name is YOUR NAME and I’m the owner of COMPANY NAME (you can share your brand mission here as well). I want to personally introduce you to our brand, DESCRIBE PRODUCT/BRAND. I wanted you to be the first to know that we are debuting our COLLECTION NAME at SHOW NAME. The COLLECTION NAME is BACKSTORY/DETAILS. We think your readers would connect with our line and we hope you do, too.

Let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to sharing our exciting collection with your readers!



Phone Number – Email Address – Social Media Handles


For editors that I know, I’ll send the following:

Hi (Name),

It’s been awhile since we last spoke, and I wanted to update you on what’s new in the world of COMPANY NAME. I wanted you to be the first to know that we are launching our next collection at SHOW NAME. The collection is called COLLECTION NAME and BACKSTORY/DETAILS. We think your readers will connect with our line and we hope you do, too.

Let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to sharing our exciting collection with your readers!



Phone Number – Email Address – Social Media Handles


Tip 8: Be Strategic: Design collections and plan product launches around the Spring and Fall when publications generally like to share what’s new for the season. Launching collections around trade shows works, too. I exhibit at a few trade shows a year and launch new collections and designs at each show. My first trade show earned a two-page spread in Hospitality Design Magazine, a feature in the LA Times, and many other national publications.

You can also plan a press preview or private showing with product incentives to attract a variety of editors. An editor’s job is to discover new products, so give them an opportunity to find you!


Best of luck on your promotional journey! Follow these surefire techniques as closely and consistently as your schedule and budget allow, and you’ll give your brand a solid head start. Then, when you’re ready to hire a publicist, you’ll be all the more knowledgeable about what type of representation you should seek. But until that day, don’t be surprised if your friends demand to know who represents you. Go ahead, shock them silly!


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  • I have admired your work for some time. Love seeing you on here and sharing your advice for PR success. Great pro tips for anyone with a visual brand. I will for sure implement these! Thank you, Malene.

  • Thank you so much for these tips.This truly invites and guides me to take things up a notch! Thanx for sharing your experience and your positive confident outlook with us!

  • Such uselful and easily implementable advice. Thank you Malene for sharing your tried and true strategies. So many entrepreneurs (creative or not) can benefit from these tips.

  • Really helpful actionable advice. Looking forward to putting it into effect in my new business. Thanks for sharing.

  • This is excellent! We’ve done a lot of our own PR and found the tips above to ring true. We’ve also invested in a PR freelancer, which has been much more cost effective than going with an agency. The two together have gotten us a lot more press. It’s hard work, but good work!

  • Thanks for this Malene! I am going to use tip 5,6 and 7. I see where it can be strategic for me and having updated information always at hand is great. I also like the fact that you mention to use a photographer for the publication that you want to work with. I am looking to work with AARP magazine and I know these ideas will come in handy.