Getting press is a very important factor in growing a company from a small startup to a money-making mammoth. Yet, getting press can be very elusive. While a lot of press doesn’t mean the startup is doing everything right, for the right fit, press coverage can take you very far when you are a young company.
We look at some of the most prevalent reasons that prevent startups from achieving the press coverage they desire. One most important thing to remember is that “good press does not a good startup make.” In English, just because you are getting a lot of press doesn’t mean you are on top of the startups chain. You could be getting a lot of press and it doesn’t convert to anything important because your startup’s product is just shoddy.
1. You don’t know your startup goals
It’s important to have your startup goals in mind and articulate them correctly when you do get a chance to. Explaining these goals correctly will have an impact on what people think about your business.
When you don’t have goals for your startup it shows that your business lacks a foundation that drives it. This makes everything you are trying to achieve pointless because it lacks direction. The press like to hear about startup goals. That’s the ultimate point of focus when you are pitching the product to them. Ideally, that is your story.
For example, Airbnb’s goal is to make people share spaces they aren’t using for a fee while at the same time helping the renters to spend less money by not using hotels that are expensive. That is a goal that begins their story. Everything else comes after they have said what goal they are trying to achieve.
2. You don’t know your target market
When you don’t understand your target market it is very difficult to know what kind of press you are trying to get. Your choice of news outlets to carry your story will also be flawed.
Assuming you are a gaming studio that has come up with a new PC game, your target market is the gaming community. Knowing that you are targeting the gaming community will send you to the right news outlets for gamers. These are outlets that gamers visit almost daily to get the latest news and updates on new games and already existing games. You would be expected to go for news outlets like Gamespot, PCgaming, IGN and Kotaku among others.
When you don’t know your target market here is what you will find yourself doing; Say you have created a game that borrows from the Game of Thrones series, the first mistake you will do is thinking that everyone who watches Game of Thrones will be a fan of your game. What you forget is that not everyone who watches Game of Thrones is a gamer.
The second mistake you will make is to approach IMDB, ITV, TV.com, and Rotten Tomatoes telling them you have a game that depicts Game of Thrones. They won’t answer you because their target market are people interested in movies, not games.
Understanding your target market takes your story and your startup to the best readers deserving of the story while not understanding your target market does the vice-versa. The writers working for gaming news outlets will be happy to write your new game to their readers who will be grateful because now they have a new game to play. The writers working for movie news outlets like IMDB won’t bother to reply to you.
3. You have no idea the type of story you are pitching
There are many stories that go to press about a startup. It could be a new product launch, a hiring announcement, a milestone or funding announcement. Approaching the press while trying to pitch all these things at once will probably not get you press. However, organizing and knowing the story you are pitching on that day can get you a lot of press.
A good example would be a funding announcement. Say you have received $100 million funding in your Series A, which news outlet won’t want to be the first to break that story out? That story would itself spill over and go into a full blown press story about your startup and its products. By focusing on just one story, you have gotten all your stories covered inside out.
Another example would be a hiring announcement. Mostly, when a new person is hired in a startup, it’s not news. But ‘big hiring’ news exists. If you have a startup that’s looking to venture into the car designs market and you went and hired the VP of Product Design from Tesla, that’s very big news. Pitching that story to tech and automotive news outlets would get you a lot of press because you just took somebody from Elon Musk’s innovative car company. Such a story would also spill over to other stories about your startup.
4. You didn’t demo your product
Nothing buys press like a nice demo. Showing what your product can do is a very huge bonus when pitching to journalists. Sometimes it may involve sending a video to them, but that depends on your email copy first. I don’t advise sending attachments when you first cold-email a journalist but you could place images in an email to show what your product is capable of achieving.
The demo step usually comes after initial first contact. At the second level of contact is when you can demo your product and catch their eyes. Sometimes sending a link to the demo page in the initial email also works. Bottom-line, if you show what your product can do, it will sure get you press.
5. You haven’t built relationships with reporters
Having a few reporters who you can call on is great. It’s not so easy to get them even so. Foreseeing that you would come to need reporters as your friends is a genius way of thought. You begin to interact with them as early as possible, before you need them to publish your story.
One influencer online gave an example of how she did it. She began by sending story ideas to specific writers she would need in future. What happened is they would call to get a source for the story. Eventually, she built relationships with a number of reporters and now she reaches out to them for the necessary press her company needs.
6. You don’t get in front of your startup’s PR
Nothing is more fundamental than the image of the founder of any startup to the outside world. Hiring a PR firm to help your startup build its identity isn’t going to get you very far. Reporters like to know the face behind company XYZ.
Take for example, Steve Jobs who co-founded and built Apple’s image in the likeness of his image. When there was a product launch or even a big news hire, it was Steve Jobs who faced the press. Apple received a lot of PR because the founder was in front of everything. Same to Microsoft with Bill Gates when the software company was starting out.
Mark Cuban insists all the time that hiring a PR firm for a startup is a waste of money. PR firms only help you with contacts and logistics, but the story of your startup can only be written by you, the Founder. Founders need to make sure to be involved in press as much as they can, it will only get them more and more press.
7. You product isn’t unique or valuable
Building a product that isn’t unique or valuable will not get you in the papers or online magazines that easily unless your metrics/funding stories are completely out of the moon. Valuable products need not be unique ideas, but the experience needs to be unique to differentiate you from your competitors.
Take for example, Facebook. It wasn’t the first social media network. The idea that people would communicate through platforms where they are connected to each other wasn’t started by Facebook. However, Facebook did build something valuable and the experience was simple so much that it felt so unique from the cluttered MySpace user interface. The platform’s initial adopters actually got press for Facebook.
The whole point is that if your product is valuable and unique in one way or another, it will put you on a nice place where your cold emails are not ignored. Other times, the users of your product will speak about it to the press and get the press flocking your offices to write more about your company.
8. You don’t ask for people’s opinions on your product
This does not directly get you press, but it puts you out there and who knows? A journalist could come knocking to get your story. Asking people either through word of mouth or via social media networks could propel your startup strongly. Word of mouth spreads fast; maybe it’s somebody you introduced your product to who gets to pitch it in front of a few journalists. If they think it is worth writing about they will follow up.
Let’s say you are building a tech product. Services like Reddit give you a platform where you can ask people to comment just by posting a little information about your product on a subreddit related to Tech. Product hunt is also another service where you could add your product and wait to see how many upvotes, downvotes and replies you will get for your thread. The more upvotes you get on these platforms the easier it gets to be seen by reporters who are looking for stories to write.
9. You don’t have a targeted list of writers and journalists
I know that this point relates directly to the one for targeted readers, but it’s different in its own right. When you don’t have a list of targeted writers and journalists whom you want to reach out to it means you will end up contacting reporters who are not interested in your product or its niche. A targeted list of writers is more like your target market. Press farm is one of the online services that gives you industry-related contact information so that you can narrow down easily to your niche.
Journalists have fanatics and readers who want to read their content every time they write. In fact, I could give an example of myself. I loved reading reviews of gadgets, phones and tablets written by David Pierce formerly at The Verge.
That means that if you had David Pierce as a targeted writer before he left The Verge, then you probably had my attention. But to get David Pierce’s attention you had to make a tech gadget, make it worth his time and because it’s in his niche he would probably have reviewed it. I would get to read it, maybe even buy it. That’s how it goes, because it’s not only about the target market but target writers too.
10. You don’t know enough about your targeted journalists
Journalists, just like other human beings, will pay attention to you if you give them a more personal approach. It shows that you pay attention to what they write and report about. The only way to do this is to learn more about their work. Google has all these information.
Writers will listen to you more attentively if they know you are one of their ardent followers. I bet they will even write about your startup and its big product launch just as a show of thanks for how you support their work. We talked about this in the art of cold emailing journalists.
11. You didn’t make your story exclusive to one journalist
Oh! You went and told every journalist about your story and you expect any of them to write about it? Why would they waste their time? Do you even have an idea how it feels to be the journalist who breaks a story about some big hiring news or the largest series A funding? That’s like gold.
A journalist from publications like the BBC, Fortune, Time, The Washingtoon Post and the WSJ will be more receptive if you told them that the story is exclusive. How do you achieve this? In your initial contact, let all the journalists know that the story is exclusive and you will make it exclusive just to them. It gives them motivation to come for more of it. If say two journalists from either of these five publications come back to you asking for more of it, you will have to stay true to one of them. It’s a choice you will have to take.
Eventually, if you stick to The Washington Post journalist, your story will probably go viral and all the other news publications will carry it while referencing and crediting it to the initial journalist who wrote about it. That’s the value of exclusivity, a win-win for both parties.
12. Your startup doesn’t have an active blog
Where the hell do you tell your stories if your startup doesn’t have a blog? How do you share the story of your company with the few users you have accumulated? Buffer’s founder has said before that the reason they got a lot of press coverage was because they had a very active blog. The posts they wrote got shared a lot by some of their users, and continued to get more shares and features in notable blogs.
This brought the press to them. They got a lot of exposure — more than they did from the news outlets they tried to reach out to — from their blog posts that told of the startup’s stories including sharing social media growth tips.
13. You are reaching out to the most prestigious and busiest of journalists
Forget about the prestigious journalists and writers. They get a lot of pitches like yours every day. In fact, hundreds maybe. Imagine how many pitches they would have to reply to. Even you wouldn’t read all those emails. Do yourself a favor and focus on the rising stars. Those who don’t get blasted with hundreds of emails a day. The ones who are actually looking for a story.
Narrowing down to the rising writers in your industry is easy. Just go the publication you want to feature in, check out their writers and the stories they have written about in the last few days. Also, finding out if they are new journalists in the publication could help because it means they are looking for stories to write about. Those are the ones to approach. If you put too much effort in approaching the busiest of journalists, I can assure you that 95% of the time those efforts won’t be reciprocated.
Another easy way would be to go to Press Farm, and get contact information for journalists from your industry. Using filters available on the Press Farm platform, you could narrow down to very few writers whom you can learn more about by reading their works, and checking out their profiles to see if they are your rising stars.
Have anything to add to this article? Let me know in the comments section below.
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Originally published at blog.press.farm on December 25, 2015.