Public Relations: Landing Your Startup in the News
Every startup wants exposure. They want to be featured in large blogs, small blogs, national news and local news alike. They’d like to be in trade publications, newsletters, and any other type of journal where their target market can be found. And they’d like those placements to happen consistently over time aligning with their own schedule of events and announcements.
The concept of getting in the news is simple- reach out to writers, reporters, journalists, and bloggers and convince them to cover your story. The landscape takes a while to learn though. This quick start guide is a resource for startups to power up their Public Relations campaigns and Media Relations outreach. It is by no means comprehensive, but with it you will be able to land every type of placement including full feature reviews, founder interviews, mentions in relevant articles, and guest post opportunities.
Part 1 – Media Relations Basics
Who to Pitch
- AllTop.com is a categorized database of blogs and news sites.
- Use a press database such as Cision or Meltwater (costly though).
- Google the subject of the article you’d like to see written. Click over to the News tab and you’ll find a list of articles whose authors you want to meet.
- Target companies who share your audience and have complementary products. This one can’t be overstated. Whereas journalists are inundated with pitches, most companies have a blog they struggle to find content to fill it with. And their audiences are highly targeted. Running cross promotional campaigns across each other’s blogs and other channels can be a big win for everyone.
When to Pitch
Top Blogs and News sites publish their editorial calendars with the topics they intend to focus on and when. Following it will improve your response rate.
How to Contact
- Email is the preferred and best method. If you don’t have access to the aforementioned press databases, check the article, their author page, social profiles, personal website, or Google them. If all else fails message them on Twitter or use the general contact page.
- The era of pitching journalists by phone has by and large come to an end, especially for tech journalists. That said, this was a staple for how things were done in times past and the cold call is not completely gone. A stalwart band of PR pros still swear by it. Whether you cold call, or most likely not, it’s worth reading up on since it helps you visualize the relationship between you and the reporter. Here’s one guide on how to do so. Here’s a more balanced article with some historical context.
- Your willingness to cold call a reporter is a litmus test as to how strong your pitch is. Do you truly believe this story deserves to be in print? Or is it just information that you want people to know? If it’s the latter either work on your pitch or consider paid advertising. Or both since messaging matters regardless of the channel.
- Scan their previous articles so you can tailor your pitch to their beat.
- A battle tested intro is “Hi ‘Name’, I came across your article ‘Article Title’. I thought what you said about XYZ was ‘compelling/interesting/informative’. I’d like to share with you a similar story about my own company.”
- Succinct and buzzword free. No more than two paragraphs.
- The subject line is the most important part of your pitch. An email with a weak subject line won’t get opened. Some suggest writing subject lines as if requesting a favor from a friend. Personally I prefer using exactly the title of the article I’d like them to write. Use this Headline Analyzer tool to create a great subject line. If I’m not getting a strong response, the subject line is the first thing I try variations of.
- Build relationships, not a pitching frenzy.
- No back and forth on scheduling. If a journalist offers a time slot to discuss, take it and reschedule everything else. Counter offer a time that works best for you at your own peril.
- Review their previous articles, social profiles, and personal website in advance.
- Learn their deadlines and provide any follow up info quickly.
- Let them know you’re a resource available to them for fact checking, comment, or expert opinion for any future stories they work on.
- Many sites welcome guest posts. It’s much less work for them and establishes you as a thought leader. It’s much easier to find guest posting opportunities than it is land placements from other writers.
- Guest posting is similar to PR since you’re pitching ideas, but it’s really content marketing. It’s a great fallback when you don’t have any pressing news to promote.
- Sites will often have a page dedicated to how to submit guests posts to them. Some require posts to be completely written in advance, others will consider article ideas. They usually want exclusive publication rights.
- Kissmetrics has a full guide on Guest Posting worth checking out.
Sign Up For Source Finder Sites
- HARO and SourceBottle will email you lists of reporters looking for sources on the topics they’re covering. I’ve landed mentions in Forbes, Inc, and BBC through them.
- They are much easier wins since you’re responding to a reporter’s request for information on a specific topic for an article that’s going to be published. They are great for getting comfortable with pitching reporters. It’s like training wheels for improving your pitch.
- If you’re relying too much on these services it might be an indicator you need to work on your story. You want to be featured, not just mentioned.
Don’t Pay For It #1 – Sponsored Articles
- If you pitch enough you’ll get pitched back with a price tag for the article. If done properly native advertising greatly reduces the value of your article to both readers and Google.
- Paying for legitimate properly denoted articles is fine. It’s just not PR. It’s advertising.
Don’t Pay For It #2 – Wire Services
- Wire services such as PRWeb or PRNewswire don’t frequently lead to stories being picked up, especially if you aren’t already on the radar. Sometimes the right outlet for your press release is your own press page or blog.
- Wire services are most effective when used in conjunction with an ongoing PR campaign. People often find them when searching for your company by name.
- It serves as a another good litmus test. Ask yourself “Does my press release contain a story worthy enough to be picked up?” If the answer is no, then it’s a good time to work on your story angle.
Don’t Pay For It #3 – Buying Off Writers
- If you look for it you can find ways to buy off writers to get placements. Menus with price per publication are not uncommon. After some weeks of unsuccessful pitching, reaching to the easiest thing that works can be tempting.
- If you have to force your article into a publication it’s another indicator that your pitch needs more work. Journalists wake up every day looking for a good story. If they aren’t biting, something’s off.
- Some PR & SEO firms rely heavily on
relationshipspaid connections. I’ve been on interviews where the writer may as well have said “Would you like fries with that?” They weren’t writing a story they believed in at all, and neither would any audience.
