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Ask HN: Startup PR - How could they get so many coverages?
44 points by alexdong on Apr 13, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments
Check this out: http://www.printgreener.com/news.html WSJ, CNBC, Entreprenuer, ComputerWorld, CNN, Inc, ... How could they get so many coverages?

I've written a similar algorithm and sold it to a few companies, which you could find at http://purifyr.com/. I've also emailed all relevant bloggers for review. But I just couldn't imagine getting so many positive coverages.

How did they make it?


There are a few things:

- You have to tell the press a story, and it has to be interesting. The best stories are about people, the worst about technologies. For startups the story of how you have struggled through countless insourmountable obstacles and are now making big money is perfect. It is personal, it fits the cliche, and it gives readers something to look up to. Don't focus on your technology (unless you are trying to get an article in a trademag or something similar) normal people just don't care. If you need to talk about technology try to find a story where people are using your product to gain some advantage. Involve emotions if possible, it makes the story better. How Tim re-found his long-lost kindergarten girlfriend in old age and the two of them now happily living together because of Google is a much better story than how good Google's serach algorithm is.

- Personal connetctions and relationships. This is what PR people do. Journalists are different, have different taste, and find different things interesting. A story that may seem uninteresting to one might be picked up by another. If you don't know anyone try to read through the newssources where you'd like to be covered and see which journalist writes about stuff that is close to what you do. Then contact him. By phone. Talk to him and ask him what he thinks and whether he would like to do an interview with you. Journalists are nice people, and they make their living talking to people, so don't be afraid of it.

- Give them an easy story. Combining one and two above to make an easy story that can more or less be copy-pasted to give a full article. Journalists are lazy. Don't forget to include photos. (Again, it's people that are interesting. If you include product shoots make sure there are some with a proud owner showing off the product)

- Don't ever lie. Journalists have an excelent nose for liars, and when (not if) they catch you they'll never talk to you again.

"This is what PR people do. Journalists are different, have different taste, and find different things interesting."

You might experiment with PR Matchpoint to find journalists who have written on similar topics in the past. The site lets you cut and paste in either your entire press release, or else your website copy, or your keywords. It will then return a list of journalists who have written on similar themes.

These guys presented at NY Tech last week. According to them, there isn't really any other way to do what they do because all of the other databases of journalists are sorted based on beat or a few keywords, but not the actual text of what the journalists are writing. I haven't actually tried the site myself yet, but I probably will fairly shortly.


This makes me feel better (or not): I wrote a prototype of a similar system for social media sites. The idea was to collect a database of content submitted to different sites and use Pearson's correlation coefficient to compare a submitted press release to content on these sites. My goal, help people find the right place to submit to. The technology worked but I didn't pique any interest so I let it go.

If you have limited time, concentrate on MixMax's first point-- being worth talking about. It's all about the story and NOT about the algorithm. Read "Made to Stick" (the book) to understand the recipe for press-worthy ideas. I'll summarize it for you: To be a sticky idea, it needs to be simple, concrete, credible, trigger emotions, and have a STORY arc. You can read the excerpts page to get the gist:


They MIGHT have done it with PR talent/relationships and outreach... But quite possibly all they did is craft their story well. The "green" stuff is really hip right now, so that gives them a HUGE leg up.

(we've gotten ridiculous PR and blog coverage and not once did we ever hire a PR pro or email a reporter)

I'm not a expert, but, I'll would suggest a few things:

printgreener.com has a lot of information describing what they do and why. They play on green card a lot which is bound to generate interest from mainstream media where as you hardly tell the user why they would want to do this.

Also a free account allows you to view one page/30 seconds and the only version that fixes this costs $299/month where as printgreener.com costs $29 which is a one off - I don't understand the massive difference in price. Who is the target market that would actually pay $299/month for this. You need to explain this better or drop the price. To me this is the type of thing that could tend towards $0 with open source and/or a firefox plugin.

Some of their coverage goes back to 2006, so they have a first mover advantage over you.

printgreener.com sells software at $29 whereas purifyr.com charges for $299 for the developer API account. (Hmm, seems like I haven't made it clear enough, maybe?)

As for the "green card", yes, that's right. Their whole message seems to be geared towards this. A good execution.

"you hardly tell the user why they would want to do this." Hmmm, I think you're right. Let me think of this and give the homepage one more shot.

Thanks a lot, rythie.

Your approach, Purifyr, seems as though it should be a more consumer friendly alternative to printgreener. From a story perspective though it's not being presented as a consumer-oriented product which limits the market a prospective reporter/blogger sees when they think of writing a story. i suggest you start with this: "Free account could submit requests no shorter than 30 seconds. If you'd like to send requests more frequently, please check out our commercial offering."

if you're intent on not using a passive payment model (advertising) to subsidize consumer traffic, this page is destined to be your main conversion choke point. this page needs to sell your product. there should be a big, friendly button that lets the consumer (not developer) immediately make that purchase. alternately, show an interstitial ad and count down the 30sec before letting them see the content.

more fundamentally, you need to decide who your market is and optimize for them. are you really set on targeting webmasters and if so, how many content producers out there can afford 300/month while accepting a maximum of 10k views/day. seems like your major competition there is any freelancer who can hack out a "print view" wordpress template or even a simple print-view css file for less money. seems like a consumer model might make more sense, but then i would think about this almost more like an rss reader - if you're targeting consumers, you should consider ways to make it as easy as possible for people to maximize the content they see through your lens. the bookmarklet is a step in the right direction but isn't something most web users are used to.

once you have your market more clearly defined, alert the media that's producing content to entertain said market. they always need a story but they have discriminating tastes.

hmm, you've raised a good point: "who is your target audience"?

So far, all paid customers are using the API as a web service. Two of them are quite famous iPhone applications provider paying the standard $299/mo fee, three of them are vertical semantic search engines or recommendation engines that paid much more to have the code deployed behind their firewall. Hopefully this could make it easier for you to understand why the website is designed with developers in mind.

The reason that I'm making this site more consumer oriented is that I found the current market is a bit too limited. There are many opportunities, for example integrated with Epson's Web2Print software, that I simply don't have the BD resources to attack. I was hoping that by raising more awareness of the service on the consumer side, I could get more publicity which in turn will bring more developer customers.

I guess my question is: 1) Do you think my strategy make sense or not? 2) If I were to make this a paid service targeting consumers, what might be the good pricing point? $20 per year? What might be the 'selling point' to normal users?

This all makes perfect sense, but keep in mind that you are marketing to more than just developer customers. Your website needs to cater to journalists, curious members of the public, potential business partners, maybe investors?

And then you need to pitch journalists. They aren't going to find you on their own. If you want to do it yourself, I suggest writing direct, honest emails to journalists who have covered this sort of thing in the past. Don't worry about making it sound like a press release.

Timing is another thing. When we tried to get press for a site targeted at moms, we had a lot of luck approaching news papers, tv shows and blogs around, surprise!, women's day and mother's day.

Human Interest. Look at what you put out from the perspective: Would this be part of the human interest category in a newspaper? If not, then you're unlikely to get covered unless you know someone.

Furthermore, who are you? You have to be someone newspaperable, for example:

"The guy who made a robot that sang songs"

"A 16 year old boy"

"A guy who traded a paperclip up"

There are so many standard developers, you need to make a press friendly definition of yourself. Then email interns who are always looking for a story. Locate them on linkedin.

I wrote to their PR person to see if they can offer us any advice -- I will post any response I get...

Its not what you know, its who you know. Always.

It's never who you know. It's always who knows you.

Public relations (p/r). A good p/r person or team can work wonders: provided that you have something useful or interesting.

In my personal experience, if you want press to write about you/your startup, you'll have to give them interesting stories that their readers like to read.

They don't have too much attention span. They don't care about how hard/easy it is do, or even if it is true or not. They just care about interesting stories...

For one of my stories I told them that we did some survey and just made up the findings. They loved it and published it next day without looking at my data or even asking me methodology of survey/research

I would say that is very unethical. A lot of people rely on media to stay informed about the latest and they assume what they are reading is true. How can you cheat people in order to get publicity. And remember, a lot of times this strategy can backfire.

Its not cheating.

Relentless resourcefulness is the phrase.

Bull! I'll phrase this in pragmatic terms, since you seem uninterested in ethics.

If you're pushing the boundaries of ethics, you have to realize that what is considered acceptable in one (sub) culture may be grossly unacceptable in another.

What is considered "business as usual" in one culture or industry will be seen as corruption in another culture or industry.

Now, there are a lot of inconsistencies and hypocrisies in our cultures. So, if you look around, you're bound to find strange inconsistencies. That's normal.

In short, for any culture, there are some forms of cheating that will be mostly tolerated or even glamorized, and others that will be seen as despicable.

What you've described is despicable, from a mainstream US / Canadian / Anglo perspective. It does not appear resourceful, at all.

Every company I've worked for has lied either outright or by stretching the truth further than I'm comfortable with. It isn't right but that is the real ethics he will be dealing with in the US/Canadian/Anglo arena.

My point is that what is an acceptable "stretching of the truth" is culturally relative. Also, I'm not speaking to what companies try to get away with, but rather the public reaction if they get caught.

I.e. is it "cool, those guys are smart and they're bucking the system" or is it "these guys are slimy and I never want to do business with them."

Again, I'm not condoning unethical behavior, nor am I so naive to believe that it isn't widespread. I'm just stating that what is a "nudge-nudge-wink-wink-everyone-does-it" infraction versus what is a "omg, you lying bastards" is culturally relative.

The OP's example falls into the "lying bastards" category for me, and for most of the companies I've worked for.

Making shit up isn't resourcefulness, it's lying and in this case cheating.

I can probably rob an old lady of her purse and get away without getting caught. This isn't exactly being 'relentlessly resourceful.'

Not all methods are equally ethical.

For the 31 emails I sent out to the bloggers, 4 replies and only 2 really spent time looking into it. Only 1 blogged about it.

So how did you get hold of them in the first place? Why won't they simply ignore you?

Your mail should offer some insight to them. They must feel that your comments/viewpoint adds to the story.

I've had lot of success after sending intelligent comments to articles in mainstream media. Journalists respond back, more often than not.

Were they form emails or did you specifically target the journalists/bloggers you were talking too?

Form letters get ignored - personal emails less so.

Choose your words carefully when approaching these guys. It might take a extra time, but the end result is worth it.

Just work harder.

How could you get 'personal emails' of the mainstream journalists? I seem to be outside of the 'media circle' at this moment.

Also, what would you suggest to do with the bloggers I've already contacted? Maybe I could use the "new version launched" as an opportunity to contact them again?

With bloggers, I always find it's better to try and push your content to the smaller bloggers first - everyone's always trying to get promoted on the techcrunches or the mashables.

As for emails - really, just look for journalists who've written on your subject in the past. They usually have contact details up there.

Mainly "form emails".

> "Choose your words carefully when approaching these guys." That's the hard part. Any examples? Or reference to articles that I could read and improve?

Honestly? Whenever I've shot off emails to people as introductory emails it has always been fairly informal but always targeted.

The best advice I can give is make sure you know who you're writing too, what their blog is about. Perhaps include a link to a relevant article in their blog (always use it in plain text form, bloggers love having their ego's stroked)

If you need an example, I guess a very rough one is something like.


Hi there .....

My name is ..... and I'm from ......

I've been reading your blog for ..... months and an article of yours that caught my attention was the one about .....

(link to article in plain text form)

My company does ..... and this is along the same lines as ......

I thought this might be of interest to your readership.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this email. If you would like to get back to me my contact details are in the footer.



To add to me previous comment - You should send targeted mails to journalists with intelligent comments about the stories.

It should be so insightful that they should feel that it would have been a better article had they spoken to you before writing it.

> "targeted mails to journalists with intelligent comments about the stories." So you mean "before selling them your service, you should try to setup relationships with them by leaving intelligent comments on their posts"?

Why is that downvoted?

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