Home PR for Developers 101: How to Bootstrap Project Coverage

PR for Developers 101: How to Bootstrap Project Coverage

One of the things that I’m often asked by developers at conferences is “how do I get coverage for my project?” I had that conversation with several people at Monktoberfest, and thought it might make for a good talk at Monki Gras.

Specifically, the talk was for individual developers, small groups working on open source projects or startups (to a point). It’s not meant for people looking to grab press coverage for a business, but for developers largely interested in finding more users and developers for their project.


Why do I care specifically about developers? First, It’s far more enjoyable. All other things being equal, if I have to choose between talking to a PR-trained executive or a developer, I’ll choose a developer every time. There are few things less interesting than listening to someone reciting the talking points they’ve gone over with 10 other reporters while they tap-dance around anything that might be perceived as even slightly negative. Developers will usually be pretty blunt about the limitations of projects and the roadmaps for their projects, because they have little interest in being opaque.

Many developers are working on interesting projects that deserve attention, but don’t have the resources to hire a PR person to get the word out. The truth is, they don’t really need a PR person to get the word out – and the best PR person in the world won’t do much good if the project isn’t fantastic anyway.

The other reason to work directly with developers? Businesses already have a PR machine in place to see to their interests. I get plenty of pitches from companies, but not enough from developers. Some corporate pitches are interesting, and I jump on those. Most aren’t even in my coverage area, but that doesn’t stop folks from carpet-bombing me with emails.

Do Wonderful Things

The best way to get coverage? Do something really good. Yeah, easier said than done. But if you want to snag interest from the press (or anybody else), you have to be doing something that’s really good.

Case in point, Jenkins. As I mentioned in the Monki Gras wrap-up, Kohsuke Kawaguchi started the project as a one-man show. It grew slowly but steadily. Why? Because developers seem to find Jenkins absolutely wonderful. I’ve been hearing about Jenkins for years from developers that were really excited about what they could do with it.

Let’s Go

The first thing that developers need to do is decide who their audience is and then figure out the publications that are best suited for their project. This should be pretty obvious, but I’ve run into plenty of projects that are not entirely clear on their target audience. When I was working with Novell on openSUSE, for instance, they were not at all sure who the target audience was or should be for openSUSE.

Once you’ve figured out the target audience and publications, make a short list of the writers who are on your beat. This might just be the guys over at the High Scalability blog (one of my favorites), or it might be a list of 10 folks who cover Linux and FOSS regularly.

Bootstrapping coverage

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Joe Brockmeier

Take some time and email the folks who you’d like to work with. Just introduce yourself, and give a brief intro of what your project is/does and why it’s a fit for their beat if it’s not obvious. Brief is key because most anyone working in IT in any capacity is going to be buried in email. This is especially true for press, because we get a ridiculous number of pitches every day. Note, if you don’t hear back right away, don’t be discouraged or offended. See above, re.: ridiculous amount of email.

But, if possible, establish a relationship with the press that address your audience before you have an announcement. This makes it much more likely that when you do have an announcement you’ll be able to get attention. It’s also more likely that your project will be mentioned in other stories where it might be relevant.

Web Site

Even if you reach out to some of the press, other folks might pick up on your project as well. Many project sites have little or no information. Make life a bit easier for press, and help ensure that stories about your project will be as accurate as possible. Keep the site up to date with releases, screenshots, prominent developers, licensing, and so on.

This is good for more than press, of course. It’s good for users and prospective developers to learn about a project and decide if they want to get involved.


When you have something that you think is newsworthy, send an email a few days (I’d recommend at least three) before your announcement. You do not need a formal press release. A simple email that states what’s happening, why you think it’s important, and includes relevant details is plenty.

The audience at Monki Gras, day two

Provide a contact who’s ready to hop on the phone or at least answer questions via email.

If you don’t want coverage until a certain date, you can ask reporters to honor an embargo. Some publications and reporters are better than others at this, so if you really don’t want something published before a specific time, be very specific about embargoes and which reporters you work with. Also? Be sure to specify time zones if you do set embargo dates.

Once you do get coverage, it’s a good idea to follow up with the folks that write about your project. It helps to know that the people you’re writing about actually read the coverage. I also recommend spreading the word by sharing the coverage on social media, your project’s site, etc.

If you notice some bugs in the story, do feel free to point them out politely. Everybody makes mistakes (do you write bug-free code?), and the press are no exception.

Everything is PR

If you’re working on an open source project, blogging about your project, chatting on social media or talking at a conference, you’re doing PR. Whether you like it or not, everything you do in public might wind up in a story.

And when I say everything, I do mean everything. It could be something as obvious as a post to the project, or a comment in a bug tracker or a commit message. Never say anything you wouldn’t want to see quoted the New York Times or on the front page of Hacker News.

Become the Media

Speaking of Hacker News, it’s not necessary to wait for someone else to write about your project. A link on the front page of Hacker News can net you quite a lot of attention without ever being featured in the press.

As I mentioned at Monki Gras, though, a single burst of attention isn’t sufficient. For best results, you want sustained coverage. That means links on Hacker News, being mentioned regularly in “official” tech press and keeping contact with your audience directly.

It takes very little effort to set up a blog and post updates about your project. This is particularly useful for project updates that might not be worth a full story here on ReadWriteWeb, but will still be interesting to users and developers involved with your project. Speaking at FOSDEM, for example? That’s nice, but so are hundreds of others. It’s not usually newsworthy unless Steve Ballmer does a keynote at FOSDEM. (He might find a less than receptive audience, though…) But your users and potential developers that live near Belgium or plan on attending the show would care.

Have questions? Drop a note in the comments, shoot me an email or give me a shout on Twitter. I’m always thrilled to hear from developers doing interesting things.

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