Why Most Startups Don’t Get Press Coverage
In this article, we will look at 1) importance of press coverage for startups, 2) startup press mistakes, and 3) steps to successful press coverage.
IMPORTANCE OF PRESS COVERAGE FOR STARTUPS
For cash-strapped startups, public relations are usually not a top priority. This means that setting aside money to hire a professional takes a backseat. Startups do however need great press and media coverage to get themselves noticed. Initial PR activities can be handled in house and include much more than just press releases. It includes building up the company’s reputation, controlling the messages being sent and building long-term relationships with key influencers like journalists and bloggers. This visibility and the right coverage may not cost money to build, but it will cost time and require effort.
Without a proactive effort to get the right information out to the world, other people will be the ones controlling the narrative. There can be no attempt to control the message if the entrepreneur does not get involved themselves. Good media coverage will mean that more people will learn about the business and discover the company. New target audiences may be reached, and reputation strengthened in the eyes of those who were already familiar with the company.
It is important to identify what counts as newsworthy information, however. A journalist will have no interest in publishing just any bit of news or even news that may be interesting but not necessarily newsworthy. A good idea is to start thinking externally and consider what would be significant news for the world outside the company. Let’s identify some of the mistakes startups make when it comes to news and press coverage.
STARTUP PRESS MISTAKES
Startups end up not getting the right press because they neglect to take the right steps. Some of the common mistakes made by startups include:
A Boring Press Release
As mentioned briefly before, not all information is newsworthy or of interest to journalists. There may be another more effective way of getting information out to the intended audience, and a press release is not the only solution. According to PR Specialist, Brittany Walters-Bearden, make sure that your press release has actual news. She identifies a few common topics that may be too trivial, advertorial or have the wrong focus to be newsworthy. These are:
- Sales: Sales are best advertised through email, social media, paid advertising space or direct mail.
- Website Updates: For anyone but the biggest retailers, news related to website is not important enough to be newsworthy. Unless it is a revolutionary idea with far-reaching impact, website updates are day-to-day business activities and not for the media.
- Trade Show Participation Plans: Rather than announcing participation, a press release should cover the new product a startup aims to unveil.
- Crowdfunding Campaigns: Almost every startup is trying to raise money. This is not news. Good information for a press release would instead be the reasons behind this fundraising campaign and what the firm plans to do with the money.
- New Employees: The only new employee that would be newsworthy would be a recognizable and prominent business professional who leaves an established firm to come work for a startup. All other such news is not for the media.
Sole Focus on Press Releases
A press release on its own, only serves to give the company a history and builds up its long-term information pack. So when anyone goes back to research the background of the company, the press release will act as a historical record of what happened at a certain point in time.
Apart from that, a reporter will almost never read a press release and decide to contact a startup for further information. This only happens for large successful companies that have an impact on the world such as Apple or Facebook. Instead, a reporter is more likely to respond to a press release that has been sent to them personally along with a story idea or pitch.
Inability to Accept an NO
Not every reporter you approach will be interested in doing a story for you or about you. Repeatedly approaching them with the same story will instead act in the opposite direction and annoy them, often resulting in enmity. There are many reporters out there, and a different one may be interested in the story. There may also be a chance that the story you are pitching is not a good one. In this case, you will need to rethink the idea as a whole.
It also a good idea to keep a record of which reporter refuses what type of story. This database will help hone future efforts and ensure that the right reporter is pitched the right idea.
Startups often get carried away and claim to be the only one providing a particular service or a product. Journalists usually have been around the block and know that this is most often not true. This kind of claim will make the startup seem naïve and ill-prepared and will not be taken seriously by any reporter. It is necessary to do your research thoroughly and objectively and to identify what makes your product or service offering unique or different from similar ones.
It is a good idea to plan timelines and milestones for important events and launches, but it is also important to do a scan of what else is happening in the world and make changes to a plan accordingly. One important thing to do here is to make sure that the event in question receives the maximum press coverage that it can. If the event overlaps with something of more significance, then there is every chance that a startup’s news worthiness will complete decrease and a key milestone will go unreported. Some events that should force you to evaluate your timing include announcements by a major entity such as Apple, a natural disaster or another world event that requires round the clock coverage.
Treating PR like an Event
Another mistake that startups often make is only to think about the press near important events and milestones. This is a bad idea as cultivating relationships with the media should be an ongoing process that takes months and years to create and effort to maintain. It is also a mutually beneficial relationship, where you can support them on stories, be a source when needed and educate yourself on their work and preferences. When your time for a story needing to be printed arrives, it will be easier to work with the right journalists to ensure the right coverage.
An entrepreneur may often delegate all PR activities to those responsible for marketing, especially in more technologically oriented firms. This can be a mistake. There needs to be support in laying out the groundwork such as researching journalists, arranging meetings and pitching stories, but when it comes to interviews and statements, it should always be the senior official who steps up.
For smaller and newer firms, journalists want to hear directly from the founder or the CEO. This means learning how to handle journalists, how to interact with them, how to be comfortable during interviews and be on board with dedicating the time needed for this activity.
