The obvious benefit when getting media coverage for your startup is the rapid spread of your message to millions of potential customers at a low cost. But the alarming majority of founders screw up when reaching out because they never stop to consider why listeners, readers, or viewers of media brands would care about their story, so they lack a plan. If you read this piece from top to bottom, I’ll change your perception of media coverage forever using my PR pizza method.
The benefits of media coverage for your startup
Most founders are aware media coverage can spread their message (duh), but they’re unaware-or don’t fully consider-the ancillary benefits, such as increased perceived value, increased cash raise potential, brand legitimacy, and search engine ranking bumps. In the same way a trusted name vouches for their friend to influential contacts, press for your startup works as a public vetting process to open doors.
Press for your startup increases perceived value and cash raises
Often, founders forget VCs and investors are people, just like them. They use data but also rely on their feelings and fall victim to their own bias. “Investing is very much about looking at the business, the numbers, the team, the timing,” explained Soulaima Gourani, CEO of Happioh. But bias does get in the way.
“Investors don’t even think they discriminate, they just go with their gut feeling.” She’s exactly right. This is why seeing high-profile media coverage of a startup or its founder helps. It’s an extra layer of vetting by an objective source you had zero control over. It shows you can defend your ideas and it makes you a safer choice. “You look different, maybe you speak differently, maybe your accent—everything kicks in,” says Gourani. “[Investors] aren’t discriminating willingly, but I discriminate all day long because I have my biases too. It’s just a human thing.”
Investors also know early media coverage makes future marketing and media coverage just a bit easier. They know great ideas die every day for lack of a communication strategy. “You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn’t amazing, it won’t matter,” said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. A great idea without great communication is useless.
Media coverage for your startup builds legitimacy
It’s obvious media coverage for your startup connects your brand to unaware prospects, but it also builds trust. If two companies with a similar product are presented to you, who wins? The obscure one you can’t vet, or the one that has write-ups in your favorite media entity?
The reason you see “We were featured in…” on startup websites is that it builds trust with browsing prospects. In the same way press for your startup influences investors, it acts as a way to objectively vet who you are and what you do before a prospect coughs up their credit card information or engages your sales team.
Media write-ups boost your website search ranking
In the ever-changing world of search engine optimization, one constant is the power of a good link or backlink. Links from popular websites are extremely powerful, which is why backlink scams are so prevalent. It’s also why buying links is so prevalent, even though search engines will punish you for doing it.
Not factoring in the regular, quality content I post, one reason this very website has such high domain authority (52 as of writing this, according to aHrefs free authority tool), is because of high power backlinks from The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, 99U, Quartz, SUCCESS, Forbes and others.
The PR Pizza Method
To get media coverage for your startup, the first step is to stop thinking about yourself. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to walk you through some karma-laden rant filled with altruistic what-goes-around-comes-around mumbo jumbo. The PR Pizza Method will benefit you and your bottom line.
Getting press coverage hinges on how many compelling stories you can create about your startup. Think of your startup as a pizza. It might be easy to tell your friends you make pizza, or even that you make pepperoni pizza, but you and I know your startup is more complex. Your pizza uses unique ingredients, perhaps a different baking process, new ingredients, a new purpose, an imported Italian brick-oven, or maybe a world-class chef has developed your menu. So, how do you pitch all that? I’ll tell you the wrong way…
Many founders and even seasoned PR companies do a data dump and pitch the entire pizza at once. The result is overwhelming journalists who already get hundreds of pitches per day. And sadly, the angle that could be the most compelling is likely buried. For example, if they are interested in your oven, but you buried that in paragraph 5, the journalist will never see it, passing on what could have been a great opportunity for both of you.
The best way to get media coverage for your startup is the PR Pizza Method. Don’t pitch the pizza, don’t even pitch the slices, pitch all the components in a unique follow-up method.
Step 1: Press for your startup depends on knowing the pizza
The first step of getting press for your startup is to mind-map out all the unique components of your pizza, going as deep and detailed as possible. For my emerging tech PR communications clients, I do this conversationally through a full-day onboarding process. Start with your startup name, and go crazy.
