Despite being some of the most innovative people in our society, many entrepreneurs are still approaching their PR strategy with outdated, inefficient methods. Over the last few years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with founders who have noticed that we are frequently in the press. They always want to know, "How do you do it?" I don't have some special playbook, but I do have a few rules and tricks that I think are helpful.
1. Don't pitch to the top of the masthead.
When pitching to journalists, too many startups that are new to PR try to reach out to the top writer or editor or the "face" of a publication. But you are likely wasting your time, these journalists are probably too busy to respond to or even read unsolicited pitches. Instead, try building a relationship with the newer journalists; they are often hungry for stories and are receiving far less cold pitches. Always remember that the journalist, not the publication, is covering you - so finding the right people to share your story is critical.
2. Find out who covers your industry.
Another commonly overlooked fact is that writers are usually assigned specific "beats," or have a focus and interest on certain topics. Take the extra time to do some research; find out which journalists cover startups or the industries you're closely related with. These are the people you should be reaching out to. Journalists receive plenty of spam from people who haven't taken the time to find out anything about their background or coverage area – don't be one of these people. You can do a lot for your PR strategy simply by compiling a list of the writers who are focused on, and more importantly, genuinely interested in your space.
3. Build relationships and be authentic.
Just like any business relationship, building a solid network of people in the media is important. The closer the relationship, the more value they will provide for you in the future. Refer to your list of journalists and find new ways to engage with these people. Engage with them on Twitter, follow their work and send notes with comments showing you read their articles regularly.
If you're fortunate enough to have a journalist write about you on their own, make sure you reach out and thank them. They are already intrigued by the work you're doing - build on that interest and continue to share your story with them.
4. Create unique and exclusive opportunities.
By looking for unique ways to engage with journalists, you'll naturally attract more (and better) press. One of my favorite techniques that we have used numerous times in the past is media dinners. When we were launching UP Global earlier this year, we wanted to make sure that we got plenty of coverage from all the major media outlets. We organized an intimate and exclusive dinner for the media and unveiled UP Global to them first. We never asked them to write a story; we simply organized a great meal and shared some drinks with a group of people interested in what we were up to. Unsurprisingly, every reporter wrote a story about us the next morning. Yes, 100% conversion rate. Try accomplishing that with some cold emails sent out to reporters.
Creating environments like the dinner we organized work well because they allow for more authentic storytelling to unfold and relationships built. With so many startups pushing to get exposure in the press, it’s inevitable that entrepreneurs must get creative and put in some extra leg work.
5. Think beyond the press release.
Journalists who cover startups are constantly bombarded with press releases, and those press releases get ignored most of the time. Save yourself some time and money; forego the traditional press release and send out a personal email to one of your contacts with a short description of your update and a helpful list of contacts and resources for them in case they want to begin pursuing the story. Even better, just write a blog post about the story (you are going to anyways, right?) and give the journalist exclusive access to that before its published.
Google is a great example of a company that does not use press releases and instead focuses on blog posts and making sure the right journalists know they are releasing a “blog post” about big news. To increase traction, I keep a curated mailing list of 100 influencers with a combined following of over 1 million people that we send our big news updates to with a simple "click to tweet" button. We see more engagement and traffic driven to our news updates (on our blog of course) just from these people than any national news coverage we have ever received.
6. Understand what's newsworthy.
Make sure that you understand what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Founders are notorious for sending out updates and stories that no journalists care about. Too often, entrepreneurs blast journalists with emails about the addition of a new feature for an app or service. This is not news, and unless you are the hot new startup, no one cares.
7. Getting press is just one way to get attention.
Remember that the media is just one distribution outlet for you to get your news out to the public. A lot has changed in the last five years with the popularity of blogs and social media. You can gain much more traction and eyes on your story by optimizing these channels for news distribution. I'm always surprised that I don't hear about more people empowering their early customers, advisors, investors, etc. to spread the word about news and updates from your startup more easily.
The bottom line: Ask yourself regularly if you are wasting the time of already busy people. Don’t send out updates that aren’t news, don’t bombard journalists with press releases, and don’t send information to the wrong people. Start applying your innovative, entrepreneurial practices to your PR strategy and you’ll save time, money, and see a lot more exposure for your startup.