Good press coverage can be a powerful weapon in any startup's arsenal. It brings in traffic, users, investors, legitimacy, and talent. Unfortunately, getting press can be an opaque, time-consuming process that many first time founders struggle with - so they decide not to do it all.
In this short starter guide, we're focusing on these two aspects to managing PR:
Specifically, we'll cover how to identify publications and reach out to them, how to present yourself and your company in the right way, and what to do if you get negative PR. We'll also link to other resources for further reading.
Only if you're newsworthy. So most of the time, it's not.
Vanity aside, PR can be great to have for attracting talent and appearing legitimate. But, the first rule of PR is that journalists will only write about you if you have something of value to offer them (a good story that people will get excited about). Almost all early stage startups don't have that yet, even if you have a really cool product, a great team, etc. Journalists often wake up to hundreds of cold emails in their inbox every day, so they're only going to write about you if they see something unique.
For Series A startups and earlier, you probably shouldn't be worrying about the press / trying to get coverage more than once or twice a year. Some lucky founders might get more coverage, but this is a small minority.
If you are in the position where you have something newsworthy, the next step is to find journalists who will cover it.
To start out with, you should make a shortlist of journalists. Who would be interested in this story? Of course there's all the big publications like TechCrunch, Business Insider, Bloomberg, etc. Don't forget about smaller blogs/industry-specific sites too. It's typically easier to get their attention.
Ultimately, the specific publications you prioritize will depend on what your goals are. Here are a few tips for putting together that initial shortlist:
Once you've put this list together, you it's time to start reaching out to the journalists on the shortlist. Note that you shouldn't start reaching out until 2 weeks max from the event or milestone you're publicizing. Any earlier and you'll get put on the backburner.
Now that you have identified journalists/writers that focus on your space, your message needs to stick out in their inbox. Think of this as a sales pitch. You want to communicate your value to them by providing an interesting story, and then get them on a call to close the deal.
Remember, only do this if you actually have something newsworthy.
This is also a good time to have press kit ready to go. A press kit is essentially a .zip folder with the content a journalist needs to write the story. It's best to send this after you do a call with the journalist.
A press kit should include the following:
Hopefully at this point you've been able to get the attention of a relevant journalist, and they're ready to chat with you. When you're interacting with journalists, here's a few general tips:
Do: feel free to email other journalists at the same publication if one isn't interested. They actually don't mind this.
Don't: get mad at a journalist if they leave something out that you mentioned, or didn't present your startup the exact way you wanted. That's just part of the risk of chasing press. Once they've decided to write about you, what happens happens.
Do: try to network with and befriend journalists. This makes them much more likely to write about you, and when they do, they'll write about you more positively.
Don't: forget your friends! This tweet sums it up:
If I cover your startup's early funding or launch when literally no one gave a fuck, only courteous to give me a heads up for future news.— Steve O'Hear (@sohear) October 23, 2017
Do: show up on time and rehearsed for a call with the journalist. Journalists are often very busy and might not be free to reschedule. Make sure what you're saying is consistent, and stick to 1-2 main points throughout your call.
Don't: EVER offer to pay a journalist to write about you. You will be blacklisted by the entire publication, and probably their colleagues too.
Do: answer their questions without being evasive or too self-aggrandizing. "No comment" is never the right answer. Many founders just want to deliver a speech - you'll probably get better coverage if you listen to their questions instead.
Don't: Offer just anyone an "exclusive", as other journalists might get jealous. Only do this for a major publication.
Do: Ask for an explanation of "on/off the record" and "on/off background" if you're not familiar with the terms.
For more tips on this, check out "How to Get Press Coverage: Startup PR for Dummies"
With these tips, you should get a solid story written about your company that boosts your legitimacy, and hopefully helps you get customers, investment, and talent. Of course, not all press is good press, which brings us to...
Most startups won't have to deal with this. But, if you're in the situation where you do, here's a few things to keep in mind, and some resources for further reading:
This is a good guide on navigating the release of a negative story. For more rules of thumb, check out "How To Deal With Negative Press In A Positive Way".
Ultimately, getting great press for your startup isn't that hard, and should never be a main focus for a CEO. But if you really have something newsworthy, a great write-up can be a solid boost for your company. Find the right publications, pitch reporters with the right angle, and remember some of the rules of journalist decorum, and you can get the benefits of a good PR strategy without spending too much time or hiring a PR agency.