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Getting Press for Your Startup (themacro.com)
295 points by endswapper on Sept 22, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 32 comments



Here's the process that works (with some persistence) even if you don't have a revolutionary product:

1. Go to Google, toggle to news and enter the name of similar startups

2. Go through each recent article and add the journalist to a spreadsheet

3. Go on Email Hunter or Email Format to find how the publication formats their email addresses to guess the journalist's. Journalists also tend to use firstnamelastname@gmail.com for their personal emails.

4. Email your pitch in 3-5 sentences max. Don't just describe what your startup you does, use an interesting angle or story to show its impact.

Instead of: "We do delivery logistic optimization."

Story: "Why the heck is your technician always 5hrs late? Cause it took forever to fix the issues of the guy before you.

We're helping our customers like Comcast and Oracle smart schedule all their appointments based on data like a) how long issue x typically takes to fix and b) real-time traffic conditions.

In high school, I worked taxi dispatcher, seeing firsthand the inefficiencies in coordinating drivers."

Journalists don't want to advertise your startup for free, they care about writing a story that entertains and educates their readers. Feed one to them.

Good roundup of pitch templates using different angles: http://www.artofemails.com/pitch-press


Small tips i learned when doing interviews (as journalist and as tech founder):

Ask the journalist what kind of story s/he wants to do and what role you play in this story.

It doesnt matter if it's about you or a general topic - understand what kind of basic arc/message/pov s/he wants to do. In 99% of the cases their job is not to be "investigators" but tell entertaining stories and they are usually happy to share their idea of the article.

- Help getting to the content s/he needs. Share the right infos, the right contacts, industry insights. Essentially help as much as you can creating the ideal article.

- Also make sure to create soundbites that work as quotes. Quotes tend to be highlighted in articles.

- Make sure to connect the journalist with more useful contacts and help finding new ideas for articles.

- Last but too often forgotten. Have good press images ready of you and your product. Some that work portrait, some that work in landscape. Some that show a business look, some that show a more personal look (depending on the story the journalist goes for)

hth - good luck!


This is one of the best roundups of PR advice I've seen. (andreasklinger's points are also spot on.)

Couple things to add:

1) Remember that embargoes need a journalist's opt in. You can't give them the news and order them not to publish until a given day and time. If you give them information without their agreement on an embargo, they can publish any time they want. So you need to keep some major details back when you ask for the embargo: e.g. "Our startup has some funding news to announce -- would you be interested in the embargoed press release?"

2) Just like with BD, building a relationship means helping reporters out even when you don't need them for a pending announcement. 5-minute favors, intros, explanations about the tech in your sector. That's how you can help...

3) Quotes: Many reporters have to adopt a relatively neutral voice in their writing. They face constraints on what they can say. They use quotes to spice up their stories. So try to make your soundbites more exciting than the surrounding newsprint, not less. They'll have a better chance of getting published.

4) Aunt Agatha: Journalists are professional explainers. If they write for a general readership, they're really writing for intelligent outsiders who do not have great familiarity with what you do. So avoid jargon. You words that a normal, intelligent person would understand. Reporters sometimes call that reader Aunt Agatha.

5) Exclusives. I disagree with Michael in some situations. If you have big news, and you give a reporter an exclusive, you cannot give it to any one else. Which is a huge missed opportunity. Instead of blowing your chance for coverage every else, try to find ways to tailor stories to specific outlets; i.e. "We can't give you an exclusive, but we can work on this angle exclusively and I'll only put you in touch with certain members of the team for interviews..."

I was a journalist for 10 years, full time PR for 2, and now I devote my 5%, like Michael, to maintaining relationships. I used to give talks on PR. Some of this material might be useful:

Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAWZBdLVj24

Slides https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzcEIIxKcYncOHd4VTBrU29ObFE...

PR Handbook (2013) https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzcEIIxKcYncbUk2ZjRHS1hmQUk...


One more thing I will add (journalist here) to these excellent tips is this:

Find your niche reporter. There is some reporter out there at some publication you've never heard of, and they are likely your perfect target for all of your news. You just have to find them and cultivate them. If you are a photo app, get to know an old world photography journalist, someone who writes for camera magazines. If you're a real estate application, find the regional real estate publications. A home shopping app, find local magazines, like (some local Bay Area examples) Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, Diablo, 7X7 (or whatever fashionable SF and decorating focused mag still exists there.)

Stop pitching Tech Crunch, start pitching the Austin American Statesman or the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Your original hometown newspapers are great places to get "local boy makes good" type stories, and the Valley is super duper myopic about offline, regional media.


I'm curious, what value do you gain from something like the Austin American Statesman? I assume the main goal here of the PR is really to get links back to your site, so a higher value site like Tech Crunch would get you a higher value link back. Or, am I wrong, and the real point here is that something just needs to come up when someone Google's your startup.


Larger publications watch smaller publications -- newspapers, local blogs etc -- for story ideas.


Indeed, but also, hitting a newspaper read by 1 million people who are semi-technical is far better for a consumer product company than hitting an online audience of 10 million super tech users. The 1 million might just be hearing about you for the first time, while the 10 million online may already know you, seen other articles, moved on to the new hotness.... Those newspaper readers, though, they're wild, fresh and unmolested. Virgin ground for new customers.


totally agree with this.


This was very helpful, thank you.


There is a lot of great advice here. I started as Larry Ellison's handler almost 20 years ago, wrote a book on publicity (Barbara Corcoran endorsed) and teach an online PR class.

Media has changed a lot in the last 5 years. It is important to familiarize yourself with the outlet and how the journalist writes. (ie) is the outlet known for listicles? (article to start and then '7 ways to crush it on a start-up budget.' Or, do they prefer pitches based on their editorial calendar?

Identify your target customer and find out what they read, listen to and watch.

If you have a tech product, focus on where a more technical audience might be like podcasts. You'd be surprised but it's not always the most well known outlet like Mashable that will drive sales or users. While that is great credibility and exciting, there are many opportunities out there.

RESOURCE: HARO www.helpareporterout.com is a good resource to sign up for - free opportunities 3x a day that journalists are posting. Since you will have the "lead" already, keep your response short and to the point.

NEWSWORTHY: To make something newsworthy, look at what is trending in the media. (ie) Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting divorced and then think about all the relevant angles.

Angles could include being a divorce attorney and contacting your local news to talk about the issues they each face or if you have created a divorce app that helps with custody sharing, etc... you could discuss how that would work.

We are in an era of high content consumption online and outlets like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post rely on contributors. Forbes, for example, turns out 300 articles a day ... a DAY! There are more opportunities for your company to be featured now than in the past so that is good news for you.

Try not to get discouraged. It can take time to figure out what works and come back to the journalist with different angles. I've found consistent follow up works.

I know that I was rambling a bit but hope that helps.

I have some free info on my site www.rachelaolsen.com if you're interested including audio interviews with a Forbes contributor and a writer for US Weekly, Men's Health and Rolling Stone.


Man - I wish I could be in here answering questions about the post but I'm on the YC World Tour and currently meeting startups in Lagos - I'm glad you all liked the post


Any advice on how to get some traction when entering a foreign market?

In my experience the media mostly write about startups that already have significant traction, or about new products released by the big boys (Facebook, Google etc).

Acquiring users through Facebook/Twitter advertising might be an option for some, but could also easily mean you'll be spending tens of dollars per active user.

So what's left? I think it basically boils down to Hacker news & Product Hunt to get the ball rolling.


The first thing is that "marketing" vs "PR" is a choice about where you think investment will be most successful. They're complementary rather than in conflict. PR is top of funnel, marketing is lower down.

It depends on the size of your start-up, but here's a method I've used with success for PR and new markets.

My first bit of advice goes against the article. It depends on how 'distant' the new market is from your existing market(s) but I think you should hire a PR agency. The press is different from the east coast to the west coast USA, the British press (more snarky generally) are different to the USA press and those all share the same language - if you're trying to break into an Asian market as a North American startup it's tough (and vice versa) as you don't understand the culture, the process and don't know the people.

Like any professional hiring, PR agencies vary so finding one with the skills and the fit is key. Find a couple that work in your area (e.g tech and b2b or b2c), you can do this by looking at stories from your target market from tech firms and seeing who the PR agency is plus going to some industry events and personal contacts. Select three agencies and ask them to pitch a six month plan - then select the one you think will work. It's generally best to work with an agency where you are important to them, and where you have a consistent team that gets to know you. Work closely with the agency so they understand you and you them - they are representing you after all!

Second bit of advice is understand the news/PR situation in that market. Essentially, the articles advice is to find the right sources and journalists for your start-up - that totally makes sense. The agency should be able to tell you about each news location, what they focus on, who the journalists are and what they focus on. Then look for news and ways you can relate to their objectives. One advantage that you have is that you're new and an outsider which brings a different perspective: ultimately this is what journalists and news sources need, something original and different. A good way to do this is each month pick a theme/idea and pitch that to a section of your news contacts - if you have a PR firm that should be the main way in which they help.

Ultimately, this is the key you have to have something new (so pick an angle) that journalist can use to get published (so make it easy for them) that the news source thinks its' readers will care about (so target subjects their readers care about).

Consistent cadence is important, someone else made the point that it's a "marathon not a sprint" (one of my favourite phrases). Developing a reputation with a publication for being interesting and 'giving good copy' helps. For a new market it could take six months to get any sort of interest and really up to a year before you'll be well-known enough to get consistent coverage. The team has to invest in the market, CEO has to physically go there to meet journalists (as a normal part of opening up that market). PR should just be one element in the general plan for opening the new market (e.g. events, sales, analysts, marketing, pr, hiring etc).

My last comment would be know when to withdraw. It's possible that there just isn't a good PR approach in a market, because it's focused in a particular area - for example, I personally found doing PR in Taiwan difficult because we were software and the entire market is focused on the hardware space so the only coverage we could get was our commentary on the hardware space which didn't achieve anything from my perspective. Try a few different cycles with the PR agency, network with other companies to see their approach and if it doesn't work put your investment into a different approach or market.


Good read! I also found the following post useful and practical for getting press for startups: http://www.craigkerstiens.com/2015/07/21/An-intro-PR-guide-f...


Warm intro's work better, but I'd also wager that good cold emails work as good. For example; if you can connect with the writer about one his articles, and transition into your startup..this is a good 25% chance to get covered (assuming your story is good).

Don't just submit a "tip" or go to the contact page, actually find the person who has written similar stuff and find his email


I just participated in a panel on this very topic. The takeaways were to know who you're pitching, build a relationship, and be honest and succinct. If you have a good product relevant to that publication's readers, a good news editor or writer will pick up on that.


I have often wondered if it would just better to get straight to the point and outright bribe journalists. Most are making a pittance and a few thousand dollars in cash handed under the table should make any startup story come out like it is the new Uber.


> i.e. wait until you’re 25% past the milestone to announce - so that you’re that much closer to announcing the next milestone.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear this violates a securities law.


If we're talking startups, then the securities law you're thinking about doesn't apply. These are private companies.


Does it really work?


IT journalist here:

Yes, it does. These are good pointers, the most important thing is to treat media relations and pr as a marathon not a sprint.

Good relationships with companies and people there help me be better in my job, because I can get feedback, additional information or the exclusive we all want.

It will also help you if some catastrophic event happens, say a hacked database.


Does what?

This method of press does. Generate news, invest in the people. It's like sales.

Does press for startups? Sure. High-profile startups can raise a lot of money and do great things with them.

It's not everything. Color had great press and didn't do more than light $42M on fire.


Unfortunately, yes. If you don't know the journalist, you can forget about your news item or press release being published.

It's sad really, that news items get picked on who you know, instead of what the news is about. If you live in Europe, you're basically fucked. Unless they can't ignore you anymore, like Minecraft.

That's why I don't do PR anymore, because I'm not based in US and don't have any journalist contacts in my social network.


Using PR to generate top-level interest is just one approach to marketing, there are others that might be more suited to your situation. But, I do think you can develop good PR in North America even if you're based in Europe. In my experience much of the English speaking readers and PR outlets take the lead from North America, so if you have profile in their outlets then it's easier to build profile elsewhere. Perhaps the key if you're not the size of Minecraft is to build profile with particular niche journalists/locations - perhaps starting with online blogs/news sites and then working upwards from there.


Lol b/c other YCers say don't waste time getting press.


This is a wild oversimplification. Getting press is a good thing. Wasting time trying to get press without a plan that works is a bad thing. It's easy to fall into the trap of the latter, which is the entire point of this piece.


His jumping-off point would be a good example of the exception to the rule, "Treat PR like biz dev."

Exposure for exposure's sake, vanity pieces or just "noise," is probably a waste of time. This is particularly true when you have extremely limited resources, which is often the case in a startup, and product and users/customers are certainly the priority.

Business development goes hand-in-hand with product and customers and creating value is essential to any startup. The benefits of his perspective are probably worth not dismissing them.


Flybrix is having a very successful launch today driven by a PR strategy that goes against Steps 2 and 3 of this advice. We hired a great PR firm to manage contacts and we got blanket coverage everywhere because of a press embargo.

I don't think I could have managed this on my own and on the timeline we did it.


It's common knowledge around here that PR is wasted effort for startups. So why do this?

For startups and for any company, brand makes things nebulously easier. Sales require one fewer call, hiring pipelines are slightly more full, fundraising intros are easier. The point about creating News is really at the core: if you can make News one of the consistent outputs of your company, and you can see the results of News on your actual work, then you should do it.

Like everything else at a startup, brand is one tool. Don't use that tool unless the founders are strong with it and there's a well-defined path between that brand and traction.


PG once said "PR is the news equivalent of search engine optimization; instead of buying ads, which readers ignore, you get yourself inserted directly into the stories." And it's a way for startups to compete because they can't outspend the big guys on advertising.

http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html


> It's common knowledge around here that PR is wasted effort for startups.

No it isn't. It's common knowledge that you shouldn't waste time chasing PR without a plan or goal.


No. It's just that startups often don't do it well, and most PR firms don't either, but they still take your money. YC's advice is: don't waste your money or time, and if you're going to do it, try to do it right.




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