How to Get Press Coverage

Christoph Janz
Jan 28, 2020 · 8 min read

Startup PR for Dummies

Public Relations (PR) is not a high priority for most early-stage startups. If you keep in mind how many different hats founders have to wear in the early days to build a product, get customers, hire a team and raise money, you’ll understand why. However, I’ve seen plenty of founders miss out on PR opportunities like a funding announcement due to mistakes that would have been easy to avoid.

That’s sad because startups can benefit from media coverage in multiple ways. Coverage by the right publications can generate inbound leads from potential customers. Good PR can also make you look much bigger than you are, which can be useful when you’re talking to potential customers and partners. Finally, sometimes the biggest benefit of media coverage is that it can help with recruiting by spreading the word in the startup ecosystem and contributing to your employer brand.

Mike Butcher gets 500 emails a day. His advice on how to get his attention: Be a purple cow.

Some founders intuitively master PR immediately, but others don’t. If you think you might be in the second category and you want to increase your knowledge from zero to 101, then this post is for you. The caveat is that I’m not a PR expert by any means, so if you’re reading this and you think I got something wrong or if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

As a clarification, when I talk about PR in this post, it’s about how to obtain favorable media coverage on company news. I’m not talking about crisis management, lobbying, or other types of PR that are usually less relevant for early-stage tech startups. If you want to learn more about these aspects of PR you should talk to someone who knows much more about the topic than I do. I’m just trying to teach you a few basics on how to pitch to journalists so they’ll finally write about the cool stuff you’ve spent so much time building. :-)

Remember that journalists are humans, too.

  • You are inundated with 100s of emails and press releases every day.
  • Your job is to quickly scan through haystacks of press releases, most of them sent to you by self-declared market leaders who all claim to revolutionize billion-dollar markets. Most of those press releases are filled with self-praise and unrealistic claims and are so full of buzzwords and jargon that (if you haven’t given up on taking a look at them yet) you cringe as you’re trying to go through them.
  • Your job is to find a needle in these haystacks. You’re looking for a new company or new product that makes for an interesting story for your audience. It needs to be an announcement that can be fact-checked within the few days that you have for the story. And of course, you want to be the first publication to write about the news.

Just by keeping this in mind and by trying to help the journalist achieve her goals, I believe you’ll avoid most mistakes, but let me add a few more practical tips.

1. Target the right people

2. Don’t waste money on mass distribution services

3. Leverage your network

4. Build relationships ahead of time

5. No BS

Journalists are looking for purple cows, not their excrements. ;-)

6. Keep it simple

Neil Murray, the founder of The Nordic Web, was kind enough to review a draft of this post and commented:

“I’d suggest keeping the press release to a one-pager, with three bullet points at the top with the main points you want to get across and then 3–4 paragraphs elaborating on them, including a bit of background on you as a team and a quote or two from an investor and/or a customer.”

7. Make it easy for them

8. Consider giving someone an exclusive and try to create some urgency

To this point, Neil Murray added:

“It’s also completely OK to be upfront about this, flatter them by saying you are taking this to them first but that you need a response within 48 hours whether they are interested otherwise you will have to take it elsewhere. I’d suggest creating some level of urgency. This will also lead to a definite answer and as we know in fundraising, a no is better than a maybe.”

9. Tell them how much you’ve raised

If a journalist pushes you for details that you’re not comfortable disclosing, e.g. your revenue numbers, politely decline to answer. Consider giving him or her a range or try to shift his or her attention to another relevant number (“we’re not disclosing any revenue numbers at this point in time, but what I can say is that we have more than 10,000 signups from more than 50 countries”).

10. Write a founder blog post

“I think ‘founder blog posts’ are generally useless UNLESS it comes AFTER you have had press coverage which you can then refer to.”

So press releases aren’t dead yet, after all.

11: Come up with a great story

PS: When I asked Mike Butcher if he could take a look at a draft of this post, he sent me a video of a presentation he gave at a startup conference a couple of years ago. Take a look:

Thanks to Neil S W Murray, Mike Butcher and fellow P9er Ami for reviewing an earlier draft of this post and for the great feedback (and corrections!).

Point Nine Land

Thoughts about SaaS, B2B marketplaces, venture capital, and occasional sneak peeks into P9’s kitchen

Point Nine Land

P9 is an early-stage VC focused on B2B SaaS and marketplaces. Point Nine Land is where the P9 team (and sometimes members of the wider P9 Family) share their thoughts on SaaS, marketplaces, startups, VC, and more.

Christoph Janz

Written by

Internet entrepreneur turned angel investor turned micro VC. Managing Partner at http://t.co/5WJ3Pepbcv.

Point Nine Land

P9 is an early-stage VC focused on B2B SaaS and marketplaces. Point Nine Land is where the P9 team (and sometimes members of the wider P9 Family) share their thoughts on SaaS, marketplaces, startups, VC, and more.

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