PR doesn’t require insider know-how, but it does require elbow grease, time and a commitment to building relationships with the right media
You’ve heard of Blue Apron, Instacart and Shyp. Probably Slack, Uber, and Casper too. In fact, as the founder of a PR firm that represents dozens of startups, I often hear founders fume, “I don’t get it. Every article I see is about company X!”
The reason you keeping hearing about these startups is simple: While they each have solid branding and an exceptional product, they also had professional PR help from the start.
The good news is, PR is not similar to law or medicine, which require board certifications (and ramifications like lawsuits or jail). Doing your own PR, at a basic level, takes serious elbow grease and diligence, but it is doable. Often, the main reason PR firms are hired is for efficiency: a relationship with an editor at TechCrunch might take you four months to foster, but a PR pro can text that editor and get a response in under 20 minutes.
How, then, can your startup become a media darling, particularly before you have the funds to bring on an agency or in-house PR guru? Below is a process we developed at BAM Communications for emerging startups that we call “DIGS,” and no special knowledge is required to use it.
Delve into each outlet
Although it may seem exciting to start tweeting and emailing every “tech editor” you find, don’t. The tedious nature of PR starts with research of which outlets you’d like to contact and then who within those outlets is most likely to care about what your company is up to. Make a list of five to 10 outlets that you’d love to be featured in. Perhaps outlets include WIRED, Mashable, CNBC, O Magazine and so forth. Next, delve into each outlet. You’re now on a search for who covers the topics, trends and news bits that relate to your company.
Let’s assume, for example, that you’re a new AI startup with some mind-blowing technology and recently closed a seed round. You’d love to be in the Wall Street Journal somehow. You can start on the Wall Street Journal’s home page and search for “AI,” “Artificial intelligence” and so forth. Or, hop onto Google and insert, “artificial intelligence Wall Street Journal.” Scan through an article pertinent to your startup and then read up on the writer or contributor to assess if he or she is consistently writing about the niche focus or if it was a one-time topic. If you find a contact who’s written about your topic only once in the last year or so, she or he probably isn’t a strong candidate to pitch.
Aggregate a few contacts for each type of news piece your start-up has. You’re now ready to email or contact your handful of media contacts. For big outlets, you can usually do a quick search online to find a media contact’s Twitter handle and email. Quite often, an email contact is some variation of firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Media contacts (FYI, I’m also a journalist, so this is firsthand knowledge) often receive emails with eight paragraphs of text, two attachments, a video link and other unsolicited content. Am I going to spend the time to look at this annoying email that is clearly mass-targeted, or even respond to it? Nope.
Employ the “cocktail party” approach to greeting a media contact you do not know. It’s neither normal nor engaging to come up to a stranger at a cocktail party and talk non-stop for nine minutes to him or her. Who would respond to such an off-putting assault? Someone who approaches you, smiles, briefly gives an introduction, and then asks a question or two is completely appropriate and invites a response.
Let’s say you found Walter’s email address at the Wall Street Journal and know he’s writes a lot about artificial intelligence. Here’s a sample email you could send him, which could be modified for Twitter as well:
Hi, Walter — I was just reading your piece on X. I agree with the analysis you gave regarding the trend of AI in the coming decade.
I’m the founder of Y, and I thought you might be interested in the technology we have, which just received funding for Z amount. Could I set up some time with you later this week or perhaps send you more info on our raise?
Thanks in advance.
Get a response
The above example email shows you’re aiming for a response, not a full-blown story or front-page article. Remember, you don’t have a relationship with this media contact. Similar to the cocktail introduction, one would not say, “So, do you want to take a trip with me to Italy for three weeks?” upon first conversation. Once you have some time set up with the particular media contact, continue the same approach in getting a response. Ask if you could provide more info, contacts insights and so forth. Perhaps you can set up a demo or arrange a “desk-side” (a meeting at the actual desk of the media contact) when you’re in NYC next month. Media know the game: you want coverage, and they want a great story. Getting more responses will get you closer to getting solid coverage.
Show them that you care
Show that you’re a “BFF” to every media contact you make. PR people exist for a variety of reasons, but one of their core functions is to make the life of a media contact easier. It’s not uncommon for my staff to arrange other interviews, gather competitors, provide another resource and so forth in order to help a journalist get a story completed. When Walter from the Wall Street Journal needs another source for his latest piece, which will feature your startup, connect him with that other founder you already know. If Walter asks if you know some obscure big data trends, set him with that team down the hall in your co-working space. Relationships work two ways, and media contacts remember who gives instead of grabs.
Although tedious, the DIGS process is a solid approach to a brigade of media friends, ones who will help your startup gain credibility and sticking power.
Beck Bamberger founded BAM Communications in 2007 and has since founded three other businesses, Bite San Diego, Nosh Las Vegas and Pangea Pal. In 2011, she won an Emmy for on-camera hosting in a talk show format for her show, Next 500. She is currently a board member of Gen-Next, a marketing domain expert with CONNECT’s SDSI organization and a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
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