Go as detailed as possible, sparing no detail. Using the topic of “pizza” you could go into detail about the oven, baking temperature, dough ingredients, crust thickness, the oven, where it was made, who your chef is, who she trained under, any community outreach you’ve done, etc. Don’t stop. This should take at least 90 minutes and the discussion should center around how unique each attribute is. Someone should certainly be in charge of writing down the mind map, but someone else should be responsible for writing down all the details discussed.
Step 2: Create as many stories or angles as possible
“Your story is interesting only once,” explained media savant Troy Dunn on my show. Dunn is the creator of three primetime shows, and leveraged media heavily to grow his company, eventually selling it to Ancestry.com. This is why, to get more media coverage for your startup, you need to create as many story angles as possible from the mind map you created.
Is there something truly unique about your ingredient list? Your oven? Was it imported? How was it made? Do you use organic ingredients? Where did you source those ingredients from? Are they local? Are they imported? Is your acquisition process unique? Did your chef train at a cool place? From where? What is their previous experience? — Get the picture?
You can theoretically create hundreds of story angles that are unique to your brand. I do recommend getting some outside help on this one. Someone who will do a great job listening, and someone who will ask questions you haven’t considered. For one client of mine, we discovered they had a female in a predominantly male role. They didn’t think it was unique, but later as the Chicago Tribune and LA Times (Tribune Publishing) did research, we discovered she was the only one in the nation. (The story never ran because she left her job one week before publication.)
Step 3: Match your unique stories to the correct journalist
Pitching your unique story to the right journalist is another area even professional PR agencies screw up time and time again. To acquire media coverage for your startup, you need to write a perfect pitch, and the perfect pitch email starts with a good old-fashioned game of Memory.
Think of all the story angles you just created as a full set of playing cards. Some stories are Aces, some represent the five of clubs. Your job is to match the story with the journalist writing on that topic. You could “match” your unique ingredient story to a writer at Food and Wine, your dough process to a writer at Bon Appetit, and your entrepreneur/chef angle to Entrepreneur. If you hired a designer to create your dining room, you could pitch that angle to Architectural Digest and your healthful ingredient approach to Shape or Cosmopolitan magazine.
The key to nailing down media coverage for your startup is creating more unique angles or “cards,” therefore increasing your relevant matches in media-land. There are so many niche publications today, you should have no problem finding hundreds to thousands of great fits.
Remember to respond appropriately
It’s almost embarrassing to write this, but getting media coverage for your startup heavily depends on the way you respond when a journalist shows interest in your pitch. In my career, I’ve seen PR people forget to reply to my favorable replies to their pitches for Washington Post articles I was writing. I’ve seen guests no-show live radio interviews because their PR person forgot to tell them, and I’ve had PR people ghost me when I accept their guest proposal.
In my own work, I had a CEO client of mine cancel a national press interview simply because “something else came up.” It was a miracle I got that one rescheduled. The client fired me after the interview. Turns out he was just really scared to do national media. I figured he knew the value of this, but he just didn’t care. (We’re still friends.)
You can check out my best startup press ideas for 2021, and have the best ideas in the world, but have a plan in place for when a journalist does reply. Walk through every internal step and what success looks like.
- Know who is responsible.
- Make sure staff or team members you’re pitching are fully onboard with your plan.
- Respond within the hour- journalists are on deadlines and will move to the next person quickly.
- Have great photos and video assets ready ahead of time.
As a founder, you will get the most press for your startup when you serve up a story to a journalist that feels natural—it should feel as though you are doing them a favor. Best of all, when you have a stack of cards (or stories), these work as great follow-ups. Journalists and writers hate dry follow-up emails, so if they decline an angle, or ghost you, it’s best to simply play another relevant card, or story, to get their attention.
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, so you might find it helpful to download my free PDF guide on how to get more press/earned media in 10 days. It’s a short crash course on how to prepare, execute and follow up on journalists to get yourself more attention. Sign up, it’s free.