PR 101: Setting Up Your Startup For Success
Public Relations is all about creating and managing a favorable relation with your audience. Almost every successful application includes effective PR strategies in their list of growth hacks. One good mention from a reputed journal or blog could give your user acquisition rate, the jump it requires to achieve escape velocity! But traditionally, companies have been relying on PR agencies to help them navigate this jungle – and these agencies are not pocket friendly, especially for cash-strapped startups. There is a growing consensus in the startup community that founders should take PR matters into their own hand, instead of outsourcing. But where do you begin?
Successful PR campaign begins with successful research.
Goal of this exercise? Successfully reaching out to and connecting with journalists and bloggers, and getting your content published. Breaking it down further, we could broadly classify this activity into two parts: (i) Identifying whom to pitch (ii) Writing out that email.
Whom Should You Pitch To
Before you start creating a list of publications you want to target, you need to figure which kind of publication you should target. An easy way to figure this out is to know which publication is your users are most likely to read. If your application is geographically constrained, targeting the local newspapers and journals in that area makes most sense. Hyperlocal delivery startups usually fall into this category. On the other hand, a SAAS company might benefit from press which has a larger and more global reader base, taking into account the language factor.
Once you have a idea of which kind of publications you want to get featured in, the next step would be to find contacts of journos and bloggers.
Sending cold emails to firstname.lastname@example.org is not going to be of much help.
News publications get tons of emails asking for coverage, every single day. Sending a cold email to their generic contact email id will not be of much help. Chances are, it is going to go unread. Unless the publication is in dire need of content to feature, in which case you might need to rethink your choice. 🙂
A more sensible approach is to reach out to individual journalists. This in itself is not an easy task – nobody likes making their email ids public. This is where social media comes to rescue.
Twitter conversations are a great place to start
Most of the journalists are active on twitter, it is a good platform to try and reach out. Compiling a list of reporters and sending them all a standard tweet is a strict no. They will go through your profile before responding, and if you have 30 carbon copy tweets – they might pass. A better approach would be to start a friendly conversation about the topics they’re interested in, eventually leading up to the pitch. A bit sly, but what the hell!
Emails work more often than not
While sending emails to a publications generic contact id might not get you in, sending a well thought out email to an individual’s id is quite likely to work. You need to find journalists and bloggers who cover your startups area of opportunity and send them a nice email.
Romain Dillet of TechCrunch has some good advice here, “… find out who tends to cover your startup’s area of opportunity, and reach out with something short and sweet. Don’t pitch too early, tell a story, and build relationships. Finally, don’t take it personally if we don’t cover your startup — there are so many good things out there that it’s hard to keep up with everything.”
Pressfarm is a service where you could find email ids of over 250 journalists from various categories by shelling out a small monthly fee of $9. When they launched in 2014, TechCrunch posted a snappy response by offering all of their email ids for free! You can get that list here.
HARO – help a reporter out is another great service wherein you get periodic notifications from reporters looking to cover certain topics. If the topics they’re looking to cover fall within your domain, you reply with your thoughts and ideas, and chances are the reporter will use your help to structure their article.
Construct the perfect email
Let’s face it, people are busy. And having been using email since forever, people have developed a strong radar against anything that remotely resembles spam. Keeping this in mind, you need to design your email in a way that it gets opened and read.
The ideal email structure:
Short, to the point subject: Internet marketers have fretted over the perfect subject line for years. A good subject line can be the decider between your startup being featured in TechCrunch or not. A good strategy here is to keep the subject line short, highlighting the value prop for the user. Tip: Never, NEVER use uppercase for your subject. ‘Order pizza from within your favourite messaging app?’
‘We’ve made a chat bot that will revolutionize the way you chat with your friends’
Addressing: Starting an email with ‘Hey there’ or ‘Hello’ could possibly give out the idea of a mass email. Personalization is what you need. ‘Hello Katy, loved your recent article [insert link] on chat bots! We’re launching a bot very soon that’ll let you order your favourite pizza from within your favourite chat app, would you be interested in checking out our beta version?’
How does your product help the user: Give out your USP quickly, put in some metrics and data showing your product’s superiority. Instead to talking in general – tell the reader how your product makes her life easier. Pro tip: keep away from industry jargon, unless you’re sure that your target reader is adept at it.
Bad: ‘We are a unique startup that have built a messaging bot on advanced AI and machine learning algorithms that’ll revolutionize that way you do everything chores’
Good: ‘We’ve built a bot that let’s you order a your favourite meal without leaving your favourite messaging app. Order for your whole group – we’re making food social again’’
End on a pleasant note: After giving out on all the necessary data, thank and mention that you are looking forward for response and drop your contact info. Plain and simple.
Not all emails will be responded although some might take a bit of time. It pays to be patient! The thumb rule of following up is that you wait for about a week, and don’t follow up more than once. You don’t want to come across as someone who’s desperate for media.
Starting too late. You should ideally start with your PR efforts about a month before your launch.
Wrong audience. Make sure your efforts are targeted towards the right audience.
Mass emailing. It’s borderline spam. Try and keep your emails as personalized as possible.
Not following up or following up too often.
Offline PR practices
Cold emails are the bedrock of your PR campaign, however there are some offline practices that will augment your efforts and help you get featured. Participating in tech events could be a very useful strategy. A bit expensive, but if your company can afford it, you should definitely consider setting up a stall in one of the popular tech events. TechCrunch Disrupt, SXSW and the Startup Grind are some of the more popular conferences that enjoy a lot of media attention.
PR is about developing relationships and building your brand. Effective PR strategies can help you get to influential bloggers and journalists who will help get the word out faster than any marketing campaign.
I’d love to hear your take on PR strategies and how you execute them for your startup. If you think someone you know will benefit from this article, won’t you share it with them?