What is Substack? (and How to Use It to Get More Press Features)

Mar 13, 2023

You’ve probably heard of Substack by now, whether from a fellow PR pro or one of your media contacts. And for good reason: this is the next big shift in the media landscape! Substacks can help you deeply connect with journalists and editors in your niche, extend your client’s reach, and more. We’re going beyond asking what is Substack and diving into why it’s so important for PR pros and how you can use it to score influential features for your clients. 

What Is Substack? 

Okay, so, you know Substack is making some waves in the media, but what is Substack, anyway? At its most basic, Substack is an email marketing platform creators use to write newsletters and share their work. It gives them a direct connection to their followers or subscribers — no need to constantly retweet or reshare their work to ensure people see it! 

Creators can share pretty much anything on their Substack, and some set up paywalls for additional subscriber-exclusive content. Substack is all about creativity and freedom for creators. Opinion pieces, personal writing (like fiction or poetry), investigative pieces, excerpts of their published works, industry analysis…it all has a home on Substack! And as a free follower or paid subscriber, you get a front-row seat.

Related: 14 Dos and Don'ts of Building Professional Respect with the Media

Why PR Pros Should Start Using Substack ASAP!

Journalists are prioritizing Substack more and more, and PR pros need to jump on this trend! You don’t have to start your own Substack unless you want to — honestly, I’d recommend just joining as a subscriber. If you’re not sure where to start, we have a killer list of Substacks you need to subscribe to inside The Pitch Lab!

When asking what is Substack, the benefits you’ll highlight for PR pros are wayyy different than the ones media contacts care about! Editors use Substack for more consistent readership and income, and more flexibility in what they write. But PR pros can take advantage of these and use them to score more impactful features for clients. 

Sharing a newsletter is a more personal way of connecting with an online audience and it helps develop trust between a writer and their readers, which is super important for press placements. Writers have influence! Their readers trust their recommendations more because of this personal connection. And that is where you come in! 

How to Use Substack to Land More Features for Your Clients 

Once you know the basics of what Substack is and why you should use it, it’s time to add it to your outreach strategy! Substacks can transform your client’s reach and get them in front of new audiences — you just need to know how to use them. Here are four of my best strategies for effectively using Substack to land high-impact features for your clients. 

Keep Up with Journalists and Editors in Your Niche 

If one of your media contacts has a Substack, go subscribe right now!! One of the best ways to use Substack is to take advantage of its personal nature and develop stronger relationships with journalists and editors in your niche. PR pros who don’t know what Substack is are missing out on these deeper connections!

Lots of writers use their Substacks to share a mix of personal and professional material. Reading through a journalist’s newsletter is an easy way to stay up to date with their latest pieces and their personal life…sometimes before they share the news on social media! 

This info is majorly valuable when personalizing your pitches. Starting your email with well-wishes for an editor’s upcoming vacation or congratulating them on a major piece they shared on their Substack shows them that you’re engaged and interested in their work. You’ve taken the initiative to subscribe to their newsletter and bring your relationship to a new level — they’ll return that respect and invest in your relationship as well! 

Stay Updated on Industry News 

No matter your niche, there’s a Substack dedicated to sharing industry news on a daily or weekly basis…you just might have to do a bit of research to find it! Substack makes it easy to discover newsletters across any industry. You can search their website by general topic or by writer, and skimming through industry hashtags on Twitter and LinkedIn can lead you to Substacks as well! 

Keeping up with industry news and trends is a key part of writing effective and relevant pitches for your clients. With Substack, you don’t have to click through endless Google alerts or publications to get your updates! Substacks that publish newsletters more frequently are less likely to miss out on smaller stories, while weekly newsletters might stick to just the big news.

Related: What is Ethical Newsjacking? (And How to Stay on Top of Industry Trends as a PR Pro)

Jump on Last-Minute Pitch Opportunities 

Okay, this is the biggest benefit to knowing what Substack is and jumping on it ASAP. Beyond sharing personal and professional stories, tons of editors and journalists use their Substacks to share pitch opportunities! 

They may put out general calls for pitches in a certain beat or could ask for super-targeted stories and products. Our Substack resource inside The Pitch Lab is full of newsletters written by journalists who share upcoming pitch opportunities! 

Some of these opportunities will have a solid runway, but last-minute calls for pitches are really common, too. Editors sometimes share pitch opportunities with their Substack subscribers before sharing them on a wider scale, so they’ll know you’re a subscriber as soon as they see your email. A personalized pitch sent in by a subscriber is more likely to be read than one sent cold! 

Expand Your Media Lists 

Once you know what Substack is, you can adjust your media lists accordingly! Substack writers have audiences of engaged readers right at their fingertips, and any features they share in their newsletter can be really impactful. If a Substack writer’s audience heavily overlaps with your client’s intended audience, that’s a pitch match made in heaven! 

Search through Substack to find newsletter writers in your niche and subscribe as a free user. You can use this new connection to start building a relationship with them — don’t forget to follow them on social media, too! As you get more familiar with their content (and find out if the writer is open to pitches in the first place), you can start pitching them for newsletter-exclusive features. 

Substack is shaping up to be the next big thing in the media landscape, but to use it effectively,  you need to dig into more questions than just what is Substack. These four strategies will help you incorporate Substack into your pitching process so you can land super influential, high-impact features for your clients.