Public Relations or “PR”, i.e., strategic communication efforts designed to positively influence the ways in which different publics (e.g., clients, potential customers, investors, government officials, etc.) view and respond to your company (1, 2, 3), is a crucial aspect of building successful businesses in the 21st century. Whilst massive companies can afford to pay professional PR firms to handle all PR-related matters, bootstrapped startups typically cannot do the same. However, there are various strategies that new startups can use to help them build positive PR. In this article I’ll discuss 8 such strategies.
Why Should You Care About PR?
Let’s begin by briefly reviewing some of the key reasons why all startups, including those that are bootstrapped (i.e., self-funded), ought to explicitly think about and develop plans for securing flattering PR.
Sheena Tahilramani points out 3 significant ways in which PR affects startups:
- The connection between the success of your product and the effectiveness of your brand messaging is such that cultivating a specific brand requires your explicit attention and planning as it cannot simply be left to intuition or haphazard, day-by-day trial and error.
- Securing positive PR is neither easy nor guaranteed; it takes dedicated efforts, which is why big companies often hire full-scale PR firms.
- Startups that don’t actively promote their own stories fall victim to having others tell it for them: “Whether or not your startup story is mundane, magical, or entirely made up, the media will craft its own narrative for your company if you don’t persistently reiterate who you are”.
So, building brand awareness for your company is not only difficult and time-consuming but also destined to be influenced by other publics if you don’t “take the bull by the horns” so-to-speak and seek out your own positive PR.
Furthermore, and as Dave Hochman notes, startups can benefit from good PR in the sense that added exposure and authoritative endorsements can help to:
- Attract new talent;
- Increase visibility, perhaps leading to enhanced support for business development and other aspects of running a business;
- Boost exposure for fundraising efforts; and
- Amplify customer acquisition and/or retention numbers.
Let’s now look at 8 specific strategies that self-funded startups can use to increase the likelihood of securing positive PR.
1. Set a Specific Goal
The very first tactic that new startup founders should embrace in order to develop and pursue a successful PR strategy is to explicitly decide upon one or more specific goals or objectives for engaging in PR matters.
In other words, you must ask yourself: What, exactly, do I want to achieve with my company’s PR initiatives? Why are we pursuing positive PR?
Is your goal to attract attention to your product launch? To signal that you’re looking to hire new employees? To increase the visibility of your startup in order to encourage more investment? Something else?
The answers to these questions matter because, as Jason Calacanis puts it, “[you] have to think about what type of story [you’re] going to push [in order to determine] who [you are] trying to reach specifically”.
Once you’ve decided on one or more specific goals, it’s time to embark on some practical steps.
2. Perfect Your One-Sentence Pitch
Before you engage in any concrete efforts to contact the media or other publics in an effort to generate some positive PR for your startup, you must first develop a one-sentence summary pitch.
This one-sentence pitch is the essence of the story that you will use to try and “sell” your company (or a specific aspect of it, e.g., a new product) to the people to whom you’re pitching.
Journalists and other members of the media receive numerous pitches from all sorts of people and organizations every single day.
In order to stand out from the all “noise” generated by your competitors, you have to present your pitch for a story in a clear, concise, meaningful, and compelling way.
In order to do this, you must be able to summarize in one sentence the key reason(s) that a journalist might want, for instance, to interview you and/or members of your team.
Avoid buzzwords and unnecessary technical jargon.
Instead, consider using a basic template like the following:
Whether you use this specific pitch template or not, make sure that your one-sentence product value proposition clearly states the major problem to which you’re responding, the specific group of people (or section of the market) you’re targeting, and the unique value of the solution you’re offering.
3. Dos and Don’ts When Contacting the Media
As an extension of the preceding strategy, it’s important to point out that there are various dos and don’ts when it comes to submitting full-length pitches to media personnel (and other sources).
- Personalize your emails by using the journalist’s/editor’s first name, referring to one or more of his/her recent articles that you’ve actually read, and making it clear that you’ve put some thought into the reasons why he/she, in particular, is the best person with whom to discuss your startup;
- Discuss the reasons why the journalist, his/her publication, and the publication’s audience should be interested in the issues addressed by your pitch;
- Restrict your pitch to no more than 5-7 sentences in total length;
- Actively pursue only one journalist at a time in order to show that you respect his/her work enough to not distribute the same pitch to dozens of his/her competitors;
- Experiment with using different subject headlines and variations of your one-sentence pitch; use analytics software to determine the differences, if any, between email open and/or response rates;
- Pay attention to different time zones in order to ensure that you’re emailing media personnel at appropriate times (e.g., around 6:00am on weekdays rather than 2:30am on a random Saturday); and
- Politely follow-up and ask for feedback: don’t expect every one of your pitches to automatically or straightforwardly result in a story; rather, follow-up with media personnel (only after giving them a suitable amount of time to receive and consider your pitch) and honestly try and learn from the feedback with which you’re provided.
- Send out generic pitches that use language such as “to whom it may concern” or show no evidence whatsoever that you’ve put some energy into thinking about this journalist or editor is the most appropriate to contact;
- Implicitly or explicitly suggest that the publication would be “lucky” to run a story on your company;
- Write extremely long, hyper-detailed emails full of unnecessary background information and/or over-the-top language
- Send the same pitch to countless journals/editors/publications at the same time, especially since members of the media often know and talk to each other;
- Haphazardly send out emails with no regard for time zones or story deadlines; or
- Pester journalists or editors by sending numerous unsolicited follow-up messages and/or begging for re-consideration.
See Jason Calacanis’ video for more helpful information on these important dos and don’ts.
An example of an effective pitch template—short, clear, and containing all the crucial areas of concern:
4. Do Your Research and Target Sources Strategically
There was a time in the startup world—perhaps it’s still the case even today—when every new company was vying to have TechCrunch write a story about it.
For many startups, a story in TechCrunch could indeed bring significant attention and various benefits.
For others, though, pursuing a write-up in TechCrunch would make little, if any, sense—especially if they’re operating primarily outside of the tech industries.
Don’t merely target the top 100 tech blogs but rather figure out the exact platforms that your ideal users/customers read most often.
Similarly, don’t waste time by pitching to the wrong people; rather, pair your specific startup (e.g., an app developer) to particular journalists who are a truly good fit (e.g., those who specialize in articles about apps)
You must, therefore, do adequate research in order to determine which blogs, newspapers, and other publications and which authors, journalists, editors, and other writers cover the specific niches and markets in which you operate.
Buzzsumo is one popular website that can help you do so.
5. Make a List of Journalists and Editors
As you start narrowing down the field by learning about the particular publications that are most suited to your specific PR objectives, it’s important to begin compiling names and contact information for future use.
You can store names and contact details (preferably email addresses and personal websites but if not then Twitter accounts) in a basic spreadsheet or a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software.
6. Think About More Than Product Launches
Successful PR marketing is a continuous process rather than a one-time accomplishment.
As a startup founder, it’s crucial that you think beyond product launches in order to take full advantage of positive media coverage and press stories.
The launch of your company and new products are certainly monumental achievements and you should indeed seek out as much appropriate PR coverage as possible.
There are, however, many more aspects of startup operations that can justifiably serve as occasions to pitch media personnel (and/or authorities in other publics), including:
- Announcing a new round of investment;
- Revealing new product features and/or company services;
- Exposing and confronting important changes in the industry/market; and
- Publishing new and exciting data on your customers, their problems, and/or your solution(s).
Journalists and editors love data so be sure to keep this in mind when pitching them!
7. Guest Blogging
In addition to asking journalists and other influencers to write stories about your startup, it’s also a great idea to directly pitch major business magazines and websites like Forbes.com, Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, and Fastcompany.com by offering to write guest posts.
This might be a little difficult to do if you’re just starting out on your startup journey but as you accumulate more experience you will undoubtedly gather more and more real-world stories that can then form the bases of engaging and interesting articles.
Examples of guest posts written by Appster co-founder Josiah Humphrey:
8. Reverse Pitching
One final strategy for securing positive PR for your bootstrapped startup consists of flipping the entire process by allowing journalists to find you rather than you seeking them out.
You, as the startup founder/team member, then have the opportunity to respond to these requests and connect with the journalists.