Startup Storytelling and Media Coverage

Startup Storytelling and Media Coverage

Mark Suster had a great post recently on whether or not a startup should announce their funding that was really more about what are considered “newsworthy” stories for modern blogs and media outlets. Mark makes a good point that it used to be that funding was not really a story in its own right and today it is. This week I also had a related set of conversations with startups that went like this: “We know media coverage works for us because when we first announced we got a bunch of media coverage resulting in a slew of new signups. Now we have nothing to talk about. What should we do?” The solution to this problem is in changing the way you think about what is a newsworthy story versus what isn’t. Audience First, Story Second The first step is to list the blogs/media outlets that your target prospects read and pay attention to. Next you can categorize them into the types of stories they cover. For example you might have a small business payments solution and your media list includes sites that cover startup news, sites that cover news related to small businesses in general and others that cover e-commerce related things. The stories for these sites may have some overlap but there are probably big differences too. For example the startup site might be interested in a story about how you assembled an advisory board for your startup and your lessons learned from that. The Small Business site might like a story about what your customer data tells you about how different small businesses are doing payments. The...
Pitching to Bloggers (and Journalists) – Tips for Startups

Pitching to Bloggers (and Journalists) – Tips for Startups

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 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. 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?...

Should A Startup Hire a PR Agency?

A lot of people think that startups should always do their own PR in-house and never hire an agency.  I used to be one of them.  I’ve changed my mind about that however and now I think that for some startups (not all) hiring an agency can be a very, very good thing. What I Used to Think: Only Big Companies Hire PR Agencies (the startups that do are suckers) Early in my career I worked with 2 PR agencies at 2 different startups and both times my company felt they got very little out of the relationship.  On the startup side we went in with the idea that the agency was going to “get our name out there.” and we decided on which agency to use based mainly on what we could afford and the journalist relationships they brought with them.  In both cases we complained that the agency folks were too non-technical to really understand our business and our messaging.  We appreciated the relationships they had with journalists but that list seemed small and didn’t change much.  Once we had met with the journalists once,  we suspected we could pitch a story just as effectively as they could (and probably better given our understanding of the market).  We hated paying the agency a retainer fee because it seemed that if we weren’t pestering them to do something specific, we paid them to “do nothing.”  For years, I believed that startups that hired PR agencies were like startups that spent their marketing budget on tradeshows: suckers. It Turned Out I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing Then I...

Press/Media Pages 101

Part of the magic of getting folks (both old and new media alike) to write about your company is to make it as easy as possible to pull together a story.  It helps if you have everything a blogger or reporter might need all together in one place on your web site so that folks don’t have to go hunting around for it or worse, make it up themselves. Last week the folks at appstorm wrote a great post for web app developers outlining the 10 marketing resources every app company should provide to make it easy for sites like them to do reviews.  My generic list for any startup would be a little different.  Here’s what a startup media or press page should contain: 1.  A 100 word and a 300 word description of what you do – this needs to clearly describe the market that the company is going after and the key value that the solution brings to that market 2.  Media “sparklers” – this is a list of show-off stats for your company – sometimes you can work this into the description but if not, then list them out.  Some examples of these include: number of customers/downloads/other traffic-related stats (but only if they look impressive) names of brand-name customers that use your software/service amount of money raised and sources (IF these are brag-worthy) customer quotes about your product/service, your company or your founders press/blog quotes about your product/service, your company or your founders 3. The best shareable content you’ve got – You’ll provide links to the places where you share content (that’s the next point)...

Attaching your Startup Brand to a Movement

I was reminded of a post written by Jason Calacanis a million years ago (OK, it was 2008) on getting PR for startups and one of the points he made was that startups should attach themselves to a movement.  His examples (unfortunately, in my opinion) revolved around movements that he started and allowed others to take advantage of.  In my experience with small companies, the opportunity isn’t so much around creating a movement as it is about being smart enough to recognize the trends or movements that your company is a part of. Doing this involves figuring out what your company stands for.  I know startups that answer the “What do you stand for?” question with vague platitudes like “We want to change the world!” without a concrete definition of how they plan on doing that.  I’ve heard companies that tell me they exist to make money for themselves or their shareholders or that they will “be the greatest software company in the world.”  These statements to me seem like an outcome of what they are doing rather than what they stand for.  Customers don’t care if you’re planning on getting rich or not.  If your mission can’t be expressed from a customer’s point of view, it doesn’t count. Etsy didn’t start the handmade movement but they are now a major part of it and it’s rare that folks talk about buying and selling handmade items without mentioning them.  Zappos is the poster child for a new kind of corporate culture that embraces employees as empowered human beings and is known almost as much for their corporate culture as...
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