First off, you do not need a PR firm. The retainer is usually not worth it, especially for a young, growing startup because your product is still drastically changing and because your conversion rates are probably very low.
As a startup that is looking to innovate in your industry, it usually does not make any sense for you to allow someone else to communicate your vision. PR firms do not always get it. Even with stellar communication skills, only you and your core team really understand the message and the vision.
Danny Wong is the co-founder and lead evangelist of Blank Label, a provider of custom dress shirts. He has been featured in publications like ReadWriteWeb, FastCompany, ABCNews, FoxNews, BusinessWeek and more. He is also a 19-year-old evangelist and rockstar studying full-time at Bentley University.
If you are a first-timer at PR, start small so you do not burn any important bridges (but be aware that every bridge counts). Start pitching to small blogs and websites in your niche and occasionally take a shot at medium-sized blogs. Once you start feeling more comfortable with your email pitch, and are making decent traction with small blogs and websites, move onto pitching to medium-sized sites. Then, as you gain experience, and learn a bit more about tailoring your pitch to specific authors, you can move onto mass-media outlets that can really increase your exposure because of their tremendous reach.
Here are some pieces of advice that will get you featured more often.
Speak Their Language and be Concise
As in all communications practices, you want to make sure that your audience can understand what you are saying without thinking too much. Do not foolishly use inner-office jargon that no one else understands. Not to insult journalists, but pitch as if you were addressing a 14-year-old. Seriously. This manner of communication should be the same for everyone you talk to about your brand. You are not condescending them this way; you are allowing them to easily digest your message.
Make Some Friends
Sometimes it's good to build a relationship with a reporter before pitching them. In our digital age, this is much easier to do too since we have Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for interacting with new people. In fact, you can also leverage your secondary network (your network's network) to get in contact with writers. Knowing people that know people is a great way to get your foot in the door.
Always be Reading
Keep an eye out for relatable content or news, and pitch writers with a fresh angle since they are obviously interested in related subjects. Or, provide meaningful commentary (typically best with email) that can help kick-start your relationship with the writer through intellectual dialogue.
Indirectly Target Reporters
Sometimes it's not ideal to pitch directly to reporters. It might be better to target media outlets that the influentials are reading. If you know that Om Malik reads some small-time tech blog, you might want to get featured on that blog to get Om Malik's eyes on you without directly contacting him. When you finally do contact him, you will have higher visibility in his overflooded inbox because he has heard of you before.
Do Something Different
No one wants to talk about something that's been done before. What's your angle that makes you so special? Sure, you can do something similar to big businesses, but make sure there's also something distinctly different about what you do. Always be innovating and let people know that!
Do a Giveaway
Blogs and medium-sized websites love this. You are offering value to them and their readers because you are giving something away for free that the publisher and the audience does not have to pay for. This also serves as free publicity for you, so everyone wins. The publisher gets a new piece of content, the audience gets a free prize, and you get some eyes on your product and website. NOTE: This typically does not work on bigger publications or mass-media outlets because they are looking for newsworthy content, or sponsored posts.
Be Part of a Movement
Being part of a movement validates what you're doing as a business, and sometimes gives reporters more newsworthy content than just a solo feature of you because they can profile other businesses within the same space that are doing awesome things.
Have an Actionable Conclusion to Your Pitch
Do not just pitch your story and hope the recipient will email or call. Ask them their thoughts on the pitch, or prompt them to reply via email or call to further discuss the story.
Be Patient, but Persistent
This is very important. Sometimes it takes a while for a journalist to get back to you, and sometimes they forget to reply. I tend to follow up one to two weeks after emailing a journalist to see if they received my email and their thoughts on it. I've closed many more stories this way rather than trying to let my first email do all of the work. Even after you've had an interview or a briefing, it is important to follow up with your media contact until the story is live because it doesn't count unless the public sees it! One recent media hit took a month from initial pitch before being published live, and I've been nurturing one media lead I have had since December of 2009!
Do you have any other wisdoms on how startups can power their media relations? Feel free to add your tips in the comments below.
Photo by magicmarie.