Media relations for start-ups: Six tips to getting your company press coverage

Popular tech news site Techcrunch did something recently that, at first glance, seemed a little odd. It wrote an article publishing every one of its writers’ email addresses.

They did this after it emerged Pressfarm was charging $9 a month to sell the contact details of influential tech writers across all the major Silicon Valley-focused news outlets, including Techcrunch.

Pressfarm’s perfectly legitimate business model is based on ‘supply and demand’ — it knows tech start-ups rely on coverage in outlets like TC, Gigaom, Pando Daily and Fast Company to raise their profile among consumers and potential investors alike but probably can’t afford to employ the services of a public relations agency. Therefore, acquiring hundreds of email addresses of the people who could pump the oxygen of publicity into your company for the costs of a Netflix subscription probably seems like a no-brainer.

But — and this is the point of Techcrunch writer Romain Dillet — having an email address is just the beginning, which is why they were happy to make them available at no charge. In other words, feel free to contact us, just make it worth our time.

Dillet writes:

“Instead, find out who tends to cover your startup’s area of opportunity, and reach out with something short and sweet. Don’t pitch too early, tell a story, and build relationships. Finally, don’t take it personally if we don’t cover your startup — there are so many good things out there that it’s hard to keep up with everything.”

Building relationships is key. Companies and their PR teams can enjoy a symbiotic relationship with reporters when media relations is practiced correctly — not blasting generic emails to hundreds in the hope something sticks. Here are some quick tips on forging the relationships you need to see your company name in the headlines for the RIGHT reasons.

1. Quality over quantity It’s way more valuable having a media list of five reporters that you’ve cultivated a strong, symbiotic relationship with than a list of hundreds you’ve never interacted with. Identify the places you want to be covered in — websites your future consumers, investors or employees are reading — and pick a Top Five wish list. From there, find out what reporters seem most interested in your area of expertise. Follow their social feeds and watch what they write about closely to see how you might fit in. Then focus on those and ignore the others (for now).

2. The angle Before you sit down to pen that first email, think about what makes your company or product worth covering. Perhaps you’ve just launched an innovative new business that’s going to disrupt a traditional industry, or you’ve been slowly working away and have now hit an exciting milestone in terms of user adoption. Throwing in some data from a credible industry report or white paper that backs up why your idea is sustainable is also a nice touch. Think about the story you want to tell and ensure it has a broad appeal. A good practice is thinking what your ideal headline might look like, and working backwards from there.

3. That awkward first date You’ve got your wish list and your news hook. Now it’s time to break the ice. Penning that first email to a reporter can be nerve wracking. But an easier way to tackle it is to pretend you’re the reporter receiving it — what might spark your interest? Reporters have two major stakeholders to consider; their own news editors and their readers. Cultivate your email in a way that outlines what you can offer them (e.g a great story that earns them plenty of page views), not what they’d be giving you (e.g. amazing earned media exposure). Position the email as an introduction to your story, with the offer to chat further — rather than a plea for coverage. If they’re nearby, invite them to see your operation first hand. Focusing on the reporter you think is the most influential and offering them the piece as an exclusive is also a good idea. And keep the email brief (no more than 150 words ideally).

4. The waiting game You pressed ‘send’ two hours ago — why haven’t they replied? Reporters are busy, and most admit their email inboxes are a mess. Don’t take a delay personally, and don’t feel the need to follow-up in 24 hours. Give it a few days then send a polite note asking if they’d had a chance to review your earlier email and whether they’d be interested in chatting further. Don’t be impatient or rude, just gently remind them why you think you have a great story and would love the opportunity to chat further.

5. The call So, they’ve got back to you and expressed an interest. Hopefully they’ve decided to set-up a call with you. Bear in mind that this first call may not lead to coverage, but may merely serve as an introduction to your operation. This is still valuable in beginning to build a relationship with a key reporter and will serve you well in the future when you have a stronger news angle to pitch. Be prepared to answer difficult questions like: Why is your product / company different? Who are your competitors? What is your ultimate goal? What are your growth targets? What have you learned from others in your space that failed? Ideally, pull together a one-page sheet of talking points to have at your side — this will help you pivot the interview back towards the story YOU want to tell.

6. The relationship So, you’ve had a successful first date. You think you’d like to see more of this reporter and you hope they feel the same. This is where being a decent human being with relatively average social skills comes in. Don’t wait until you have something to pitch — look to interact with your contacts regularly (without spamming). You might comment on a blog post, respond to a tweet, share an article or email them with a tip-off about another story not concerning you or industry insights you think might help them research a story. In other words, help make their lives easier. Become a resource to them, and be willing to offer any key data points on your industry that you think might help them with a story.

What are your top tips for media relations tactics? Leave them in the comments below!

Originally published at on July 22, 2014.

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