Online PR for Startups
Tag: PR tutorial
Everything you need to know about Media Relations and getting press coverage for your company.
You're about to read a comprehensive guide about managing PR and getting press for your startup or business. All the quotes come from articles by well-known PR and Social Media experts.
Please let us know what you think at @prdotco. Thanks!
Are you ready for PR?
Not all startups are ready for the attention of the media. Is yours ready? If you don’t have a product-market fit, or if you don’t have a minimum viable product, chances are you’re not ready yet.
Have you invested time and effort in building a narrative, fine-tuning brand messaging, and outlining key talking points? What anecdotes will you turn to when you’re asked for a quote on the fly? How will you position your brand among industry trends, and what makes you stand out from competitors? Remember — PR is an investment, so take the time to do it right like you would any other area of your business. Take the time to really think about your positioning before your big PR push.
Do you need a PR firm?
Nobody can tell your story better than you. On the other hand, PR professionals are trained at storytelling and probably know their business better than you do. There are pros and cons both in going solo and in hiring a professional, so be aware of consequences.
When you contract your storytelling efforts to a third party, your story is immediately diluted. But when you’re telling your own story, you can make it bold, you can make it interesting, and you can even make it sexy.You will never stand out if a PR flack pitches your story: your pitch will be buried under the other 400 PR emails that most journalists receive every day. But if you pitch your product or service yourself, you significantly increase your odds of rising to the top of the inbox.
Don’t count on traditional PR
Traditional PR, made of boring press releases and mass distribution, is not effective anymore. Stop thinking of press releases as the official news from your company.
Many startup CEOs assume that announcing their new service or app with a press release is key to their launch, but as I must often explain to them, press releases per se rarely drive actual user conversions. That’s true even if the release is picked up and featured in a post by a top tech news site: while several million readers may skim the post about your app, only a fraction will bother clicking the actual App Store link, and only a fraction of them will install the app, let alone use it more than once. This problem is compounded by the sheer excess of tech press releases put out on the wires every day, choked over with generic product descriptions and executive quotes which sound like no human ever, and blatant SEO keyword scheming.
Why you do need PR
No matter how busy you are, or how scared you may be of PR, you need to do your homework. If you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you - and you won’t have a chance to influence the way others talk about you, then.
Whether or not your startup story is mundane, magical, or entirely made up, the media will craft its own narrative for your company if you don't persistently reiterate who you are. You do this in part through your product. But your product isn't enough to get the story to stick. PR firms drive your message to the media, so that they represent you in a way that attracts consumers. PR strategy is contingent on approaching objectives differently from the norm. A simple press release, while necessary, is not going to catapult you to success. Coupling that press release with a roll-out strategy across five different platforms, with timing contingent on audience reach? That's where PR professionals truly shine.
What if there’s no budget
Often, startups have little to no budget to invest in PR. You can craft your PR strategy according to your budget, and even at zero budget there’s a lot you can do.
Newsjack your biggest competitor. When you're a startup the chances are you're not very well known by journalists. That makes it really hard to make an immediate splash or land a sexy headline - at least at first. Fortunately, most of the time there is a well-known competitor you can compare yourself to, and in a way that shows off what you do better. The idea behind Newsjacking, a term coined by David Meerman Scott, is that journalists are always on the lookout for breaking news - or for a way to extend an existing story. "Jacking" your product into news that is getting decent play is an extremely efficient way to attract media attention.
Your PR tactic is not a strategy
Your goals and the ways you use to achieve them are two separate things. Here's why.
A public relations strategy is a playbook that will deliver your company to its goals. A variety of public relations tactics must be deployed in order to make your company the most attractive option to your prospects. Some of the tactics involved include launch announcements and press mentions (earned media), guest posts (earned/owned), sponsored posts (earned + owned) and educational content (pure owned).Each represents a different form of visibility and exposure for your company. But if you don’t have a public relations strategy you can’t know if the tactics you’ve employed are actually helping or not.
There’s no silver bullet
Journalists’ inboxes are usually crowded - only a few pitches get a response (read a story about this). For this reason, it’s important you find a way to stand out. What will it take to grab attention? A pitch that’s interesting and enticing. Be bold, be daring, and be weird.
News flash: In all my years, a reporter has never contacted me solely because they saw a startup’s press release on a wire-service. Never.
Become an authority
If you're passionate about what you do, and you've been working on your field for some time, you are probably already an expert. And even if you're not, you can still find ways to help people in many ways.
Nobody knows your business better than you do. Turn your passion into your credentials and become an “expert” in your field.Find industry trade publications or blogs that cover your turf, and reach out to them about contributing educational guest articles, or perhaps doing an interview Q/A about your experience. This is a great way to build up your expert profile, while also linking back to your company’s website and potentially, putting yourself in front of a valuable customer or contact.
