When it comes to running a successful startup PR campaign, it's crucial to understand the environment and industry that you're operating in.
By completing research to determine which media outlets only care for shouting about funding rounds and which care about your founder's journey, you can start to identify the journalists you should work on building sustainable relationships with right now, ahead of your latest and greatest product launch.
What is Public Relations?
Public relations is a marketing strategy concerned with how a business is perceived by the public. PR maintains and strengthens the relationship between a company and the general public, using earned and unpaid media in the press or on social media, for example. PR strategies involve treating company updates as news stories and getting that information in front of a relevant journalist. They will then give your startup a shortcut to coverage by writing or posting about it in the media.
Why should startups care about PR?
- Exposure for your startup in a short space of time, creating awareness of your offerings
- With exposure you can generate referral traffic
- A way to test multiple markets digitally to see where you get the most results
- Visible, quality links to your website will increase customer visits using Search Engine Optimisation
- The potential to compete with larger companies in a cost-effective way
The majority of startups don't do public relations campaigns to drive sign-ups; the main objective in most cases is to establish awareness of your brand and build relationships with contacts in your industry. Creating sustainable relationships with the leading journalists covering your niche can help you gain exposure in coveted publications and ultimately establish your brand as an up-and-coming player.
When Is the right time to promote?
As the marketing lead at your startup, you need to make the wider world aware of all the big wins your brand is most proud of. Whilst it can be difficult to determine which news is worth promoting for niche technical startups, there are a wide number of B2B SaaS startups that provide great examples of when and where PR distribution is the correct course of action.
As examples of PR campaigns done well, the following technology companies are worth keeping a keen eye on;
All the startups mentioned above have run successful public relations campaigns when they announced upcoming product features, raised funding or partnered with other complementary service providers.
It will be a lot easier for you to also plan your next startup public relations campaign if you closely follow the existing examples set by some of the largest players in the market.
Using SEO tools like Ahrefs, you can follow examples set out by every competitor in your market to plan a killer startup PR campaign. By pinpointing the exact sources of press coverage down to the anchor text and followed link, you can quickly build a list of journalists and industry-specific sites to contact.
One good trick is to use this simple google search operator to quickly find competitor brand mentions:
"competitor name" -competitordomain.com
You can also use a tool like ahrefs.com to generate a list of all websites which are linking to your competitors’ websites.
How to find journalists
Before you find a relevant journalist you need to have written a compelling pitch that tells a story worthy of their interest. Pitching is a skill in its own right, and a crucial part of PR (more on this below). Then, the goal is to create a press list with contacts and email addresses you can pitch to.
It takes time and research to find journalists who might be interested in reporting about a startup like yours. You should begin compiling your press list by using a media database like Gorkana, Press Hunt, Anewstip or Prowly. Enter your search into one of these sites and you'll get the names of journalists, bloggers, influencers, reporters, freelance writers, editors, or producers, plus how you can contact them.
Most databases allow you to filter your search so you can find results that are relevant to you.
It's important to research any journalists you are considering using. You can do this by checking their recent output, social media and where they've worked. This gives you a clearer picture as to whether they're the right fit for your startup or not.
It can be costly to access a large database with contacts across print, blogs, online media, podcasts, and television, but it's the best way to make an impact with PR.
Perfect your pitch
A well-written elevator pitch will get people invested in your startup story. You want to create something short, memorable and enticing that draws in the people that can help you on your journey.
It should be about 30 seconds long to recite and 100 words in email format. It serves as an engaging introduction to you and your company or product. It's worth spending time constructing this as it's something you can use over and over again, in meetings, speeches and podcast intros, etc.
This is how you introduce yourself to journalists via email. Think of it as a teaser.
Here's a handy formula for crafting your pitch:
- What is the goal of this pitch?
- Who are you pitching to? What do they need?
- What does your startup offer? (Value proposition)
- Use engaging, open-ended questions
- Make sure you tell people how they can contact you
Using a tool like BuzzStream for outreach means you can collate all your contacts, follow-ups and reply rates in one place. BuzzStream allows you to search a site's email contact automatically, as well as giving you access to contacts in their database. Using a site like this means you don't need to worry about losing track of endless email chains or repeatedly contacting the same email addresses.
Creating press releases
Press releases are formal, newsworthy stories of upcoming news related to your startup or startup journey. For example the company launch or a new product. By gathering all relevant information in one story, one source, you can create organic interest that people can buy into and use to fuel their own reporting. It also allows you to control the story and focus attention on the value you want to highlight to people that you offer.
Press releases follow a typical format, so no need to reinvent the wheel. Just make sure you support the template with quality writing. Journalists are exposed to numerous press releases, so yours needs to not only reach the right people but be written in a way that builds credibility and interest.
- An attention-grabbing headline that clearly states what the press release is about
- Where you're based and where the event/launch/or product is
- Your leading idea - explain your offering in one sentence
- The body, where you include easy-to-absorb information in decreasing levels of importance. It's a good idea to add quotes here to give
- Next, the boilerplate, which is an integral piece of writing for every startup
- The contact details of your media coordinator or press contact for further information
Consider using, as well as your company logo, eye-catching images in your press release to grab attention and add value. Many media professionals are from social media accounts, so might need to tell your story in a visual way.
Nowadays press releases utilise Search Engine Optimisation to allow current and prospective customers to organically find the latest updates on your startup. You should also repurpose content in your press release, which is easily done. You can do this by turning it into a blog article and communicating the same messages to new audiences.
After optimising a press release for search engines, use a syndication tool like PR Newswire to send your press release out to media sites that have your target audience of journalists using them. Syndication is a successful part of a PR strategy because thousands of websites will spread the press release across the internet, with links back to your site. Direct reads from potential customers and relevant journalists can help your press release climb Google. This method can be a quick win for your campaign.
Selecting the most expensive distribution package at this stage as a startup isn't going to be the best option. Take a look at the content you're putting out to see if there's an alternative angle you could use to get your release considered for publication among more highly respected, in-demand outlets. Maybe you have created a new technology, or you're the first company to do something in a certain way.
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) and sites like it allows collaboration between PR sources, like a new niche startup, and journalists and bloggers.
Media professionals submit queries (requests for sources) multiple times a day, to which sources with the correct experience and expertise reply, meaning that journalists have to access to in-depth information on a particular topic. It's great for journalists who get to write a more well-researched story, and for brands who gain media coverage and build respect with media outlets.
Creating data-driven stories
Data can mean many things but broadly it refers to using facts and statistics to create newsworthy stories, such as a list of best cities to live in, or voting trends. To create a data-driven story that will perform well, using SEO and grabbing the attention of journalists, the data must be from a reputable source and conducted accurately. The source should also be relevant to the story you're telling and be easy to understand as you'll be relaying it to the media.
One way to craft a data journalism story is to start from the end and build a story based on what's been in the news. What would pique a journalist's interest? Then write the story from there. For this, it's important to keep up to date with the news, Twitter and whatever you can absorb so you're across the latest trends.
PR tools for startups
- Gorkana - media database (expensive)
- Press Hunt - media database (expensive)
- Anewstip - media database (expensive)
- Prowly - media database (expensive)
- HARO or Sourcebottle - if you can't submit a press release directly for distribution, your next point of contact for PR should be these free tools where you can set up alerts for your industry and get daily alerts from journalists looking for sources from startups like yours. If you can find a way to quote your news in relation to a trending topic or respond to one of the many callouts for founder stories you can easily get editorial coverage for your startup through these platforms
- BuzzStream - personal outreach database
- Hunter - flexible pricing options
- Submit - startup specific
- Infogram - presentation tool
- Canva - presentation tool
- ContactOut - an extension that displays professional's emails on LinkedIn
- JournoLink - startup friendly syndication
- TechNews.io - identify who you should be pitching to if you are a tech startup
As well as using databases and outreach tools, a simple tweet to a relevant author or journalist with the link to a new blog post can be very effective. This type of outreach can lead to building organic relationships with press and if you do it consistently, can work well alongside other avenues.
You should note that anywhere charging a fee to interview your startup's founder, a free or low-cost alternative is just around the corner and could be discovered easily via any decent SEO or press platform.
As a startup, it is encouraging to know that even if you have next to no budget, you can promote your startup successfully by cultivating relationships with journalists in your niche and taking advantage of the free/freemium platforms like TechNews.io, Sourcebottle, and HARO.
There are tried and tested routes for public relations strategies:
- Write a succinct, compelling elevator pitch and use this to contact media outlets and people through a media database or your own outreach
- Collate all information in one place, using a tool like BuzzStream
- Write a press release using the commonly used layout, with a critical component being newsworthy, engaging content and SEO
- Syndicate your press release so journalists can see it and hopefully engage with it - earning you organic PR
The main worry for startups is cost. Make sure you explore the avenues your niche provides so you can use free platforms to connect with journalists who might also benefit from the relationship. Research is key, and whilst doing so you should reach out to journalists on social media with timely, relevant content about your startup. There are databases of varying costs so work out what you can afford with your budget. PR is a great choice for startups so put the time in and you can reap the rewards.