Startup PR for DummiesPublic Relations (PR) is not a high priority for most early-stage startups. If you keep in mind how many different hats founders have to wear in the early days to build a product, get customers, hire a team and raise money, you’ll understand why. However, I’ve seen plenty of founders miss out on PR opportunities like a funding announcement due to mistakes that would have been easy to avoid.
That’s sad because startups can benefit from media coverage in multiple ways. Coverage by the right publications can generate inbound leads from potential customers. Good PR can also make you look much bigger than you are, which can be useful when you’re talking to potential customers and partners. Finally, sometimes the biggest benefit of media coverage is that it can help with recruiting by spreading the word in the startup ecosystem and contributing to your employer brand.
|Mike Butcher gets 500 emails a day. His advice on how to get his attention: Be a purple cow.|
Some founders intuitively master PR immediately, but others don’t. If you think you might be in the second category and you want to increase your knowledge from zero to 101, then this post is for you. The caveat is that I’m not a PR expert by any means, so if you’re reading this and you think I got something wrong or if you have any suggestions, please let me know!As a clarification, when I talk about PR in this post, it’s about how to obtain favorable media coverage on company news. I’m not talking about crisis management, lobbying, or other types of PR that are usually less relevant for early-stage tech startups. If you want to learn more about these aspects of PR you should talk to someone who knows much more about the topic than I do. I’m just trying to teach you a few basics on how to pitch to journalists so they’ll finally write about the cool stuff you’ve spent so much time building. 🙂
Remember that journalists are humans, too.
Try to put yourself into the shoes of the human on the other side. If you’re trying to pitch a writer of, say, TechCrunch, try to imagine what her job looks like, what her goals are, and how you can help her achieve those goals. I imagine that as a TechCrunch writer:
- You are inundated with 100s of emails and press releases every day.
- Your job is to quickly scan through haystacks of press releases, most of them sent to you by self-declared market leaders who all claim to revolutionize billion-dollar markets. Most of those press releases are filled with self-praise and unrealistic claims and are so full of buzzwords and jargon that (if you haven’t given up on taking a look at them yet) you cringe as you’re trying to go through them.
- Your job is to find a needle in these haystacks. You’re looking for a new company or new product that makes for an interesting story for your audience. It needs to be an announcement that can be fact-checked within the few days that you have for the story. And of course, you want to be the first publication to write about the news.
Just by keeping this in mind and by trying to help the journalist achieve her goals, I believe you’ll avoid most mistakes, but let me add a few more practical tips.
1. Target the right people
Maybe this is too obvious even for a “Startup PR 101” post, but just to be sure: Target the right publications and the right writers at those publications. Before you reach out to potential customers or VCs you probably (hopefully!) do research to qualify them and to target the right person with the right message. Targeting journalists is no different. By checking out news archives you’ll quickly find out which writer covers which topics, which will help you avoid sending a consumer internet story to the security technology writer. Also, consider the regional aspect. If a journalist has already covered several companies in your country or region, it’s more likely that he or she is receptive. The more you know about the publications and the writers you’re trying to pitch, the better your chances.
2. Don’t waste money on mass distribution services
Circulating a press release using a distribution service like Business Wire or PR Newswire is completely useless. Maybe these services help larger companies to be found by journalists who monitor them. But as a startup, no one is looking for news on you, so you can save those expenses.
3. Leverage your network
Ask your investors if they have connections to journalists and ask them for intros. The fact that you’ve raised money often gives you credibility. If some people thought you were interesting enough to give money to, then some people are likely to find you interesting enough to read about too.
4. Build relationships ahead of time
If you can’t get a warm intro, try to build a relationship with the writer way before you’ll pitch him. Read his articles and leave thoughtful comments in the comments area. Try to engage with him on Twitter. Try to meet him at a conference. Try to be genuinely useful to him e.g. by offering him an introduction to someone you think he might be interested in talking to. Everything is better and more likely to work than an out-of-the-blue cold email.
5. No BS
|Journalists are looking for purple cows, not their excrements. 😉|
Because journalists are bombarded with news from companies that all claim to be the next big thing, they have highly sensitive bullshit antennas. Don’t make claims that you can’t back up with data and evidence. Don’t use superlatives unless you’re sure that they are warranted.
6. Keep it simple
Make sure that the background knowledge required to understand your press release is aligned with your audience (the journalist and the readers). Focus on one or two key messages, supported by some background information and few supporting messages. If you’re trying to convey too many things at the same time, there’s a high risk that you’ll lose your reader and will end up conveying nothing at all.Neil Murray, the founder of The Nordic Web, was kind enough to review a draft of this post and commented: