I’ve worked in tech PR for years, advising a range of startups in San Francisco. I now work as the Senior PR Manager for cloud accounting software provider Xero in Australia. I’ve secured media coverage for the companies I’ve worked for in top tier publications like USA Today, CNET, The Australian Financial Review, Techcrunch, BRW, and many more, and still punch the air when I see a story I’ve been involved in published. Because of this, the most common question I get asked from people working in startups is “How do I get media coverage?”
When you’re starting a company, time and resources are limited, and your budget may not extend to a PR agency or full time communications professional. In my experience, what you do need is to draw from the inner growth engine that you’ll find in the best PR professionals – hustle. Just like you are hustling to build the next big thing, you need to hustle to get people paying attention to what you and your team are doing.
With that in mind, here are my top tips on how to get media coverage for your startup.
Build personal relationships
When I first started working in San Francisco, I was a small fish in a very big pond. I was the first internal PR Manager for my startup and didn’t have the backing of an agency with their ready-made directory of contacts. To make matters even more challenging, it was my first time in America and I didn’t know anyone.
A cup of coffee was my ‘secret weapon’. I emailed people in the tech PR industry and asked them out for coffee. Not only were they generous with their time, they were willing to share important information about the industry and journalists who wrote about it. At these coffee-fuelled meetings with reporters, I steered clear of pitching them about my company and focused on them; what stories interested them, how they liked to be alerted about news, their writing styles, etc.
I shared personal stories about myself so they got to know me as a person, rather than bombarding them with cold, impersonal emails. On some occasions, they asked me about my product, so I was able to do a soft pitch; other times, though, they didn’t. But that said, in every email that followed, I would always get a response as a result of the relationship I had forged with that particular person.
I wrote a list of outlets I wanted coverage in and reporters that I needed to pitch and did my research. I followed them on Twitter, read their stories and promoted relevant articles through my own social networks, often leaving a comment directly upon the story itself. I took a genuine interest in what they were doing and got my name out there, which made it easier the next time I reached out.
The important thing to remember with startup PR is that you need to approach these relationships in a mutually beneficial way. If it’s a one way street of benefit, it won’t work in the long run for either of you.
Have a media kit, no matter how small your company is. It should consist of a one pager about what your startup does, background of the company and founders as well as interesting stats, such as number of customers, number of downloads, etc. And have good visual content! Every media outlet needs images to tell a story. Make sure you have great high-res screenshots, photos of the co-founders, and videos if possible.
Everyone in the company, from the CEO to customer service, should have the elevator pitch down pat and able to talk about what the company does in a couple of sentences. An elevator pitch is important as it is sharable and helps with the consistency of messaging.
Pitch a story, not a press release
The best way to get press for your product is to pitch a story instead of asking a journalist to write about your business. Keep the pitch short, use bullet points, and focus on an angle that creates an emotional connection. How does your product or service help others and what is the impact? Tailor the pitch to the publication and keep it personal – journalists can spot a cut and paste a mile away.
Think big to stand out
The challenge of getting media coverage is that every company has the same goals. It’s even more difficult when all these companies converge in one place, such as SXSW, vastly outnumbering the journalists that attend. Standing out from the crowd at events like these requires some out of the box ideas.
In 2012 I attended SXSW Interactive on behalf of Tagged, a social network based in San Francisco. We (like every other company) wanted to put our CEO in front of relevant journalists to secure media coverage. We came up with the idea of free limo rides for journalists arriving at Austin airport to be taken to their hotel. This achieved our objective, and helped the media with a free and fun limo ride to their hotel, when cab lines are usually miles long. This stunt got us coverage in USA Today, CNET and Techcrunch and has now become a tradition at SXSW.
Want to give a good experience, and get people talking about your company? Xero recently delivered Xero branded cupcakes to all startup incubators in Australia to announce our new partnership with Startup AUS. They were really well received, with startups tweeting photos of the cupcakes and remembering that Xero sent them, because of the branding.
So before you approach journalists, think carefully about your story, consider your points of difference, craft a solid message, do your research and even apply some out-of-the-box thinking. Tick these boxes and I guarantee the media will take an interest in the story behind your startup. And don’t forget that inner hustle.
Marina Holmes is the Australian Senior PR & Social Manager for cloud accounting software, Xero.