"We just need a Press Release, right?”
Attention Startups Founders: it takes more than “just” a press release to get media coverage.
A common frustration amongst PR professionals is how often they are approached by startups, founders and businesses who say “We don’t have much of a budget. We just want a press release so that the WSJ will cover us.” Sigh.
It’s time to demystify this statement - not only for the startup founders, business owners, and entrepreneurs, but also to help PR professionals properly articulate their value.
So here it is. Your PR consultant (or agency) is doing a lot more than “just” writing a press release to get you that headline media and press coverage. The journey from signing a contract to seeing media coverage for your company involves many laborious steps. It includes research, writing, competitive analysis, and relationship-building to boost credibility.
Startup media coverage is media coverage that startups can benefit from, to help them generate brand awareness, inbound leads, and increase their recruiting opportunities.
Some of the steps your PR professional will take to get you media coverage include (but are not limited to):
As a business, it’s imperative that you create your messaging and narrative before you start any communications - internal or external. These are the fundamental messages that need to be bulletproof before you do anything else.
Why? Because these are the messages you include in your press releases, media pitches, blog, conversations with stakeholders and customers, social media (like on LinkedIn), and more, and they need to be consistent. A PR professional will help you orchestrate this critical thinking about your business to help you develop the backbone messages for your company.
This is arguably the most important part of the process, because if you aren’t hitting the right people, your news will fall on deaf ears. Think about who your target audience is - and what are they reading? Maybe it’s the WSJ, but maybe it’s a small retail or food trade. Organize your strategic objectives in a spreadsheet for easy access.
Your PR professional will do their due diligence in researching the most relevant outlets for your news. This requires spending time researching publications, reading relevant articles to gain insight from your competition, checking to see what reporters are covering, reading Twitter feeds, and more. Gone are the days where a simple email to the generic newsroom email alias will get a response. Your chances of coverage and media exposure are much higher when you have the appropriate person on the other end of the email or phone.
Here it is! And here’s the truth: the press release is not where you write your story -- it is a resource document; a supporting document that houses the facts about your news -- key dates, product information, quotes and basic company information.
To write this, your PR professional will need to work with your executive team to get quotes, talk to your customers to get testimonials and sometimes your investors to get third-party validation. Now, what do you do with your press release?
There are several options, some which include:
Putting it over a newswire ,
Sharing directly with your media contacts
Hosting it on your website.
Newswires in particular are a great way to have your press release sent to a number of potential news platforms simultaneously, providing businesses with a more direct route for gaining media coverage. A quick Google search will reveal some popular newswire platforms, like PR Newswire or Businesswire, a leading PR distributor that is based in New York.
(or Pitches, if you are reaching out to various niches or taking different angles). To learn about your news, you don’t just send reporters a press release, you have to pitch them. If you were to just send relevant journalists your press release, they would not read it. It is long, it does not quickly cut to the point, and doesn’t concisely explain to them in 20 seconds why they should care.
This is why a pitch is crucial because it a) is customized to the journalist you are sending it to (referencing their work, making it applicable to them), b) explains why it is important (and covers the main topic), it c) respects their time. Each pitch is different for each reporter and each outlet. And writing these takes time.
Just because you want to launch your product or service on a certain day, a certain way, doesn’t mean it is the most conducive to the media and getting coverage. It doesn’t matter what your news is, if the timing is off. For example: make sure it is not around a major tech conference where reporters will be talking about the big players in your space.
Or, if it is funding, make sure your announcement is aligned with the filing of your Form D. Or, consider the day of the week -- if reporters’ are on deadlines and writing all week, is Monday the best time? Or most importantly, what is happening in the news cycle and the world? It’s always best to try and fit your story into the bigger picture of what is happening at that time.
This is by far the most time-intensive. More often than not, it takes emailing a reporter a few times (with a couple of days in between at least) for them to reply. Reporters get upwards of 1000 emails per day, which is more than plenty, so response time is not quick. If you're sending out an email, take advantage of the subject line - make it interesting and find a way to stand out. Don't oversell your pitch either - too much marketing talk might put reporters off. Keep it concise, interesting, and realistic!
Your PR professional or PR agency will do what it takes to break through: email, call, or perhaps spend time on Twitter DMing reporters or even sending a tweet their way. They'll find reporters that are most relevant to your niche, through extensive research and focusing on the right keywords. They will read previous coverage, comment on it, and start a conversation that way. Sometimes they will work their networks to find a personal connection. It’s not always as simple as picking up the phone or sending one email.
One thing to note here: even if it does happen on the first phone call, think about the value of that phone conversation. Do you have that relationship to pick up the phone and call that reporter or blogger? If not, then your PR professional is bringing a lot of value and should be compensated appropriately. It’s not about the time it takes, it’s about the value.
Another way to approach journalists is source request sites, which have gained popularity in recent years. Through a platform like HARO (Help A Reporter Out), you can find journalists looking for sources and interesting data to cover. If your pitch is compelling enough, and the reporter deems you a good fit, then you've got yourself some media coverage!
If there is a reporter that wants to talk to you, you will need to be prepared. Your PR professional will research that reporter to understand how to best prepare you. Here is what they will do:
Find the most recent and relevant coverage
Work with you to make sure you understand and are clear on what your main message points are
Uncover recent trends and relevant coverage for you to speak to the reporter about
Make sure you are calm and collected and ready to share your story!
Are you looking for startup media coverage? Here are some frequently asked questions that tech startups and other businesses have about it, answered.
Getting startup media coverage is an extensive process, which involves everything from creating a narrative and building your media list to conducting the right outreach and preparing designated spokespersons for interviews. PR takes a lot of effort, so sometimes it's worth reaching out to a PR agency and scheduling a demo.
Getting free media coverage can really help your startup grow, but it's not easy to obtain. You will need to approach journalists working for your preferred media outlets and convince them to write about you. The best way to accomplish this is through building personal relationships with them; another option is to offer a journalist an 'exclusive'.
When it comes to approaching the media, keep things as easy for the reporter as possible. Also, be persistent, because a journalist’s email account receives hundreds of emails a day, or more.
These are just the basics. There is a lot more that can go into any press announcement, depending on the news, the size of the scope, and the players involved. But, it is never solely a press release on its own - it’s hours of work to get you to the finish line and not always “just” a press release.