Is My Tech Startup Ready for PR?

Getting coverage in the mainstream press is more than just sending a pitch email to a reporter.
Is My Tech Startup Ready for PR?
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“How do I get coverage in TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal and other tech pubs?”

I literally get that question every week from founders of tech startups. They know that publicity -- especially from credible, respected publications -- has the potential to boost company recognition. That could lead to new customers. More funding. Candidate recruitment. Higher company morale. Strategic partnerships. Many other good things can come from great press coverage that is widely read and shared.

Related: 5 Public Relations Tips to Help You Write a Pitch Someone Will Actually Read

But, getting coverage in the mainstream press isn’t as easy as some may think. It’s more than just sending a pitch email to a reporter. Here are some things to consider before you kick off your PR program.

Know your goals.

What are your goals? More visitors to your website? Raise your personal or company profile? Attract new customers and investors? Figure this out. That way, you can build a compelling pitch that is targeted to a specific publication and journalist who might actually write about your startup.

Have something tangible to pitch.

Great ideas abound. Tech celebrities such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Larry Page can always rely on getting press attention because they are icons. They’ve built hugely successful enterprises and their companies are market makers. If you’re a startup, you likely can’t -- or expect to -- compete. Companies such as Facebook and Google are in the enviable position of having reporters assigned to them via “beats.” The PR teams at these companies serve more as gatekeepers, managing incoming requests from publications for interviews and comments.

Related: How to Use Social Media as a PR Tool

There are no shortcuts.

If you’re a startup with an unknown team, however, you need to be scrappy, persistent and creative to get attention. Just pitching a meet-and-greet “executive interview” won’t work. One PR practitioner I know asked me for a “warm introduction” email to my reporter contacts with the belief that if I just introduced her, the reporter would take a meeting. In the highly competitive world of tech PR, no one takes a meeting unless you have significant news, or you’re providing access to an in-demand spokesperson.

If you’re a startup, you must intelligently target each and every reporter with a story that will interest them. You need to read their past coverage and understand what story angles might resonate. It’s a creative endeavor that takes intellectual effort. There are no shortcuts. Having a package of assets to draw from is key: a real product, differentiated messaging, happy customers, top-tier investors, strategic partnerships and a pipeline of news.

Related: The Simple, 4-Step Process for Getting Yourself on TV

Don’t underestimate the challenge.

Getting coverage is hard. In a BuzzSumo blog post, journalists from TechCrunch, The New York Times, Mashable, Fast Company and other publications said they receive 25 to 100 pitches a day. The vast majority of those pitches fail. A survey conducted by Greentarget found that 70 percent of journalists say they spend less than a minute scanning the 50 press releases they receive on average per week.

And there are fewer and fewer journalists to pitch. The number of newsroom reporters of daily newspapers has declined by nearly 50 percent since 1990, according to one study. And even digital journalism job opportunities appear to have plateaued since 2015, according to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

In a blog lamenting the loss of journalists, Marc Wilson, general manager of TownNews.com, wrote, "Technology allows news to be parsed, pasted, posted, redistributed, crawled, commented upon, contributed, analyzed, tweeted, Skyped, aggregated, syndicated, forwarded, indexed, spidered, Googled and in other ways recycled. . . . Still, at the root . . . there has to be some actual news."

Related: When to Spend on PR and When to Do It Yourself (or Not at All)

So what?

Make sure you have a clear, fresh, newsworthy story to tell. A good question to ask yourself is, Why should anyone care about my product and company? In other words, so what? If you do have a good story to tell, then proactive PR is a great idea and can help educate the marketplace about why they should care about you, visit your website, or ultimately, purchase your product.

But, what is newsworthy?

News is anything transactional that has not been announced before. It could be a new product, customer, funding, executive hire, partner, location or an M&A activity. This is called hard news. Sometimes, soft news (such as information about meeting a company milestone) can get attention if it fits into a broader trend story.

Related: What to Do When You're Getting Bad Press

A company launch is also hard news, and you really only get to launch once, so it’s important to get it right. In my day job, I’m sometimes asked to advise our portfolio companies on their launch strategy. The launch is usually a success because we’re announcing hard news: their funding. But, after the launch, everything slows down because the company doesn’t have a pipeline of news. My advice in those situations is that the company needs to be open to pivoting its PR strategy by creating unique news angles and finding alternative ways to interest the press, such as an expert source campaign or by writing thought leadership articles. Another option is to create a research study and then launch the findings. All of those programs, of course, will will take bandwidth and budget to create.

Who should I work with?

Here are your options: a large firm, small firm, boutique firm, independent consultant or yourself. There are pros and cons with all of the options. In general, if you’re not a PR person, or have little experience with PR, this will be a long-term learning curve for you. It’s not easy. There are no guarantees, and the result could be a negative story if you don’t know what you’re doing.

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