Fake it till you … f*** it
For the last few weeks in the Polish media I’ve been seeing headlines like “A project (sic!!!!) of a social app (next one!) worth million dollars” or “They rejected a … million dollars offer from a foreign investor”. Moreover, suddenly it turns out that one of the biggest hardware players actually did not sign a huge contract over which they’ve been building their communication with the media for months. Honestly, something is wrong here.
I’m not going to argue here about valuation of a startup or if a certain deal was true or not. That’s a separate topic and there are many more people who are real experts in the field. I’m focusing on media relations. I’ve spent half of my professional life in the media and honestly I’m a bit disgusted — both by the media coverage I see these days and (even more) by the founders who use doubtful news as an excuse to cause a stir in the media. So here are few tips you shouldn’t ignore if you craving for some media buzz (not for the right reasons obviously).
Fake it till you make it
For sure that’s the quote of the last weeks. In my opinion, while using it here in Poland, we talk about a combination of high self-esteem of the founders, supported by a doubtful marketing strategy covered by great press. Why? It’s not the strength of the idea. In my opinion, the media, the founders and the Polish startup community as a whole, we all suffer from the same “disease” — lack of a worldwide significant success. But what is important here, I’m not talking about numbers, revenue or customers (really I love and appreciate Brand24, Growbots and many other great companies). By a success here I mean a brand awareness. But! A brand that would be widely known by the common people, not only by the tech & business community itself. Or maybe it’s just our typical Polish lack of confidence covered by an exaggerated ego and a belief in our own infallibility and uniqueness. Still, I keep seeing headlines like “Polish Elon Musk (srsly??)”. Apart from the increase in click-through rates, do you really always need to be a Polish version of someone who already got to the top to feel a bit successful?
Cannot say, I’ve got NDA :)
I could not imagine myself sending a press release to the media with the information I cannot prove. Of course, sometimes I cannot give certain details because the startup I work with has a non-disclosure agreement. Common practice. End of story. For example I cannot say how much the acquisition of the company costs. But! A good journalist would always point out: Paulina, sorry, it’s not enough. And you know what? Great. The least I can do is to show the scale of the investment refund. Eg.: The founders or the investors collected x times more money than they had put into the company 3 years ago. Accurate information? More detailed? Hell yes!
Media & media workers
I used to be a journalist and believe me it’s one of the most responsible profession I know. Yes, we don’t save people lives but words can change a lot. Everybody who is in the business or who was a story hero knows that good press can change a lot. It can help you to look a bit more successful (at least famous for a while, depending on who’s writing) or can destroy your reputation as a founder. But what I am trying to say here is that I cannot help feeling that most of the journalists have been replaced by the media workers (I’m not going to argue here why, that’s a topic for a separate text) who just copy and paste the content of a press release without checking whether the information is reliable (bless those who continue doing a great job in journalism, love you guys). Well, OK but please remember …
…. research is everything
Yes. Even if you work for a specific industry media, you don’t know everything. It was our bounden duty in tv & radio times to do excellent research. We talked to a bunch of experts, read hell a lot of articles but most of all we checked all the press releases. If I had copied a press release without checking it first if it’s not a fake, my boss would have literally kicked me out of the newsroom. And what I see now are articles (sic!) on the online industry services (clickbait rules!) without a quote ‘source: press release (where the hell is the ethics?). But what is more frightening is that once, highly respected national media (with their online versions) put exactly the same information without any changes, without any sourcing, without quoting that this is a press material. I cannot ignore that. That’s not journalism. That’s just bullshit. Sorry.
Have some respect
If you have a product which you brag about that it’s not for the Polish market because it’s: 1) too small 2) people are not ready to use it 3) you’re not interested just because etc., why the hell I cannot find anything about you at techcrunch, crunchbase or product hunt? You conquer the US and the leaders of its tech & startup community haven’t heard about you? Are the only reviews I see on Apple Store from your team members? But yes, keep sending press releases to the Polish media only. Keep fighting with the journalists and bloggers who just happened to do the research and said: checking! Nobody will ever know that something here is a fake :)
And last but not least — don’t lie
Dear founders & PR people (I’m addressing it to myself as well) — please remember the world is really small, thanks to the Internet of course. If you are involved in the startup market & community, you spend hours on reading articles, on testing new products, searching new ones via product hunt, talk to people who are inside the business… What I’m trying to say is that sooner or later somebody will check your product or service. People will ask, people will discuss. Nothing will hide, really. Don’t lie (1st rule of PR). Don’t hide a part of the story. Sooner or later someone will find out. And that’s a fact.
P.S.: Big thx for help to Paulina Dobrzańska & Patryk Górniak