As a founder, CEO or CMO, what would it mean for your company to get a good write-up in a national magazine or newspaper? As an emerging tech PR and Comms snob and writer for some badass publications, I know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen really clever pitch methods and awful ones. I’ve seen success and failure. Here are the best startup press ideas.
Five press tactics for startups
Here are the five best startup press ideas. If you put in the work, you will get some big gains. You will notice my press tactics for startups all have a theme. They focus on better understanding the humanity of the writer you are pitching as well as their editor, and their audience. If you can know them better than they know themself, you’ll win. (If you’re too busy and want to hire this stuff out, check out my piece on how much does PR cost?)
1. Don’t Press Blast. Focus Instead.
Are you going to take direct action on a mass mailing? No, and neither is a journalist. When you mass-mail journalists from a list you bought (or worse, put the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” in the title), don’t count on a reply. When journalists and bloggers see a mass mailing or press release, they immediately know thousands of people received it, devaluing your pitch. Because it’s unlikely they have a unique angle, they’ll probably pass even if the story has potential.
Instead, write down your top 10 magazines or newspapers. Find writers who are in your wheelhouse, and offer them up a fresh, accessible, relevant, and timely story using the FART Method and my perfect pitch email strategy. Keep contact concise and free of junk language like “successful” or “innovative.”
If this seems like common sense, it isn’t. I’ve received tens of thousands of pitches and can assure you it’s rare to see someone pitch correctly; even professionals suck at this. Sometimes, the best startup press ideas are the most obvious ones.
2. Find & Target Publications Your Prospects Read
Many startup folks come to me wanting to go BIG, focusing on publications like The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Washington Post. As a writer for all three, it’s certainly doable and admirable, but there are often faster solutions.
One of my best startup press ideas on how to get a journalist to cover your story is to focus exclusively on what publication your target customers read. It’s plausible more of your targets read a niche publication like Acme Startup Magazine than The Wall Street Journal. If true, these niche publications are much easier to get into. If you don’t have the money for market research to determine what your prospects read, I’ll let you in on secret on how to find out: ASK. YOUR. CUSTOMERS.
Send a one-question email survey asking what radio shows, magazines, trade publications, and newspapers your customers use. Keep the survey really short, and make sure to dig into your own data. Ideal customers share interests with ideal prospects.
3. Meaningfully Engage With Journalists
It’s easier to pique the interest of someone already familiar with you than a stranger from out of nowhere. Journalists have extremely limited resources and research time, but still need to be sure their sources aren’t nuts, so showing transparency is a good start. Engaging, sharing, liking, and replying to their social channels is a great way to help them get to know you and ease discomfort—the same is true of influencers.
It’s important to note that following a journalist on Twitter won’t get a bad story published, but it can help separate you from the muck of similarly great stories. A great story from someone familiar is more likely to get published than a great story from a shady character. When it does come time to pitch your stuff, be really upfront, kind, and tell them clearly the value your angle has for their readers.
At the end of the day, they want to know your story will get their readers. So focus on that value. If you’re engaging with them, you will have a great idea on what they’re looking for too. Win/win.
4. Use News Cycles To Your Advantage
The general public’s attention span is shorter than a goldfish with amnesia. Journalists are well aware of this fact. That’s why one of the best startup press ideas I’ve used is to tie pitches to current news events and topics the journalist is already covering. It’s not a requirement, but for lesser-known companies, it can give you an edge.
Remember to offer value to the journalist and reader. Pitch expertise and insight are not necessarily what directly makes you money. Journalists aren’t service providers, they don’t exist to push your product. If your product IS the solution, go for it, but tread lightly: don’t fall victim to the mousetrap myth.
One easy strategy to hit a journalist in the correct news cycle is to follow, read and listen to them religiously. Desiring a hit in Bloomberg Radio, I listened every day to Pimm Fox and Lilisa Abramowicz. After hearing a relevant subject my client was an expert on, I sent an email in under 10 minutes, and I got the interview confirmed the same day.
If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Many PR pros don’t do this, which is why one of the best startup press ideas and edges you have is to put in the work. If you are only focusing on your top 10 publications, it’s not so hard.
5. Press Tactics for Startups Rely on Research
The best startup press ideas all depend on thorough research. Nothing blocks your shot like sending an email that unknowingly demonstrates your lack of wisdom. Research your industry, research your people, research your competitors, and be extremely self-aware in your research.
I often get pitches for products that already exist or from PR people that make claims I know aren’t true. One lady boldly reached out to me on LinkedIn to pitch a product that has already existed for 2 years. I sent her an old link to a news article and that was the last I heard of her. She wasn’t prepared.
Also make sure to research the journalists you’re targeting. Nothing drives them more crazy than getting pitched a story that isn’t even in their wheelhouse. I get idiotic pitches quite often, and I blacklist them. If you wouldn’t tell a woodworker how to perfect his ironworking craft, don’t be off-topic when pitching a journalist—this is a good way to burn bridges. Again, if you are keeping your list focused, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Summary: The best startup press ideas
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is this: the best startup press ideas all involve being the better human. If you wouldn’t do it in real life, don’t do it over email. Pitching a journalist should feel like a service you are providing. If you wouldn’t walk up to a stranger, and randomly pitch them your product, don’t do it to a journalist. Don’t provide a resource to someone who doesn’t want it.
Getting media coverage for your startup should feel like a natural transaction of information where you are the helper.