Tag Archive | "PR"

How Startups Can Get Media Attention Without Hiring a PR Agency


In my last post, I outlined four reasons why early-stage startups shouldn’t hire PR firms. There are exceptions to just about every rule, but I stand by that advice for the vast majority of cases, reports Forbes.

Still, that piece lacked actionable guidance for startups to get press on their own. This post will provide that guidance.

In simple terms, startups have two options when ultimately choosing not to hire a PR firm:

1.) Hustle it out on their own.

2.) Find cheaper, non-traditional help.

If you’re considering these options, I recommend sticking with the first. Finding high-quality, non-traditional PR help is very hard for anyone to do, but it’s particularly hard for startups. The freelance PR market is fragmented and opaque, with plenty of dubious actors who can point to a couple minor successes, amidst a history of failures, to lure new clients. 

And as a population largely lacking in the chops to effectively evaluate PR professionals, startups are easy prey for bad actors. You’ll likely spend a long, long time trying to find one of the few high-quality freelancers out there, or end up getting fleeced in the process. My recommendation is to instead spend that time making headway on your own.

I’ll outline just how you can do that.

Gut and Relationships

In simple terms, you hire professional PR help for two reasons. First, they should provide a finely-tuned sense of what does and does not work as a press story, along with a similarly finely-tuned view of how to match those story angles with different publications. Second, they should have the relationships at those publications to get stories placed.

That’s it. Gut and relationships.

So when you think about going the hustle-it-out route, you should think about it in those terms. How are you going to make up for your lack of experience and relationships?

Gut

Let’s start with the first component—the fact that you probably have no idea how to make your company interesting to the press. If you have some effort to spare, there are some easy ways to make up for this deficit.

Before you do anything, you’ll need to acquire a solid understanding for how the press talks about your industry. Step one: head over to Google and spend as much time as you can getting a feel for what people are talking about in your space. What are the big questions, controversies or trends? How do different publications approach these topics? What are people getting wrong? What are they missing?

Basically, you need to soak yourself in relevant media so that, eventually, you can internalize the different lenses through which reporters approach topics and companies in your industry. Think backwards from headlines. How can you see your company plausibly fitting into the conversation?

Next, you still need some professional advice.

As the founder of a startup, odds are that you have some kind of moderately effective network. You may have investors, mentors, advisors, other founder friends, etc. Somewhere within that network is someone who knows a PR professional. It’s even possible that this PR professional knows what they’re talking about.

Find a way to talk to that PR professional and milk them for 15 minutes of advice. If they’re any good, they’ll prevent you from making any number of stupid mistakes within the first five minutes and possibly give you a sense of the most promising angles for your business after the first 15. They’ll also be helpful for tactical tips and etiquette. (I.e., “How long should I wait to follow-up with reporters?”)

And if you don’t have a PR professional in your network? If you live in a media-dense market like New York or San Francisco, there are almost certainly events that have media professionals crawling all over them. Just go wherever reporters are, and you’ll probably find three PR people for every journalist. Since tech PR people need new business almost as much as they need to cozy up to journalists, they’re generally happy to talk to startup founders about a couple of their issues in these situations.

If that’s not an option, find someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about online and cold e-mail them. Some may not take the call, but a lot will. 

Relationships

For early-stage startups, PR firms often appear most valuable for their relationships with the media. This is valid, though you’d be surprised by how many firms survive by just cold-emailing hundreds of reporters. 

That said, relationships with the media are still enormously valuable. As a startup founder, you’ll never be able to match the rolodex of a quality firm, but the truth is that you don’t need to. At your stage, you likely don’t need an expensive, sustained communications strategy. You just need a couple of pieces of decent press, and a couple of relationships to get them. With a little work, that’s definitely achievable.

Here’s how to make that happen:

1.) Again, use your network.

Like I mentioned earlier, as a startup founder you should have some reasonably robust network. There are probably people within that network—investors, founders, consultants—who are on friendly terms with one or more journalists. Find those people, ask for introductions and go from there.

2.) Be helpful.

In order to do their jobs well, journalists have to continuously get information from people in the industries they cover. Guess what? You work in one of the industries they cover. By virtue of that fact, you probably have insights and opinions that could be very useful for them. 

As one prominent tech reporter noted, “If people are going to feed me information, then I’m much more likely to be their friend.”

In practice, this means providing helpful opinions and facts to relevant reporters via social media or a very concise, non-salesy email. 

3.) Go to events.

Again, this works best in a media dense market, but even smaller cities often have local reporters hanging around conferences or panels. Go to these events, talk to reporters like a normal human, and follow-up politely. To find relevant events, I recommend Meetup.com and local newsletters like Startup Digest or, in New York, Gary’s Guide.  

4.) Send thoughtful, targeted emails.

Even without relationships, an interesting product and angle, along with a couple of human-sounding emails from the founder, can do wonders. I gave this advice (pro bono) to the Columbia freshmen behind Readism, for example, and they ended up with articles in The Next WebPC WorldLifehackerBustle and Digital Trends.

Trust me, before they began the process they were just as clueless as you are now. But with a little effort you too can save yourself a couple grand on a PR firm and still get the press you deserve. 

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7 Secrets to Making PR Work for You


Do you do public relations for your business? Many small business owners neglect PR because they think it takes too much time or requires hiring a PR person or agency, reports the Small Business Administration. Others think their businesses just aren’t newsworthy or that they can’t write a good press release – so why bother?

The truth: PR is a great way for any business to get noticed – for free. “Earned” publicity – publicity that comes from a blog, newspaper, or magazine writing about your business – is far more valuable than “paid” publicity (that is, advertising). Prospective customers trust earned publicity more, and it has long-lasting results in terms of building your brand and your credibility.

The nuts and bolts of PR have changed a bit in recent years, with the advent of social media and the rise of the Internet, but the basic rules of PR still hold true. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Get to know your target. Just as in any type of marketing, understanding what your target market wants and needs is key to success. In this case, your target market is the media – journalists, bloggers, TV and radio reporters, etc. To find out what they need, pay attention to what they already write about. A local reporter who covers the retail industry is the perfect person to pitch your new store to, while the reporter who reviews restaurants won’t care.

2. Craft your pitch and press release. There are many websites that provide templates for pitches and press releases. PRLog.org is one my company uses, but PRNewswire and PRWeb.com offer useful tools, too. Following a template helps by suggesting how and when to use hyperlinks, photos, and other elements to add interest to your pitch or press release. Of course, format isn’t the only thing that matters when writing a pitch or press release. You need to find a “hook” – something timely, interesting, or newsworthy to the media person you’re pitching. If your retail store sells children’s toys, for example, a pitch about the “10 Hottest Holiday Toys for 2015” will get parenting magazines or mom bloggers intrigued.

3. Hit the target. Send your pitch and press release to your target media members. Email is the generally accepted method today; you can find most media members’ emails on their publications’ websites. Use an attention-getting subject line that clearly states what you’re offering without being boring.

4. Follow up. Develop a spreadsheet of media contacts with contact information to help you manage your PR efforts. After your first pitch, follow up if you don’t hear back – but don’t be a pest. I’ve noticed a disturbing tendency of PR people emailing me the day after (or even later the same day) I get their pitches to follow up. Give people some time to get through their emails before you hit them with a second attempt – but do follow up; emails often fall through the cracks.

5. Make an offer. Spell out what’s in it for the media if they take you up on your press release. Provide some useful data (such as statistics from a survey you’ve done), an interesting or compelling quote, an offer to serve as an interview source, or an invitation to your grand opening or other event.

6. Be active. If your business targets local customers, getting out into your community is a great way to get PR. Become an active member of local networking groups, Chambers of Commerce, and other business organizations in your area. Local media often reach out to these groups when they need quotes or interview subjects, so being involved gives you a better chance of getting press.

7. Make the most of it. Once you do get publicity, make the most of the attention by posting the article on your website, framing it in your store, and generally spreading the news about your 15 minutes of fame. Also be sure to thank the journalist or blogger for the attention – that helps build relationships and leads to more publicity.

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