Wednesday 26 August 2015

Ten PR Tips for Tech Startups

For startups, understanding how to get coverage in the media is often a source of frustration. Every startup I ever mentored has asked for advice on PR. By following a few simple steps, you can make a lot of progress in getting your news reported. News stories are an important part of your PR armoury and you should achieve significant success if you keep the following in mind. Just be aware that your story might not get covered simply because there's something bigger going on.

1. Research your media

Fundamentally, you should be tracking which journalists write about topics relating to your company, industry, markets etc. Note that the journalist is more important than the publication: contacting the 'newsdesk' is rarely a successful strategy.

Be aware that journalists are frequently freelancers and will often write for more than one news outlet, sometimes about a broad variety of subjects. They don't always to stick to the same broad subject matter. I knew a journalist who went from writing about architecture to eyeware. While both are strongly design-led, none of her previous sources were of any relevance anymore, and conversely, from a professional perspective, she was no longer of any use to architects. Yes, architects do PR too.

2. Get to the point

You are one of many people trying to contact a journalist. Forget the niceties: it might go against your upbringing but the opening line should get straight into the pitch rather than ask after the journalist's wellbeing.

"Geoffrey, following the news that bears have been caught defecating in the woods, has launched a smartwatch app to keep you from stepping on the stools, while out strolling."

3. Make it topical

In the above example, the pitch is linked to some news that has recently broken. Journalists get interested in a subject for a little while then move on to another subject. Your challenge is to ensure that your story relates to a current topic of interest. Nobody cares that you launched an app. But if your app solves something that is topical and significant, then you have a story.

4. Be concise

Whether or not you write a press release - some journalists hate them, others like them - keep your pitch brief. Get rid of any puffery - vague, unsubstantiated claims like 'leading', 'defining', 'brilliant'.

Many journalists want a quote they can lift from your press release and drop into a story. Make it useful rather than formulaic. I often see bland statements like: "Wizzooo is delighted to be partnering with Wazzooo on this project", said Bonita McGonigal, founder. Try instead something like: "The combination of Wizzooo's tinting technology and Wazzooo's leather-cutting devices will create the bluest suede shoes you ever danced in."

5. News is new

Is it happening now? It's news. Anything else isn't.

6. Don't ask for permission to send information

Just send it.

7. Don't ask journalists to promote you

Journalists write stories of interest to the readers of their publications, for money. Every day they have competing opportunities. If yours didn't make it, too bad. Try to work out why - without asking the journalists. Maybe you'll get some success next time.

However, never ask a journalist to tweet or retweet or do any other form of promotional activity on your behalf. That's what friends and family are for. If your product's any good, your customers will do it for you too.

8. Offer exclusives

Every journalist wants an exclusive. They can be useful for securing coverage from certain outlets but they aren't always necessary and, of course, the flipside is that you reduce the number of outlets covering you. Be clear that the exclusivity has an expiry date eg for the next two days.

9. Don't give 'exclusives' to multiple journalists

If you tell more than one journalist that you're giving them an exclusive, you will never get written up by them again. Unless there's some bad news; then they'll tear you apart and you'll have deserved it for lying and manipulating.

10. Use embargoes for major news

If you want to coordinate a major news story across multiple outlets so that they appear simultaneously but not before a certain date, you can release the news in advance under embargo, which should be clearly stated at the top of your news item, including the time and date before which it shouldn't be published. Be aware that a small number of journalists don't adhere to embargoes but they usually publicise the fact. If you research them properly, you'll know what to expect.

BONUS Be responsive

If you're putting out a story make sure that you're available to communicate immediately with any journalist who responds. If you leave it even a couple of hours to reply to an email, you've probably wasted the opportunity.