It can be challenging for start-ups to generate press attention — budgets are limited, relationships with journalists may not be strong and explaining a new concept can be difficult. In addition, early-stage start-up teams are mostly made up of product and development people. Marketing and PR are often tackled piecemeal by the founders or whoever has time or an interest.
But good press coverage, even in small trade publications, can be one of the biggest drivers for start-ups looking to grow their business and should therefore, be worthy of your time and attention.
Some tips to get you started with media outreach:
1. Figure out what’s newsworthy
Before you or your PR agency begin pitching, stop to think about what is truly newsworthy, especially to the publications you’re targeting.
Unfortunately, as a small start-up you may not have much going on that is considered newsworthy or unique – especially by big publications. In which case, you may need to think about improving your product, adding something unique or you may have to work a bit harder and be creative to create some news.
Typical news events for startups are:
2. Be creative & act quickly
One of the biggest things you have in your favour is that you are small. Unlike large competitors that are saddled with process, bureaucracy and long approvals, as a small start-up you can quickly react to news events and trends. Hijacking stories and commenting on trends is an area where start-ups with limited news of their own can do very well. Some tips:
- Make yourself useful and available – make sure your target journalists know they can rely on you for quick comment on a breaking news story or additional relevant information to support a trend story
- Be creative in looking at your business – there may well be client, product or trend data or commentary that you can extract from your systems to generate news. Survey data or even just expert trend commentary can be incredibly useful to headline stories and drive media coverage
3. Create concise, factual messaging highlighting your benefits and what makes you different
Before you send out any pitches, take time to develop your company’s messaging. This is an area where you may need an outside PR or marketing expert to help. Very often the founders and internal team get too caught up in techie jargon and also lose sight of what’s unique and of most interest.
Many of the journalists you pitch are generalists and may know nothing about your market or technology. You need to be able to explain it to them in one or two non-techy sentences that they’ll understand.
After you’ve developed your messaging and initial pitch, stick to it for everything. Nobody will remember who you are and what you do if you’re frenetically describing yourself differently every week.
Besides your company messaging, you’ll also need to create a message for the news event you’re hoping to get covered. Figure out how to explain your story pitch in only a few sentences. Journalists get tons of pitches every day — it’s very likely that the journalist you’re pitching will only read the first few sentences of your email.
4. Understand a Journalist’s coverage area & audience
Research which journalists cover your market and reach your target audience. Start by making a list of the top 5-10 journalists in your industry that you’d like to build relationships with and reach out to these journalists every time you have a relevant story. Read up on the journalists’ articles and get a clear understanding of what each of them covers. When you pitch them, showcase that you follow their work and feel that your start-up fits in with their coverage.
5. Have useful assets available
Before you start pitching media, make sure you have all assets ready that a journalist might request, such as:
- A company or product description
- Photos of the team
- Product screenshots or photos
- Third party endorsement from an analyst, a customer or partner
6. Consider timing
Timing is essential when pitching news. Look at the calendar, avoid major public holiday times and don’t clash with industry events that all your target journalists are travelling to. And you may want to avoid Mondays, which is still a day when a lot of big companies announce news that you’ll be competing with. You also want to give the writer enough time to report. Some journalists, may be more likely to cover your news if you offer them an exclusive i.e. they get to cover the story before anyone else.
Pitching journalists ‘under embargo’ ahead of your news date is common practice in PR and normally honored by journalists. An embargo date tells the journalist that you are requesting the information is not published until a certain date (usually your press release issue date and time). This is useful to give key journalists the time to write a story and perhaps conduct interviews ahead of your release.
7. Offer up unique or targeted information
When pitching media, try to offer relevant data or analysis that supports your news when you can. Often an interesting study, infographic, primary research or other data can generate coverage on its own. Especially if the information is of particular relevance to the journalists readers, e.g. their location, or industry.
8. Follow reporters on Twitter
If you’re not already, make it your goal to build relationships with the group of journalists that cover your industry. Writers often tweet when they’re looking for sources, and they share articles and other news that they’re interested in. Use these pieces of information to learn more about each journalist and tailor your communications.
And there’s nothing wrong with a little interaction. When you find something you think a journalist may enjoy, tweet it over. And when he or she shares an interesting article or tweets something entertaining, feel free to interact.
If you have specific questions or need advice about press for your start-up, let me know in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer.