Taking the leap and placing yourself in the media spotlight can push your company to the next level, attracting new customers, partners and potential investors, and improving your social proof as a leader in your industry.
That said, far too often companies hold themselves back from receiving coverage with ‘imaginary barriers’ such as not being friends with journalists, or having the resources to pay $10,000 per month plus retainers for traditional PR agencies. But as our guide to PR in 2019 shows, anyone can do this.
My experience working in tech hubs around the world and as a writer for Venturebeat have shown me that any company –regardless of its size– has a chance of being covered in the world’s largest publications such as Techcrunch or Entrepreneur Magazine, if they follow a clear set of steps.
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I have compiled a simple process under the acronym FAMOUS which can maximize your chances of media success:
The first step of any PR campaign is to clearly formulate the announcement you want to make to the media. Journalists aren’t interested in doing you any favors. They have millions of other startups battling for their attention too. Really, their main objective is to provide their publication’s readership with interesting, newsworthy stories. As a result it is essential to offer them your news in the form of a clear announcement.
Common announcements for startups include company launches, funding rounds, app launches or partnerships.
Rather than simply saying “This is my company, look how amazing we are”, you should offer journalists a newsworthy story which tells them the same thing. Raising your second funding round, or partnering with an established corporate puts value to your company’s name and shows journalists and the wider audience that you are worthy of their attention.
Most startups in their early stages aren’t really that exciting. Any journalist could look at your website and work out exactly what your company is and does in just a few seconds.
What defines your company, and makes you interesting is your ‘bigger mission’. This is where you as a founder want to take your company within the next five or even ten years, why your company is going to change the world, or what your company will look like when it has hundreds of employees.
When my partner and I launched Espacio, a co-working space in Medellin back in 2012, our small mission was to attract startups and potentially investors to come on board. However, our big mission which we sold to the media, and which got us covered in Techcrunch, was to help make Medellin the Silicon Valley of Latin America.
Take a look at your company, or your product and the bigger problem which you are trying to solve. This is the image you want to express to journalists.
There are two primary documents which you need to effectively reach out to the media with your announcement – the pitch and the press release.
Firstly, you need to prepare a clear and concise pitch email which shows a journalist why they should cover your story in just a few seconds of reading.
This email pitch should be personalized, around 200 words long, and it should lead with strong social proof. If you are an MIT graduate, a former Googler or a Y Combinator alumni, this is something you should use to get a journalist’s attention. Likewise, if there is something individual about your backstory, for example, you are 15 or 70 years old, a military veteran or ex-sportsman, this is also something which will grab a journalist’s eye.
It is also important to link to content online which shows the journalist you are the real deal, like your company page, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, to put your name behind the announcement.
Moreover, press releases –which should be included in the text of the email, or as an attachment — should follow a very strict format. The purpose of a press release is to make it as easy as possible for a journalist to write your story, in the shortest amount of time possible. Use as much real data as you can and offer them all of the technical and background information they could possibly need. When we launched Espacio, we didn’t just claim that Medellin was a promising city, we linked to a study which showed the Colombian government was going to invest more than $3M into local startups.
When reaching out to journalists, it is worth considering whether or not you want blanket coverage, or whether you want to offer your announcement as an exclusive.
Journalists are always on the lookout for ‘breaking news’ which allows them to publish stories ahead of competitors. For this reason, the word ‘exclusive’ is music to their ears. Essentially it means that a specific publication will have the right to publish your announcement first, before you reach out to other outlets. Journalists are more likely to spend the time and effort researching your company and writing their story, if they know they can ‘break’ the story as their own.
However, if you opt for blanket coverage, i.e., sending your press release to as many journalists as possible, you should ask journalists to respect an embargo before you send them a press release. This means that the journalist or publication will agree not to publish a story about your announcement before a set time or date. Embargos offer the chance for high reward — with your story potentially published on multiple outlets–but at a higher risk, as it is possible that journalists will break the agreement, regardless of the fact that this is frowned upon in the media industry.
When planning media outreach it is important to think outside of the box. If your announcement doesn’t get picked up on the first round of pitching, don’t hang up the towel just yet. While your product might may lean towards one niche, for example tech, it probably intersects with other verticals too.
It is important to further your coverage as much as possible by assessing which verticals have the biggest audiences, and diversifying your techniques and channels as much as you can. If you don’t get responses from leading publications, you could consider reaching out to local media, or industry specific publications too, especially if your announcement is particularly technical, or would not appeal to a general audience. If you are looking to index your announcement on the web, you can also lean on PR newswire platforms like BusinessWire.
Once your article goes live, you should look to coordinate with social platforms like Product Hunt and Reddit. Also be sure to post your content on your social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and on your own community pages to update your existing contacts on your success.
Building media relations is a rolling process, and as soon as you have finished your first announcement you should already be thinking about your next. The best tactic is to sit down with your team and plan out a ‘6 month media plan’ with possible future announcements, and guest articles or blog posts to fill in the gaps. Thinking ahead allows you to interact with the media frequently, but also acts as a calendar which motivates your team to stick to its goals.
Most leading companies make announcement every eight to twelve weeks, so try to predict upcoming milestones which you can share with your customers and the media, and stick to them.
Just like when starting your own business, building media relations requires a lot of time, effort and resilience. If your first announcement doesn’t get picked up, treat this as a motivator to do it better the next time. It is important that you don’t let ‘imaginary barriers’ get in the way of your aims. Have faith in the strength of your own idea, company or product, and share your passion and enthusiasm with the media following these steps, and you have as much chance of getting covered as any of your competitors.
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