Choosing a PR strategy for your startup
Table of Contents
Getting press coverage for your startup is alluring. The right press can be a huge boost to your company's credibility—and growth.
But press coverage is not a holy grail. It’s just kindling for your continued growth efforts: It provides spurts of traffic but doesn’t act as a sustained, long-term channel for growth.
Unless you have direct access to a very high-traffic site like TechCrunch, Mashable, Huffington Post, or Lifehacker, all of which cover startups, it's not worth spending much (if any) time on big-name PR.
The success rate is incredibly low. Mostly because:
1. People pitch very poorly, and
2. Most products aren’t worthy of coverage.
You can overcome the first challenge.
The second, however, doesn't have an easy remedy. Despite how excited you are about your product, others might not share in that same excitement.
What makes a product worthy of press coverage? Your product needs to be something that fundamentally changes the marketplace. Or hits upon a hot trend that hasn’t been overplayed. Or has some legitimate caché — like a major celebrity is involved. Further, it has to be a product a meaningful percentage of a publication’s audience cares about.
For the sake of this article, let's assume your product meets the criteria above.
That doesn't mean you're ready to pitch to the big-name sites like Huffington Post. But, fortunately, for your purposes, you don't have to.
PR for startups: Why and how to target niche bloggers
As a startup, the form of “press” you should target are niche bloggers who will rave about you to their focused, niche audiences—not big-name publications.
If your target blogger regularly reviews products
- Build a uniquely valuable product with a fantastic landing page that motivates conversion. (Learn more about landing pages here.)
- Cold email the blog editors with a brief product pitch. In that pitch link to your landing page, and offer to give the editor a demo of your product/service for free. (Learn more about cold emailing here.)
If, after looking at a blogger's site, you determine they rarely do product reviews, offer to guest post for them
- Pre-write a fantastic post for them. Don’t ask for their permission for you to write one upfront. They're more likely to commit to guest posting if the work is already done for them.
- Exclude marketing spam from your post. The content you submit has to be genuinely informative and entertaining. It can contain subtle, contextual mentions of your product.
Many startups eschew niche bloggers for prominent news coverage. This is counterproductive. With blog audiences, you have a higher rate of customer acquisition when targeting niche audiences tailored to your product.
So, get big volume by stitching together coverage across many smaller, niche blogs. You can get both quantity and quality with this approach.
When should you get big-name PR?
The byproducts of getting PR are press quotes you can include on your site and in your ads. These act as a proxy for your legitimacy. When someone sees you were covered by a site they’ve heard of, you immediately seem less spammy.
But, the time spent getting big-name PR is usually much better spent on other growth endeavors.
How to find well-trafficked news sites in your space
Piggybacking on the quality vs. quantity thread, target outlets that you know your ideal customers read.
Here’s how to find well-trafficked news sites in your space:
- Search for keywords related to your company.
- Go through several pages of search results to find the medium-sized blogs covering your space. These are the non-major blogs that still have significant traffic.
- To find smaller blogs that aren’t surfacing in Google News, use this Reddit URL technique: visit this Reddit query link. Replace “keyword phrase” with one keyword phrase from your space, e.g. “sous vide,” “content marketing,” or “used cars.”
- The results will be the all-time highest-voted Reddit submissions that contain external URL’s that discuss your keyphrase.
- Enter the domain names of the sites you’ve found into Alex to compare their traffic rankings.
- The traffic threshold to warrant your time varies on a per-blog basis according to how well that audience overlaps with your ideal customer. And how much each of your customers is worth to you. If the answer is a lot, then you can justify going after the long-tail of niche, lower-traffic sites.
These three steps are an efficient way to find blogs in your space — big and small.
The two things you need before you pitch to publications
You need two pieces of ammunition before you pitch to sites you've targeted: credibility and an announcement that’s worth their time.
Reporters are short on time. They tend to rely on proxies of credibility instead of doing in-depth research.