- It’s banned by Google and the FTC and could potentially have adverse repercussions at some point.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Pitching reporters is like any other sales job. You’re selling your story to bloggers, journalists, and writers. Schedule to pitch consistently and you will land placements. Grabbing a few easy wins with source finder sites and guest posting can help you gain momentum and confidence. Then progress to the cluttered inboxes of journalists for highly coveted publications.
Getting in the news revolves entirely around articulating a compelling story to the right writer at the right time. Sometimes it’s best to find a media relations pro to help you with that.
The next section focuses on the best topics for getting in the news. It includes the Golden Principle for getting in the top headlines, and the Much Feared Fable.
Part 2 – Public Relations: Finding The Right Story Angle
Getting press is not just a numbers game. What I love about public relations is there is so much justice in it. If you have a compelling story, you will get placements. Reporters are hungry for an enticing story to share with their readers. Find out what a journalist and their audience like and tailor your pitches to that. Here are some popular story angles to kickstart your public relations campaigns.
- Just launched your company.
- Funding event- especially if it’s a high dollar amount from known investors.
- Merged, bought company, sold company, etc.
- Notable hire such as a “celebrity” status exec or guru.
- Notable benchmark- 1 million users, double digit growth, surpassed competitors, etc.
- Major Pivot- when you change directions or “refocus” your business.
Topics For When You Don’t Have News
- Founder insights, company stories, and lessons learned.
- Mine your database- there are stories in there. Priceonomics (for a healthy fee) does just that- takes your data and distills it down to a compelling story. You can do it too.
- Human interest stories such as highlighting a personal experience of a customer, or the founder’s drive to build the company.
- Describe a problem your company solves that a journalist’s audience is interested in.
- Link your product to seasonal or cultural events.
How-to guides can be extremely successful and are often highly shared. Take any unique or compelling design or development task and describe in detail how you accomplished it. Don’t be overly promotional but the examples will naturally include your branding. This is more of a content marketing idea but I included it since it can be very successful. The content may be best posted on your own blog. For more on content marketing, see our guide here.
The Golden Principle of Getting In the News
I like to tell people about a particularly momentous placement I landed in the WSJ. Upon reflection I realized it wasn’t me who got the placement, it was the development team. A data security law had changed and my company immediately updated our system to meet the new requirements. When pitching I heard back from The New York Times, Politico, and the one that landed, The WSJ. The strong response was because we had a news piece directly related to a trending story. Look for opportunities to tie your company story to a trending news item. Here’s a post about my progression to understanding Media Relations leading up to the article in the WSJ. It includes screenshots of my pitch and ensuing article.
The Much Feared Fable: No PR Is Bad PR
Of all the startups I’ve encountered since I began blogging about them in 2009, exactly zero of them wanted bad PR. Woe be to me if I write even the slightest less than glamorous comment about them. Hence very early on we migrated to comedic and insightful reviews, and now go full creative with poetic features. This Stanford study promotes the merits of negative PR: “Whereas the negative impression fades over time, increased awareness may remain… new entrants may have little to lose when it comes to publicity of any kind — the key is simply to get seen.” For example, “Did you see that awful dress she wore to the Grammys?” The takeaway is “So and so went to such and such.” The wardrobe gaffe draws people in and gets the story heard while bypassing feelings of jealously.
The last section is the most important. Your PR efforts are for naught if you skip it: Maximize your company exposure by promoting your placements. It includes the Peasant’s Conundrum and the Diamond Discovery.
Part 3 – Improve the Page Authority of Your Placements: Article Amplification is Key
The Peasant’s Conundrum: Articles Are Feast Or Famine
Vyteo has over 500 startup reviews. Some articles receive huge spikes in traffic and/or a steady stream of visitors over time. Others never take hold and only receive views during the first few days of their publication. How big is this divide? Top articles have over 15k views and are still growing. Some haven’t broken 100. I am confident a similar hundreds-fold divide exists for every blog and news site. All articles start at the peasant level. In fact every new page and post on the internet starts with a Page Authority of one (on a 100-point logarithmic scale). You want to turn your peasant placements into noble estates from which you reap a continual harvest. Increasing the Page Authority of every placement you receive not only helps it get more views, but also benefits the ranking of your own site. Download the Moz Toolbar which tells you the Page and Domain Authority of any page on the internet, along with other helpful insights. PA can be higher than the DA of the site. Letting your placements remain at a PA of one is a huge missed opportunity.
A quick and easy exercise to gauge the value of your placements is to put them in a spreadsheet and track their Page Authority over time. One thing you’ll find is that just because a post may be on a high Domain Authority site doesn’t mean the PA will be high. Oftentimes your best placements are on lower ranking sites. As your PA across your placements climbs, you dramatically increase their value.
The Diamond Discovery: Articles Are Ads. Except Better.
- They tell your story in a fuller way than a display ad.
- They are online for years, not days.
- They increase in value over time by gaining likes, shares, views, comments, and links to them. This increases their value in the eyes of visitors and the various search, news, and social networks.
- They’re the primary external factor in boosting your search results ranking.
- They have the fullest set of outlets for promotion:
- Email it to your staff saying “Hey check this out! Please like and share it.”
- Cite and link to it in your blog, press page, or in other articles you publish. This is the single biggest factor in increasing an article’s Page Authority.
- Post and schedule it on your social channels 3-5 times throughout the year. Hootsuite or Buffer are your friend here.
- Pin it periodically to the top of your social feeds.
- Feature it in your newsletter.
- Comment on the article if comments are enabled.
- Include it in paid ad campaigns just like a display ad. Running ad campaigns including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and OutBrain can lead to great boosts in traffic for your placements. Including your article placements in your paid advertising campaigns is a great way to increase their long term value.
Thank you for following this quick start series for your Public Relations campaigns and Media Relations outreach. I hope you find it helpful and it leads you to even greater success. I look forward to your feedback in the comments.