How To Hack PR For Startups!

Press Marketing, PR Marketing or simply PR are all the same. This initiative is all about building relationships with the story makers in the media related to your industry. Over the past 10 years ,I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of startups, at varying levels of budgetary constraints. For some reason, the projects that stick out as the most successful, or at least the most fun, were the ones with no budget at all. With no budget, you have to drive success with nothing but sheer blood, sweat, and tears. Ok, that was a bit over the top, but you have to make up for the lack of spend, with more time investment. PR Marketing is a great example. YOU DO NOT NEED A PR AGENCY. I repeat, they are worthless at an early stage and will suck you dry. If you have the funds to hire a professional Press Release Marketing agency, then they should just expedite your growth, and build on the PR program you already put in place yourself. Don’t have a PR program started yet? Start one yourself, then hire them once it’s proven to have a strong result. Read this, and you’ll be ready to start. So here you go, 6 steps to getting your own PR Marketing process in place. Enjoy:

Step 1. Figure out your keywords/topics:

What is your business relevant to? What keywords and topics are people writing about that your business’ news can apply to. For most projects I’ve been fortunate enough to be working with I’ve aimed to find 3 categories/topics/key phrases for relevancy. For example, a travel app that uses AI to help with travel booking will be interesting to reporters who write about Tech, Travel, and Business, not just travel. Think about these keywords and terms and run over to to set up alerts for them (don’t worry I’ll explain why in a second). So again, going back to the travel app I’m going to set up alerts for “ AI startup” “Artificial Intelligence Apps” “travel startup” “travel industry news” “ digital nomad trend” and so on….Why do this? Simple, because I want to see which writers are writing stories that I can be a part of. Every day I check these alerts and also visit Google News to see if I missed any terms (customizing your google news saves hours here monthly).

Step 2: Create relationships with Reporters:

So now I’m seeing everyone whois writing relevant stories about my industries. The beauty of PR Hacking is that 90% of these articles have the writers’ contact information on the article. See image. If they don’t have their direct email, they’ll usually have their twitter. So everyday, I will grab the relevant email addresses and names and go on over to my excel sheet or Google doc and drop them in…building this list during product development, or in expectation of a launch. If it’s a large enough contact I will email them immediately saying that I loved the article and I’d love to offer them an exclusive to be featured in the next piece. The focus here should be about creating value for the writer. Not just asking for free promotion. My favorite personal quote of mine I’ve ever said is “Spam isn’t spammy if there’s enough value for the recipient”. If there’s no email, I’ll go add that person on twitter and tweet to them immediately to follow-back and then I’ll DM. I will continue doing this until my PR Hacking List has reached 300–500 entries. Now you’ve got a solid list for Press Release Distribution!
Most reporters put their email address on their publications directly, to entice people like me to send them stories! Utilize this to start building a relationship with them. Don’t be spammy, but create value for them.

Most reporters put their email addresses on their articles. That’s because they want people like us to email them fresh story ideas. Help them do their job!

Step 3- Make Your Own Milestones!

This is another one of my favorite quotes. Often times when I work with early-stage startup founders on PR Marketing they tell me they don’t have anything newsworthy. To that, I immediately call BULLSHIT! Just because you don’t have a $1,000,000 revenue stream yet or 500k monthly uniques doesn’t mean you don’t have something newsworthy. Think about your mission that you initially set out to complete, are you further along than when you started? Think about your data, is your product solving the problem it set out to? Have you mapped your millionth datapoint? At another travel startup I headed PR for, the founder told me he had nothing I could use for PR, so I sat for an afternoon with the engineering team to see what they were working on. Turns out they had created the world’s largest database of categorized hotel review sentiments. That might sound boring to you, but to a writer who writes about hotels, travel or big data that’s sexy as hell. I spun it up into a PR Marketing campaign and we got 4 nationwide articles with no spend. This company got acquired 4 months later. Find some sexy, relevant news story based on what you ARE doing, even if you haven’t fully done it yet. Try to push out at least 1 story per quarter even if you’re heads down into product development, just to maintain thought leadership and industry awareness. NOTE: If your startup is going for fundraising try to do 1 per month!

Step 4- Create your own Press Release!

This doesn’t have to be a scary mountain to climb. Writing a press release is all about making it very easy for reporters to do their job. They are usually quite LAZY. They want relevant, copy-pasteable chunks of writing that they can simply regurgitate onto their article to look like they’re amazing at their job. If you can help them be lazier, you’ll win more. Just remember three main rules: Focus on the value for the reader, keep it simple, and include a lot of numbers, quotes, and facts. Also include a sexy title, a subtitle that goes further in depth and make sure your date is the day you email the release out. Reporters will insta-delete your email if the PR is outdated. They need fresh news. See image below for structural tips.

The general format of a Press Release. I create mine in Google Docs and then share with CEO for quick easy revision before exporting to PDF and sending to reporters.

Step 5- Distribute your Press Release.

This is the fun part. Start blasting that baby out. There are two main tasks here: 1 send your PR with a short and succinct paragraph in an email to your press list you’ve been cultivating ( I use a free Mailchimp Account with every company email address). Be sure to personalize the email subject with first name and organization so the open rates are higher. The second task is to send direct emails to the biggest press contacts a few days prior. I like to title said direct emails with the word EXCLUSIVE, and yes, in all caps. Always offering the big dogs the exclusive will no doubt create more value for them, and therefore make it more likely you’ll get that big nationwide press release marketing push your company needs. Work with them, see what they need to be better at their job and then provide it. We’re all just people trying to work. Remember that. They need you too, so help them out.

Step 6- Stay on top of reporters.

I recommend using a free ESP like MailChimp (free under 2k email list) to send out your press emails so you can easily track opens. You do this so you can see which reporters opened the email more than once and follow up with them directly. A lot of times they will open it, start working on your content and forget and move on…so if you stay on top of them you 10x your chances of getting featured. I also recommend copying the email campaign in your ESP, and resending to the segment that didn’t open the previous email every 3 days. Just keep hammering them until they either say “Please remove me from your list, unsub or respond to set up a time to chat. More often than not, the response will be just a Thanks. Will be in touch one-liner but even that is good enough. The goal is to start building a foundation with the people who tell the story in your industry. Get noticed, become a go-to source and eventually a thought leader in your industry.

Pro Tip: Also spend some time distributing your press release on free sites like, Reddit (The Startup Subreddit for instance), Flipboard, StumbleUpon etc. You can even repurpose your press release into a blog post and post it on your blog, which can then be shared on social media etc. Just be sure to wait a few days after sending to the PR contacts, before you post publicly. They want that exclusive value, remember?

There are a few potential goals behind launching a serious PR campaign. You either want more Organic User Acquisition, in which, a nationwide article can be a game-changer, or you want more branding. Both are important for many reasons and both are attainable without having a big budget.



About The Author: Andrew Lee Miller is a 10-year startup marketing veteran who assists early-stage startups with Marketing via his remote consultancy He can be reached via