The question on almost every early stage startup founder’s mind is, “How do I get a top publication to cover my startup launch?”
In reality, the question founders should be asking is, “How do I create a PR strategy to help achieve my startup’s goals?” It’s not just about one flashy article or logo, but instead about a communications plan for building relationships with journalists and getting a steady drip of coverage.
Earlier this month, I interviewed two experts on this topic: Bryce Keane, Partner and Head of Communications at Atomico, and Steve O’Hear, London-based journalist at TechCrunch. We focused on tactics relevant to early stage startups, when founders are often doing PR & communications themselves. Below are some of the key takeaways for successful “DIY” PR.
Set Your PR Goals
There are many reasons to do PR. It could be for fundraising, hiring, reaching customers or building your brand and credibility. The most important thing is to tie it to your business objectives, and from there, figure out who you want to reach, why and with what.
For instance, if you’re looking for customers, target trade and industry publications that those customers read. On the other hand, if your company is launching a consumer product, focus on getting press coverage in publications for your target customer persona. Coverage in publications like Forbes or Techcrunch is often powerful for getting in front of venture capitalists and others in the tech community.
Build Your Media Literacy
This may sound simple, but to understand tech media, first you have to consume it. If you don’t read the relevant news in your space, you won’t know the trends and insights that will help you stand out to a reporter.
Create Your Reporter List
This step is tactical: set up a Google alert for your company, sector, competitors and other relevant keywords. Read the search results and other relevant articles every morning. Familiarise yourself with, and keep track of (in an excel or Google sheet), the journalists who frequently write about your space. Include links to article, name of reporter, publication, Twitter handle and email.
You could share the responsibility of keeping this sheet up to date with your team, and have everyone at the company participate to help increase media literacy across the whole team. In addition to learning which reporters are writing about your sector, it will also build your internal knowledge. Doing this work over time will allow you to build a media list customized for your startup and reach out to journalists in a targeted way, once you are ready.
Make Your Pitch Stand Out
Journalists receive thousands of emails per day, many of them generic (think “Dear sir…”). To stand out, it’s important to personalize your email.
- Keep it short – Make sure your email cuts right to the chase so a journalist can easily understand what you are doing.
- Make it personal – Why are you reaching out to this particular journalist? Make sure that is clear in your message.
- Include a hook – A journalist’s job is to serve their readers with engaging and relevant stories. For your pitch to stand out, it needs to fit into the trends that people are talking about. Connect the dots between current events and what your company is building in order to make your pitch compelling.
- Pitch one journalist per publication – Avoid the scenario where you pitch more than one journalist in the same publication, have them both research your company and pitch it to their editorial team. Pick one reporter at a time to avoid accidental duplication of efforts.
Remember, Reporters Are Humans Too
Focus on building long-term relationships with reporters. Be a source on breaking stories and offer your expertise when possible. Journalists are busy working on tight deadlines, so they will often lean on experts in their network to validate facts. Try to establish yourself as someone they can contact for urgent opinions and confirmations. Once you have a strong relationship, it opens the door to asking them to write about your company when you have news to share.
PR Is A long Term Game
Getting a reporter to cover your startup’s fundraise is often the easy part, but it’s not where PR ends. Maintaining a steady cadence of PR takes much more work but is powerful for building your brand and credibility in the market.
Between fundraises, early-stage founders can get press coverage by sharing trends they’re seeing in the market, conducting primary research or providing quotes to back up other stories. Create a Twitter list of reporters from your media list so you can keep in touch, engage with their work and offer relevant opinions. If relationship building is done in a targeted way and a startup has clear goals for PR, it can help accelerate customer acquisition, fundraising and much more.
If you approach PR with a relationship building mindset, you will likely get coverage for your startup (and you may make some new friends along the way!).