The 10 Commandments of Media Relations Every Entrepreneur Should Follow

Nicole Quinn
Apr 12 · 6 min read

The following is a joint post between Nicole Quinn, General Partner, and Meredith Kendall Maines, Marketing Partner, at Lightspeed Venture Partners.

“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” — Bill Gates.

In today’s world, the importance of good public relations and media relations is continuing to become more prevalent, and is something that should be at the forefront of all entrepreneurs and founders’ minds. Investing in PR can help organically grow your business through earned media strategies that result in customer trust and company credibility. As a VC, I have seen first-hand how effective PR can benefit startups. Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Product is Everything

A solid product that tracks to its promised claims is a check-box requirement for any successful PR program. Expectations are extremely high, even in the early Beta phase. Budget and bandwidth constraints aside, resist the temptation to rush a product out before it is adequately tested and refined. The press and other critics will take notice. Not even a clever PR pro can compensate for an offering that doesn’t deliver. Remember, PR doesn’t pay for positive promotions. If you can, take that extra time to make your product shine from day one. Great publicity will follow.

And it has. Take a look at Amanda Hess’s New York Times article chronicling her experience using the Calm app. It is clear that her positive experience with the app was due to Calm’s dedication to perfecting every aspect of the user experience.

2. Invest in PR─$$$, Time, Resources

In a recent interview, Brian Chesky, Co-founder of Airbnb, said: “We got more than 0.5 million articles in last year, in 2020, and we had as much share of voice as most of the other major travel companies combined. And that’s how we really built the brand of Airbnb more than anything, probably, is PR.” Investing in PR creates a vast, measurable impact reaching your business goals. PR can help guide decisions that create third-party credibility, which shows that people can trust your company. Company trust translates directly to sales, making your investment in PR worthwhile.

3. Win Your Elevator Pitch

You only have one chance to nail a first impression. The editorial world is saturated, so engaging a journalist at the outset is the hardest part of the job. Make the pitches brief — no more than a few short paragraphs. Too much text is a turn off! Sought after reporters receive upwards of 200 pitches a day. You won’t even make the first cut if your pitch idea isn’t spot-on. Craft your story idea as a well devised teaser, and the reporter will be more likely to respond. You have very little time to get their attention, so make it count.

4. Know Your Target, Take Careful Aim

Whether new to the game or a seasoned professional, any PR practitioner will tell you that you won’t have a story without a killer pitch. It’s well worth the time to research the target outlet, understand the readership, and know what the specific journalist covers. Also, identifying outlets that will help you accomplish your goals is key. Do you want to hire more developers? Do you want to be known as a thought leader within a certain industry? If so, you’ll need to make sure you select the outlet and reporter that gives you the greatest chance for success. Knowing your specific goals will help you decide what your target outlet should be, who your spokesperson should be, etc.

5. It’s Not Just About You

Most journalists won’t write about “Company X’s” new product, but they might cover it within the context of a larger category article or trend story. Package a timely story idea about how your company is making its own notable impact, or uniquely competing in the broader market. There’s always room for an opportunity to tell a David vs. Goliath story, or one that’s noteworthy about your company.

6. Users Tell it Best

Know how to parlay user success stories to demonstrate the tangible value of your company and product. Testimonials can prove to be the most convincing and powerful way to attract and secure new users and motivate existing ones. Customer satisfaction is earned not bought, so the user has no obligation to promote your product unless paid to do so. But when they do, other consumers follow suit, knowing you’re the real deal. Two of the companies I’ve invested in, Zola and Lunchclub, have done a great job at incorporating customer feedback into their overall strategy:

Customer testimonials from Zola and Lunchclub

7. Be Persistent

Can you imagine your business development person closing a major deal with a coveted strategic partner with one intro email and a single follow up call? PR professionals know that consistency is key. Responses don’t always happen overnight, and consistency in outreach plays a key role in staying at the top of a reporter’s mind一and inbox. While you don’t want to overwhelm them, putting in an effort to foster relationships with your target outlets could allow you to become a great resource for future articles.

8. Play Fair, or Don’t Play at All

We expect journalists to be fair, accurate and truthful in their reporting. Conversely, we need to play by the same rules. Always be straightforward and don’t cover up or candy coat the facts. And it goes without saying…don’t ever lie. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, say you’ll get back to them and then go find the answer and follow up.

Also, if you ever offer an exclusive — stick to your commitment. Forge mutually beneficial relationships for you and the journalist — everyone can win. Exclusives are especially great for funding announcements. For example, one of the companies I’ve invested in, Real, just agreed a good exclusive with TechCrunch for their Series A financing.

9. Don’t Wing It

Practice makes perfect. The 1/8th rule — for every interview, you should have practiced your talking points and messaging 8 times. An Olympic athlete doesn’t go into their race without training and warming up, so equally don’t go into the interview cold.

Also, spend time researching the interviewer. Learn what kind of questions they like to ask, prepare ways to redirect the conversation if necessary, and understand what kind of audience they have.

10. Have a Plan

Here is a guide we provide to our founders at Lightspeed on how to approach the PR process. Feel free to use it, share it, and adapt it to your company’s PR strategy. Happy pitching!

— Nicole & Meredith

☞ To hear more of our thoughts in the future, follow Nicole and Meredith on Twitter.

☞ If you liked this post, Please “clap” to help to promote this piece to others.

Lightspeed is a multi-stage VC firm focused on accelerating…

Lightspeed Venture Partners
Nicole Quinn

Written by

Investor at Lightspeed, Stanford alum, Former Consumer Analyst at Morgan Stanley and British 100m sprinter

Lightspeed Venture Partners

Lightspeed is a multi-stage VC firm focused on accelerating disruptive innovations and trends in the enterprise and consumer sectors. In the past two decades, Lightspeed has backed 400 companies and currently manages $10.5B across the global Lightspeed platform.