You Don’t Need a PR Agency for Your Startup

The Matterhorn is an iconic mountain that has nothing to do with this post.

I don’t write often, or ever. I had a short lived blog where I ranted about really random things and then attempted to write something useful for the SEO community. It didn’t pan out. But as some people who know me well may tell you, I frequent Reddit often and there, I try to contribute a lot.

So a little while ago (23 days as of me typing this according to Reddit), someone made a post on /r/startups asking if anyone had ever hired a PR agency for their startup’s product launch. It’s a good question. It’s a natural question. I mean, who else knows the ins-and-outs of the press world better than a PR pro, right? These people make their living connecting people and businesses with the right publications and influencers. They craft narratives and feed stories to hungry journalists. They are the newsmakers behind every Techcrunch article — or so I thought for a long time.

But, the reality isn’t as straightforward. PR agencies have their place, but if you’re a startup in the truest sense, not the Uber-is-still-called-a-startup sense, then you don’t need one. You, my good chum, need to roll up your sleeves. There’s no secret sauce and once you’ve done it once, you are set for future launches.

Now, don’t mistake what I wrote with “All PR agencies are a waste”, they aren’t. If you are a larger organization with lots of compartmentalization and specialization, you should have a PR AOR — it will make your life better and at the same time, this post is probably not for you. However, if you are pre-product or still fresh, this is something you absolutely should handle on your own.

Here is my original post on that Reddit thread:

The last bit is a little self-aggrandizing, I know, but it’s Reddit. 90% of people that read this probably thought I was a Gallowboob Alt account or something.

TL;DR in the middle of the post

It’s short but there’s a lot here to unpack. The main takeaways are simple:

  1. Have your narrative ready. In the words of my favorite professor in college (Shout out to Dr. Hardy), “So what, who cares?” Seriously, no one gives a sh*t about your new ‘IOT Dapp for Taco-related Gifs’. Just say it’s a Staples ‘Easy’ button that sends your friends taco gifs because, well, tacos, need you say more?
  2. Journalists, bloggers, influencers et. al. are busy. Get to the f*cking point — quick. So what and who cares. Answer that and you’re golden.
  3. Have your sh*t together. Your press kit should include everything you need for someone to either write a story or copy/paste everything as-is on their Tumblr (kidding, friends don’t let friends Tumblr).
  4. Caring will get your story published. Spend 10 minutes to understand if the person you want to write a story is a good fit or not.
  5. Secure an agreement on embargo date/time before you send your press kit. Rookie mistakes ruin launches. Get the verbal nod that the embargo agreement exists. It’s one of the few places in business where a simple word actually holds a lot of weight.
  6. Get your team on board and unify your product vision internally first before trying to spread and amplify externally.

The List

So you have your sh*t together. You have your narrative. You have your press kit. You have a list of people you want to start reaching out t…oh. Yea, the list, you need that.

How do you find the most relevant people to write about your Taco Gif Button? (Sidenote, I’m really backing myself into a corner with this analogy.)

  1. Google it.
  2. Go to the Google News section and pick out every article directly related to your startup’s product in this case ‘Taco Gif Button’.
  3. Widen the net and find every article about your product’s industry.
  4. Identify each author, their email if available and/or their social profiles. (Google+ is dead so don’t bother)
  5. Put their names, publication URLs, emails, and social profile URLs into a Google sheet for safe keeping
  6. You want the person’s email so if you cannot find it, reach out on social media and ask for their business email. Nine times out of ten you’ll get it.
  7. Take 10 minutes and Google each person on the list. Identify 3–4 of the most recent articles they wrote or posts they made and note down either how it intersects with your product or your interests. Form an opinion agreeing or disagreeing. Even better? Read what they wrote and try to understand their opinion and point of view.

Now what? Now you need to roll up your sleeves. But first, you need to get some help and that takes buy-in from your teammates. A company that PR’s together, <something something’s> together… This is a crucial point that I want to stress. Involve your entire team and/or company. You just created this seemingly awesome (and possibly useless) product that you’re ready to share with the world. You and your team worked hard. Now it’s time to take that effort and turn it into a singular vision that you pitch to the very people that can get you to the masses.

Getting your team, engineers, PMs, even the C-suite, to join in and pitch stories puts every single person on the same page. Everyone drinks the same kool-aid. Everyone’s slightly different vision of the product unifies into one cohesive narrative. Your narrative.

Email Time

So you have your press kit, you have your list of press targets, you have your team psyched and ready, it’s email time.

You’re going to send a minimum of two emails to each person on your list. The first establishes the embargo time and date and has your quick pitch.

The second includes your press kit and any other information you want the person to know in the launch. We’re going to focus on the first email because I think the second is self-explanatory.

Subject Line

Short and sweet —

For example,

Embargoed until 9:00am EST December 3rd, 2018 — Taco Button Will Reshape Shitposting Forever

I mean, who wouldn’t click on that email, amirite…?

First Section — 2–3 sentences max

So remember when you spent some time reading each person’s articles and getting to know their points of view? Time to put that to work.

Show the journalist that you care about their work. Cite something you read and take a stance.

For example,

Hey Person,

I was reading Shitposting Daily the other day and saw your article about Simpsons shitposting. I actually don’t think Homer steams hams at all. It’s a dead trope but you did make a good point about Flaming Moes.

Keep it short but show that you know their work.

The Meaty Body

The last section should have a soft segue from your intro and your pitch. This is where you take that unified product vision and distill it to 7–8 sentences.

Here you outline:

  1. What the hell is it your pitching? A Taco Button, right.
  2. Why the hell will your Taco Button change the industry, world, space, the Pope, or whatever you want to change with the release?
  3. And how does the Taco Button fit into the context of the Shitposting industry AKA the Shitposting Industrial Complex?

Be direct. Be sincere.

For example,

Now that you have my shitposting bonifides, I wanted to pitch you a story I think you would like. My team and I built the equivalent of the Staples ‘Easy’ button for shitposting. Everything is automated. Just press the button and our cloud does the rest. Perfect Taco Gif shitpost every time. We’re launching on December 3rd at 9am EST.

If you are good for the embargo, I will send you our press kit with hi-res images, launch video, press release, and obviously a Taco Gif button of your own.

Rinse and repeat until you’ve made it through your list. In reality with a team of 3–4 people doing this the week before launch, you can cover a massive amount of ground. Even a small number of agreements to the embargo will net you good coverage.

Generally, once you get picked up by at least two or three publications, others publish within a day. You should aim to make as big a splash as possible on launch day so look to amplify any article via your social channels and use other promotional media to your advantage be it Product Hunt, Reddit, Hacker News, or the dozens of other Startup communities.

Actual TL;DR

  1. Get your sh*t together
  2. Build a list
  3. Get buy-in from your team
  4. Send some emails
  5. Profit

VP, Growth and Marketing @Medal_tv | /r/BigSEO | @Razorfishhealth and @ResolutionMedia alum | Finding beauty in novelty; learning, loving, living.