So, give them those proxies:
- Tell them the names of your marquee customers. If you don’t have customers they’d recognize, offer your product to big companies for free. Contact junior employees until one accepts and begins earnestly using your product. Once they do, you can now claim them as a client when talking to journalists.
- Show off how many customers you have.
- Show off your App Store reviews or your Yelp reviews.
- Show off how much money you’ve raised.
- Impress them with the credentials of the company’s founders. What successful past accomplishments do they have?
Counter-intuitively, you don't want to portray your credibility to reporters by showing them your past press coverage. Reporters want to feel like they're the first to cover a company or one of its pivotal announcements. Don't feed them stale meat.
The second type of ammunition comes in the form of a worthwhile topic to cover. There are two popular options: a company announcement or piggybacking off industry trends.
- The types of company announcements most likely to get press coverage are product launches, major product changes, and publicity stunts.
- Inject yourself into a recent trend happening in your industry, e.g., “Sous-vide machines are hot right now. Cinder Grill will change this space for the following reasons…”
- Develop a unique report that summarizes interesting data in your industry. For example, an overview of the rise of mobile game addiction. You can grab the data from your own mobile game. But, don’t place yourself at the center of the report. Don’t make this an advertorial or reporters will see it as spam. Just help reporters out with neutral content, and they’ll reward you in the post by mentioning you’re the source of the data.
How to target the right reporters/bloggers to pitch to
With your press ammunition in-hand — credibility and a talking point — your next task is to find a relevant reporter at your chosen websites.
Read through each site for the posts related to your industry. Then see which authors recur, because you want to pitch a journalist who regularly writes about your space.
Contact them. Follow up 24 hours later if they don’t respond.
If they don’t respond, consecutively (not simultaneously) repeat this process for 1 or 2 more reporters on the same site. If you can’t get to any of them, move on to another site. Don’t burn your bridges by spamming them into oblivion. Come back when you have something more interesting to them.
Stay alert for reporters that have just joined an outlet. While they settle in, they will be getting fewer cold emails per day than their peers. Contact them in this phase, and you’ll have a better chance at being considered.
Should you reach out to more than one publication simultaneously?
This question brings up the issue of exclusivity: when one outlet is granted the right to cover you first. Publications that prefer exclusivity may check if you’ve already been covered on a competing blog. And they may walk away.
To check if an outlet cares about exclusivity, find any of their product launch announcement stories from their website.
Then, use Google News to search that company’s name for launch announcements that occurred before that publication’s coverage. If there was prior coverage, and you see this pattern repeat itself across multiple companies that outlet has covered, then don’t worry about exclusivity and feel free to pitch multiple outlets simultaneously.
Does your startup need a PR firm?
If you’re a small, non-consumer tech startup, PR firms are typically a waste of money.
They have tremendous value if you’re a much larger company looking to control your image, or if you’re selling a product that’s particularly conducive to piggybacking off trends.
But, for most companies, you should instead spend that money on hiring a growth marketer, product manager, or engineer to make your product stickier and better converting.
If you’re paying a PR firm $5-15k/mo, you’ll most likely find that the effective cost per customer acquisition you’re getting from that spend is poor relative to paid acquisition. It’s also more volatile, lower volume, and less targeted than just running ads.
Furthermore, most PR firms won’t be able to do much for you. Any firm that charges you less than $8k/mo tends to lack existing journalist contacts they can push your pitch to. Instead, they’ll feed you to a network of small, low-volume blogs whose audiences are trivially small.
The great firms that do have well-nurtured relationships with huge press outlets can move the needle for you PR-wise, but you’ll be paying so much that it’s still not the most efficient use of dollars if your primary aim is to acquire customers as opposed to build credibility.
So, should you pitch blogs to get PR?
For the vast majority of startups, PR is a relatively poor use of time. It’s worth testing, however, because the growth methodology is to try everything to see what sticks.
So, integrate the above tips into your PR outreach strategy:
- Focus on niche blogs
- Establish up your credibility and company announcements before pitching
- Identify the correct reporter at each publication
- Make your pitch