If you have time, try to build relationships with the most influential voices in your field well ahead of your launch. Send them useful resources, messages and information prior to pushing your own project.
Engage people on Twitter
Twitter is often the easiest way to engage relevant people. Start by refining your queries, learn how to organize contacts in public lists, and engage influencers on a regular basis. How do you create good relationships with key influencers? Here’s how Jeff Bullas, one of the main experts in the field, put it:
Show through your actions that you respect their work, business, time, and privacy.
Listening to your shortlist of people, reading the articles they share, understanding the way they think, will take you closer to your goals. You’ll find unexpected ways to help out. When you see a new way you can provide assistance to someone else, just do it. You’re building credibility for yourself while helping someone else.
Do you think you're done when you hit "Publish"? Think again.
Just because your story has gone "live," it doesn't mean the work is over. This can be a good time to try getting an extra boost from your announcement. Share some of the media stories on your social media channels. If you have an email list, send an update to your supporters and ask them to share your news. Newswires are designed to get information to a wide range of reporters who may be interested in your story. Many press-release websites syndicate their content, so at the very least, your news will appear across search engines.
Are you scared of your competitors? You shouldn't be. First off, because with no competitors there's no market. Moreover, from time to time, you may also find ways to work together with them:
I try to mention as many other tools and services when promoting Bitrix24 as possible, even when these services partially compete with us. Most social media managers are happy to retweet any article that mentions their brand. A lot of time they’ll link to the article from their website or social media pages too. The more qualified traffic, the better!
Avoid wrong expectations
The hardest part of getting press for your startup isn’t getting reporter’s contact information at all. In fact, many reporters in the startup world provide emails in their Twitter bios. Those who don’t can often be found with a quick Google search, or better yet via an intro through a mutual connection.While startup PR is and should be part of your launch strategy, do not rely on press to sell your product. Instead, startup press should help tell your company’s story, the product you’re solving and drive traffic to your website.It is extremely easy to blow your entire marketing budget on paid advertising, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you should do it.
Get your story straight
Startups' assets usually considered as news are: company launches, product launches, fundraising events, acquisitions, milestones, data insights, newsjacking.
What is your product? How will it affect others? Who will care? Positioning statements combine these three key factors into two sentences that are used to market the product and pitch it to the media. To ensure success, it is important that these statements not only articulate what the product is capable of, but that they clearly describe its value proposition as well.
Trying to hook the media’s attention about the merits of your business or service alone is unlikely to land you much traction. Instead, get clear on what your company stands for. What is your philosophy or unique approach to tackling the problem in your market? Offer the press a fresh perspective. Be consistent and vocal about relevant issues in your space that are open for debate. Draw a line between your past experiences and why you’re in a special position to comment on these problems. This can open you up to many thought leadership opportunities in the press that can benefit your brand.
Take the RIBS test
To make it "stick to your ribs", your story has to be:
Relevant. Who is your audience, and is your company solving a problem that they care about? What matters to them about that problem? Why does your solution deserve attention? “It’s hard to get attention and it’s hard to be relevant,” says Marooney. “Fight for greater relevance. Make it a priority in your positioning.”
Inevitable. You want people to feel that whatever you’re developing is inevitable. This is like having a gust of wind at your company’s back. “If you can convince the reporter at lunch that whatever you’re doing makes intrinsic sense and that they can see it realistically happening, your journey to relevance will be that much shorter. That’s what gives you momentum.” If it doesn’t seem like whatever trend or movement you’re a part of will eventually come to pass, you’ll be fighting against the wind.
Believable. You can be relevant, and your product may even seem inevitable, but you still may not be believed. You have to convince people that your company is the one that can make it happen — that you’ll be the ones to carry the ball over the line. Being believable isn't just convincing people you can win, it's convincing them that they want you to win.
Simple. People are torn in so many directions these days — they’re on Facebook, checking email, trying to balance work and friends and family. Somehow you have to break through, and the way to do this is to keep things simple.
Set up your newsroom
Your pressroom is everything you need to back up your custom pitch. Keep your online newsroom up-to-date: it features your press releases, presskit, contacts and company info. When someone gets interested in your story, you want to have all the necessary back-up information just one click away. Moreover, you can add social proof to your pressroom. All the previous articles about you can be added as clippings to your pressroom. You can also start asking your clients for a quote - you don’t need celebrities, just experts or people who share your users’ pain. Be as precise as possible and feature them all in your pressroom.