Lack of Adequate PR Budgets
A startup cannot be realistically expected to shell out big bucks to hire an expensive and experienced PR agency. But this also does not mean that you get subpar service or none at all. A smaller budget with a larger firm may mean that they have younger and inexperienced people working on your account. Instead of this, the same money could be used to hire a smaller, boutique firm or a consultant. This smaller operation will be more invested in the account and will put their best efforts to ensure that the right attention is given.
Getting Press too Early or for the Wrong Reasons
Many startups don’t stop to ask themselves the ever important why when setting out to seek press coverage. Some questions to ask include:
- Why do you need press?
- Are you ready for press?
- What will this press coverage help you achieve?
Press coverage for the sake of appearing cool or to gain users are not good reasons and will not result in any long-term gains.
STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL PRESS COVERAGE
Now that we have discussed what not to do, we can take a look at some of the steps that can be taken to ensure successful coverage by the media.
Press Release vs. Press Pitch
There is a key difference between a pitch and a press release and at some point you may need to use both. A good pitch is used to intrigue a reporter and create initial interest while a press release may be used later on to provide information to build up the story. There may be situations where a pitch is enough as this is more vital in a targeted outreach campaign. In order to sell your story or news item or even press release, all startups need to use a strong pitch.
Know what is Newsworthy
As mentioned in the common mistakes, it is vital to take a step back and ask yourself what is newsworthy. This requires forcing yourself to think beyond the company and consider the publication you are targeting as well as the eventual audience. If there is something new and unique about your business or your product then it may be worth the effort to find the right angle to pitch a story to the right journalist. Some good ideas are:
- The launch of the startup
- The launch of a new product / service or key feature
- The release of interesting data or the results of an exciting study
- Response to a current event, a new trend or new technology
- A high-profile or unusual merger, partnership or alliance.
Have a Concise Message
Before any story idea or pitches can be presented to an outside party, there needs to be a unified company message. This means that you need an elevator pitch or a simple way of explaining your startup to anyone in a single sentence. The industry jargon needs to be cut out to ensure that anyone can understand the message. An example of this is the AirBnB description:
“Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique spaces around the world online or from an iPhone.”
In addition to this elevator pitch, there also needs to be a brief but value-driven message related to the actual event you are trying to pitch. The initial approach should be only a few sentences long but written in an engaging manner. The message here should include answers to questions such as “Why is this newsworthy?” or “Why would the audience care?”
Understand a Journalist’s area and coverage
Over time, you should have a database of different journalists, what kind of news item they are interested in pursuing and what is their readership. Along with this, you should carefully assess which demographic and target market will be interested in your company, its launch and subsequent updates about the product or service. These pieces of information will allow for more informed and targeted attempts to gain media coverage at the right time. A good idea is to focus on a few key journalists and build relationships with them over time. With an understanding of their work and their style, you will be able to pitch ideas to them in their own language and increase your chances of successfully gaining their attention.
No-one likes to be addressed in an impersonal manner as one of a large crowd. This is an especially bad way to communicate with journalists who you need. When you are truly interested in someone pursuing your story and writing about you, then you also need to make the effort to send them a pitch that is customized to their interests, style, coverage area and audience.
Another serious issue to avoid is mistakes in communication being sent out to the journalist. It creates a terrible and lasting impression on the recipient and holds them back from taking you seriously. Often there is a temptation to copy information from one email to the other. But when doing so, there needs to be a careful check on all information to ensure that the small details that need to be changed are done so. These small changes are vital ones such as the name of the publication or the city and leaving them incorrect is a surefire way to lose a journalistic friend.
Make Necessary Material Available
Many companies offer media kits on their websites or make them available on request. These kits are usually filled with relevant information about the company that can help a journalist add background material and data to their story. A media kit may include many things but should include:
- The name of the company and its brief but relevant history;
- Relevant and high-quality photos;
- Images of the product itself.
Good timing is key to getting many seemingly difficult tasks done correctly. Timing has several aspects. The story should be pitched with enough time for the reporter to get around to it and do their research, but not so far in advance that it slips of their radar. Many journalists and publications like the option of reporting a news item as an exclusive so that they can be the one to break the news. Often there may be the need to place an embargo on a news item. This way, the reporter will have enough time to gather their information but will not be able to release the news before a certain time. In addition, it is important to keep an eye on the world and see if any other major events are coinciding with the dates of your press coverage. It may be a good idea to move things around to avoid being overshadowed by bigger news.
Offer Unique Data
Whenever you approach a journalist, it is a good idea to include relevant numbers and data to support your story. This data gives the pitch credibility and adds a layer of interest for the reporter.
Get personal, stay professional
The last, but very important point to remember is to walk the fine line between friendly and formal when pitching a story. If you work hard to build relationships, then eventually you may develop a casual working relationship. But this takes time and effort, and there are no short cuts. There is also no need to be extremely formal, but it is a good idea to proceed cautiously until you can figure each reporter’s personal preference out.