“Existing is not news”: How to Make Your Early-stage Startup PR Fly
Tips from a TechCrunch Editor and a PR Expert
Each week, I aim to help founders tell their stories and get their messages out mindfully. Sometimes that means convincing them to speak up; other times, I temper their hopes and help redirect their narrative down a new path.
Listening to Josh Constine, now of SignalFire but a long time TechCrunch journalist himself, in a conversation he hosted a while back with TechCrunch Editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino, and PR expert Margot Edelman, confirmed sound advice to share with you now.
Hopefully, my notes from their chat save you time and help you focus on achieving great coverage. It’s worth listening in full here. Maybe you are wondering though, as an early-stage company, why even bother with PR?
Here are some reasons they offered:
1) Follow-on rounds: To attract funding later, a trail of articles gives your company credibility and a history. Start now and pave the path. It offers a “3rd-party proof point.”
2) Recruiting: Know your why. Take a problem-solving approach. Being able to express your uniqueness and why you are interesting will propel you and your company forward. You will always be ‘recruiting’ or attracting more people to your mission: new team members, partners, journalists, investors.
3) Establish your narrative: Nailing down your story helps in creating a “public record.” (See point 1 above). But it also does a special thing: when done right, it aligns your internal and external audiences. This gives your team, or staff, something to be proud of and share plus it puts your future customers or community on a path towards becoming loyalists.
4) Partnerships: People who read your press might be people who make decisions about buying or business development. Open up that channel.
Beyond that, your communications convey something fundamentally important. They show “why your equity is going to be valuable”. It can indicate how you are “not just moving pixels around but solving real problems for a big market.”
So, how can you do this?
Good news: it can be done. Get your mind around the idea that you need to put something out there that matters. In other words, simply “existing is not news.”
Founders are perhaps used to exerting a certain amount of control over their circumstances, but when it comes to PR/Comms, it’s good to be able to “compromise on the narrative.” So what does this mean mixed with the aforementioned opportunity to own your story?! It may sound contradictory, but it is not. Consider first what matters to the reader; what is the information you can share that will affect them? It is humbling, but try giving up what matters to your business (suspend your belief for a moment) and start picturing what OTHER people want to read.
This means communications guidance can help founders the most by actually pushing back and encouraging them to “rework the message.” Some ways founders can do this are by offering journalists, or having their Head of Comms (if they have one), access to senior management people in their own companies, like a CEO, CPO, CTO, or Head of Sales. These individuals offer insights at a boots-on-the-ground level, or what’s resonating in their divisions. Founders should also definitely do the work to reflect on why they founded the company, as that is a core story element.
Should you tap into the Zeitgeist?
One point where these experts’ views diverged was: should you try to time your stories with current events? The main takeaway is this: it’s good to tie in your company to bigger news stories but don’t get too granular about it. Doing so makes for content with a shorter shelf-life. Ensure that you are aware of trends and how your company fits in, as well as which competitors share this space with you and therefore what sets you apart.
Find your Product-Reporter Fit
One key thing to remember: research which specific journalists cover your topic. You want to have Googled your keywords and ideal journal names to ensure you are targeting the right reporter for your topic. Avoid at all costs that the journalist you reach out to feels they have to forward your info on to others. Too much work. They are swamped by requests already. You want to be the “pop of color in their inbox,” having researched who has written about your industry, and even your competitors. Check out Techmeme, too.
Brevity is amazing.
Keep your email pitch short. Don’t expect a journalist to dive into attachments without an incentive to do so. One sentence from a founder can be better than packets of attachments. Also, contact journalists early enough that you don’t pressure them too much on the desired publication date, keeping in mind how many other pitches they receive, and consider offering story exclusivity.
Finally, create a ‘Minimum Viable Pitch’
According to Josh, you are seeking an “MVP”, but not the kind you are used to. So what is that? The MVPitch has basically 4 parts to answer these questions:
1) Problem: Why does it matter?
2) Solution: How are you fixing this problem and improving the world with your business?
3) Evidence: Why you are the best and right fit to do so, i.e. any patents, key team mates (PhD minds on the topic, etc.), the moat you have created?
4) Quick bit of news ( See how small that was? 😂)
5) Extras: Might be the origin of your background, team, adjacent markets, why you personally care or are creating this as your legacy to solve something.
Finally, reporters are human. Treat them so. Avoiding entitlement, being pleasant will take you far. And with that, good luck!
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Medium at Elisheva Marcus, on Twitter, or connect on Linkedin to join me in the pursuit of quality startup storytelling.