Get in the media radar
Figure out who’s covering your industry - then there will be those few reporters who cover that specific area you’re in. Make sure you read everything they write. And don’t just look forward, go back in time. Get a sense of their writing style and personality, what topics interest them. The reporters covering tech want to hear your story. They’re actively looking to build relationships with entrepreneurs. If you live in the same city, try to set up some time to talk. If you don’t, then drop them a note a few weeks before you pass through their area and say you’d love to grab coffee. Not everyone will say yes, but a lot will.
Build your presslist
Yes, this is going to take time. You can start by defining your goals and audiences. Start following selected journalists, bloggers and influencers on Social Media. You can add their publications to your feed reader and take some time every week to keep up-to-date with their articles. Share the articles, leave comments, ask them questions on Twitter, connect them with other people. You'll find unexpected ways to be helpful. Let them remember your name, so you'll be more likely to get a reply when you pitch them. Get more details about building your presslist on this page.
Avoid mass distribution
Traditional wire services allow you to distribute your press releases to a pre-compiled list of selected journalists. This approach is hardly effective anymore. A campaign made of fewer, shorter and custom emails can go a long way, if you invest time and resources in it.
Dozens of new startups launch each day. Everyone thinks they have a story to tell. Reporters are bombarded with pitches every day.At the same time, dozens of startups fail each day, and media must be skeptical about who they cover. No one wants to write about companies that are here today and gone tomorrow. They want to write about disruptors that have market longevity.
Craft your subject line
In order to increase the chances to get your emails opened, you need to work on your subject line. You also may want to spend about half the time you have in crafting your title: there’s a rule about that. The Golden Rule? Don’t sell what’s inside, tell what’s inside.
I think how a journalist would think. And so my subject line is a headline. I write my pitch like a small version of what their story is going to be. It takes practice, it takes writing iterations. In the same way that a journalist probably writes several versions of a story, and throws entire pages away that they agonized over, that’s how I approach PR.
Make sure there is CEO visibility
Often CEO visibility is required to get the best results. This person may need some media training to deliver key messages, to answer common questions in a meaningful way and to avoid dangerous pitfalls. Also, numbers and data to support your claims and back up your story are usually appreciated.
Your CEO or founder is your mouthpiece that plays an instrumental role in shaping your company’s image, brand and culture. Therefore he or she needs to be accessible and visible to the public. This means they must have a presence on social media, a positive relationship with the press and the ability to share your story flawlessly. Not only will their visibility create credibility and leadership in your industry, but it will also get them in front of the right people to help expand the business. You’ve designated a point person to manage outsourced PR. Whether it’s your social media/content lead or another person on your team, you need to have someone on staff who will take ownership of outsourced PR to ensure timeliness and transparency.
Many sources agree about the preferred way to pitch: email. Emails are still one of the most powerful tools and journalists love them. Some may prefer different engagement tools, but when you get to know them you will know. How do you craft emails for the journalists and influencers you want to get in, then?
When writing your emails it’s tempting to just write one message and send it to all your contacts in one go. Although many companies do this, I highly advise against it as it’s very impersonal towards your PR contacts and can come across as spam. What I do instead is write a very short paragraph explaining my announcement, just a couple of sentences long. I then send every individual a personalized email with a personal salutation and a short explanation why I think this news is relevant for their audience. If they have written about your company before this can be included as well. The short description and link to the press release can be the same for everyone. Although this process is definitely more time-consuming than mass distribution, people will appreciate you taking the time to put yourself in their shoes and think about how the story is relevant for them.
Time your news to perfection
Timing is often very important for media outlets. Sometimes, they may be interested in your story unless it's just been covered by someone else.
Last year when one of my companies was featured on TechCrunch, I emailed TheNextWeb that day to see if they wanted to write about the announcement. A journalist from the outlet wrote saying that she would have written about the story, but TechCrunch had already covered it and she was no longer interested. To combat an incident such as this occurring, entrepreneurs implement something called an “embargo”. In its simplest form, an entrepreneur will reach out to many media channels and will ask, “Are you interested in this announcement? If so, you have to agree that this will not be published before a certain date and time.” If the journalist agrees, the entrepreneur will send all of the information. This is the embargo, the agreement that no media channel can publish the story before a set time.
Measure your results
In order to improve, you need to measure the right metrics. Quantitative metrics can help you adjust your overall strategy. Open and click rates, for example, are good indicators of the quality of your email campaign. A qualitative feedback can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Once you exchange a few emails with someone, it’s ok to ask for their preferences. Is it true they prefer to be pitched in the morning? Is email the best way? How should you link to additional resources like presskit, press releases, etc?
Even more stuff
Besides the specific Social Media and Media Relations activities, there’s much more you can explore. If we may give you one last advice, focus on what you like. Let someone else do what you don’t have time or don’t like to do.
OMG you made it this far? There's only one thing left to do: