Most early stage startups don’t have the budget (or the desire) to hire a PR agency to help them get news coverage. Getting coverage for a startup is (in my opinion anyway) easier than it has ever been – there are loads of online publications that cover startups and they’re easy to find and contact. But as least favorite engineering prof used to say to me “April, just because I say it’s easy, doesn’t mean you can’t mess it up.”

Here’s my list of Do’s and Don’ts

Do This

  1. Cultivate relationships before you need them – Did you ever have a friend that only called you when they wanted something? Don’t be that person. There’s generally a ton of runway pre-launch you can use to establish relationships with bloggers and journalists. Meeting face to face (at events, social gatherings, industry meetings, etc.) is always the best way but I’ve had good relationships that started out with me commenting a lot on their blogs, sharing their content, and linking to or blogging about their content on my company blogs. The goal is to get a better understanding of the person (what do they like/dislike, how can help them out, etc) at a stage when you aren’t asking for something.
  2. Have something newsworthy to talk about – this isn’t just about having a great product, it’s about having a great story to tell that people will want to read about (and yes, great products make this easier). Why should people be excited about your news? How does it relate to other newsworthy things (market/buyer/cultural/economic trends for example) people are interested in? Most startups are great at tying their solutions to technology trends which works well for tech/startup publications. If you want more mainstream press your tie-in’s will need to be more mainstream. I talked to a startup recently that got good coverage tying their product news to the Occupy movement, and another that had a great story related to wedding planning that launched at the time of the royal wedding. You need to answer the question – why is your news interesting right now?
  3. Pitch writers that are a good fit for your news – I’ve seen few examples where folks have been successful by blasting large lists with a generic pitch. Do your homework and understand what the writer covers, their likes and dislikes, whether or not they have written about other companies in similar markets and if so, what were the stories like. Build a personalized pitch that includes why you chose to pitch them specifically. If possible tailor your story angle for the publication or for them personally.
  4. Make it as easy as possible – I like to have a media page that I can direct folks to where writers can get quick easy answers to basic questions (i.e. who/when/why was the company formed, who are the noteworthy employees/customers/partners/investors/advisors involved, what is the value the company delivers and to what markets) and get easy access to logos, screenshots, video, graphics etc. Write your press release so that it’s easy to copy sections from it to create a story (hard to believe but this happens more than you would think). Video and/or images (I seem to be the only person on the planet that’s sick of infographics) that compliment the story work well because they make it easy to create a visually interesting post.
  5. Kiss butt (a little) – Just like regular folks, bloggers generally like working with people who are nice to them more than they like dealing with jackasses.┬áIn my opinion, putting a little sugar on it just helps move things along. Tell them you loved their most recent post, say thank-you when they cover you, send them a happy holidays note – this stuff seems simple but so few people do it that you will stand out when you do. Just be careful not to spread it on stalker-thick.

Try to Avoid This

  1. Phoning people (or pestering them on social media) – What’s the definition of zero? The likelihood anyone will return your unsolicited phone call. I could have also said the probability that a blogger will pick up the phone when you cal,l but you get it. There’s a reason most folks don’t publish their phone numbers. Most publications have a preferred method of contact for pitches that they publish (usually a dedicated email address that is monitored) and going around it just annoys people. This goes for sending private messages to people over social media. Those channels are full of spam and using them when you don’t know the person makes you a spammer too.
  2. Getting the names and/or genders wrong – My name isn’t Apple but I get a lot of email addressed to her. It’s hard to take people seriously after they have mistaken me for a fruit. Also confusing someone for a member of the opposite sex is just no way to start a relationship.

What am I missing?