The Bootstrapper’s Guide to Startup PR

“PR should be practiced to serve the public interest, to develop mutual understanding between organizations and their public.” — James E. Grunig

The benefits of getting press for a startup are numerous, from attracting more customers to enticing investors and more, so it’s no wonder that so many founders strive to engage the media.

Unfortunately, countless founders view public relations as an intricate and costly process, as traditional wisdom dictates that a company must advance its reputation by hiring a PR firm and leaving the whole procedure to professionals. Because of this, many entrepreneurs leave their prospects to serendipity and assume that their company will simply go viral.

However, the art of public relations is not as enigmatic, or expensive, as you may think. In this post, we’ll show you how to acquire the best publicity for your startup, featuring insights from top PR experts, with the resources already at your disposal.

Are You Ready for Press?

Before you announce your launch or major news regarding your startup, you must ensure that your announcement is newsworthy. After all, whatever news is released about your company will affect its future, so announcing anything should not be taken lightly. Take the time to address these points before looking for press.

1. Do you have a finalized product or service?

  • Merely announcing a beta version of your offering may not be enough to attract attention.
  • Take the additional steps to guarantee that your website can handle a potential surge in traffic.
  • Include an “About Us” or “Press Page”, consisting of logos and screenshots in different formats and sizes, team bios and photos, and a concise company description.

2. Do you have a compelling story?

  • Remember, “my company is launching” alone isn’t a hook, so don’t even attempt to advertise this as news by itself.
  • Don’t exaggerate or fabricate news, as most, if not all, professional journalists will conduct research into your story before writing anything about your company.
  • And most importantly, before you seek press, ask yourself, “Will anybody but me, my family, and my friends care?” If the answer is no, then hold off on getting publicity for your startup.

What is Your Goal?

The purpose of a media announcement should be to get as many media outlets, blogs, and journalists writing about you. Tech media is ruthless, and a large number of outlets may refuse to write about you if another website has already covered your story. It takes a lot of time and effort to get noticed, so if you only want to generate enough buzz to attract a small number of users for testing and feedback, making a major announcement about your company is not the way to go.

How Do You Prepare?

Build a List of Media Channels

Before you reach out to journalists, reporters, and bloggers, you must first build an exhaustive list of media channels that cover the industry your startup is in. Keep in mind that websites that write about startups that are only vaguely similar to yours most likely will not write about your startup. Even if you compile a long list of related blogs, only a handful of them may be interested in what you do.

In the Medium article, “How To Get Press for your Startup: The Complete Guide”, Austen Allred outlines two effective methods for generating a list of blogs that write about your industry.

Method #1

Download the Scraper Chrome Extension, which facilitates online research when you need to get data into spreadsheet form quickly. Go to a blog ranking website, like Alltop, to discover the top blogs that may write about you. The Super Chrome Extension enables you to export your findings into a Google Doc that you can refer back to in the future.

Method #2

Scrape the results from the Google News API, using the Google News Downloader, by Customer Dev Labs. With this tool, all you have to do is enter a keyword — like a competitor, a keyword, a problem you’re trying to solve, etc. — and it will produce a pre-formatted .CSV file of all the articles that have been written about that keyword in the past few days.

While these two methods can be a bit time consuming, combining them can give you a wealth of information in minutes.

Establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

  • Since you should have already conducted extensive research into your industry and other similar products, you should already be close to an expert. But simply being privy to exclusive industry insights isn’t enough to bolster your reputation, so take the the time to write about your thoughts, opinions, and insights on a regular basis.
  • Once you’ve started routinely writing about your industry, heavily promote your writing on social media to build your audience. If you already have a large following by the time you reach out to the media, you will be that much more attractive to writers looking for a good story.

Build relationships with the media.

In the Kissmetrics article, “A Beginner’s Guide To Public Relations For Tech Startups”, Heather Anne Carson posits that founders should think of PR as less about making contacts and more about making friends. Having one friend in the media is more valuable than having multiple contacts in the media, as that one person will be the most likely to promote your company than numerous individuals with whom you are barely acquainted.

Here are some tips to help you get started making friends in the media:

  1. From your media research, identify the bloggers, reporters, and journalists who cover the topics that are most closely related to your company.
  2. Engage with these individuals on social media by replying to their posts, retweeting their tweets, and commenting on their articles to get their attention.
  3. Send them a warm introduction email that explains what you do, what your company offers, and how you can be a potential source of story material for them.

One easy way to do this is to use Hootsuite, a tool that you can use for free to track the news and reporters talking about your space, while also interacting with them and building relationships.

For example, below you’ll see the Hootsuite Dashboard that we use at the Founder Institute.

You’ll notice:

  • We’ve created a stream for journalists we have relationships with, or that we want to build relationships with (“Influencer List”). We can then see what they’re writing, retweet them when appropriate, provide commentary, and email them help if I can provide it. (Note: To create a stream like this you first need to create a Twitter list, but after the initial setup you can then easily add new people to the stream within Hootsuite).
  • We are also tracking the chatter around startup accelerators, incubators, demo days, etc to keep a pulse on the startup industry. When trends arise we try to capitalize on them, and we will often add new writers we see writing about the space in this stream to our journalist stream.

This is an easy, free way to lay the groundwork for future press.

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