Until recently, the world of professional PR has been out of reach of most early stage startups. And for good reason. Put simply, traditional PR was not designed or priced for growing startups. It was designed for large, well funded global companies with existing communities of customers and stakeholders over the globe. If Microsoft or Facebook send out a press release about a product launch or a new office, journalists from TNW or TechCrunch are likely to pick up the story. If an early stage startup who no one has heard of does so …. (cue bird noises or the sounds of tumbleweed rolling past)
But despite this, startups are still burning through resources trying -- and generally failing -- to catch the attention of the world’s largest media too early in their journeys, by simply firing out press releases, without first taking steps to put themselves on the radar of large media companies.
In our last blog post we outlined the importance of startups tying their PR goals to their real business goals, and building up their online presence in a strategic manner. This is generally done by aiming for smaller, more achievable goals which will help startups grow both their businesses, but also their brand reputation and SEO ranking over time.
In this blog, we will deal with the next stage: when startups are ready to start putting themselves out there on the global stage:
Step into the spotlight
By this stage, by following more structured PR and communications strategies, startups should have started to make a name for themselves in their local ecosystems, and have an extensive digital footprint across owned and earned channels.
Thanks to a mix of high quality, organic content on their own channels, and media mentions on external channels, their SEO should be improving, placing them higher on Google’s ranking, and making them more visible to potential users, and journalists around the world.
It is now time for startups to start thinking about what they could be doing to make themselves more visible to bigger media players.
If a company still doesn’t have a huge announcement which is big enough to secure a tier one ‘earned’ media result, a good way to get on the radar of the big hitters is by sharing expert opinions through high-quality content, as a contributor.
Most of the biggest tech and entrepreneur magazines like Entrepreneur, TNW, VentureBeat and even TechCrunch accept guest contributions, as long as they are non-promotional, and really delve into a theme which can add value to the reader. There are also a number of new emerging platforms like the CrunchBase blog, which reaches millions of engaged readers within the startup and business communities all over the world.
These leading publications love ‘how to’ style articles, which offer solid takeaways to their readers, but also love content which offers data-driven insights into different industries. Remember the focus should always be on adding as much value as possible rather than trying to promote a particular service or product. Editors are highly trained to sniff out self-promoters, and will simply ignore their pitches in the future.
For SEO purposes, contributing content is a great way to gain backlinks from high authority sites. Not only will the contributor’s author bio most likely contain a backlink to a startup’s site, startups can also include backlinks to their content or resources in the article, as long as they are editorially relevant and non-promotional. However, that said, startups should be careful about where they pitch their content to, as being featured on low authority sites could actually be detrimental to SEO.
Get on stage
Becoming a regular contributor on a tier one publication is not only good for visibility, SEO, and driving traffic back to a startup’s website, it is a great way for founders to prove their credibility within their industry. In my personal experience, becoming a regular contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, and positioning myself as an expert in the field of PR and marketing for startups, led to invites coming in from tech conferences and events to attend as a speaker.
Getting involved with conferences, and larger scale events is a great way for startups to push themselves off the bench onto the playing field. Large scale conferences by nature are teaming with investors, talent, and representatives from accelerators and startup organizations, allowing startups who can stand out from the crowd to meet whatever business goals they may be aiming for at that time. They are also a great way to make connections with the media.
Most conferences accept startup applications for pitch competitions, and also for panel discussions and speaker and workshop roles. Startups should make a calendar of events happening in their region, and be sure to apply with plenty of notice, as these roles fill up quickly.
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Whether a startup is attending an event as a speaker or an attendee, it is best to download the conference app in the weeks running up to the event. At this year’s TechChill event in Riga, the organizers used the app Talque as a networking tool. These types of event apps allow attendees not only to see who else is going, but also to start a conversation with them, and book meeting times.
From a PR perspective, startups should see which journalists will be attending from leading publications, and then send them a friendly message to see if they would be free to chat briefly throughout the event. If not, then startups should make a ‘hitlist’ of people they would like to speak to, and then try to engage them -- in a natural rather than stalker manner -- during the event itself. Side events and social dinners and drinks are a great time to do this.
Shoot for the moon
Once startups have started to operate in the right circles, become more recognized players within their local and regional ecosystems, and started conversations with the media at events and via contributing content, now would be the time to start pitching the world’s biggest media outlets with company news and interesting narratives.
When trying to engage the media, it is always best to ‘give more than you take’. This means offering data, white papers, interviews, and insights, which can help journalists develop their own story, rather than just expecting them to cover a startup's most recent product announcement. The point is to demonstrate that the startup is really doing something important and different which deserves recognition, and has interesting stories to share with millions of people around the world.
Rather than following the ‘spray and pray’ method, it is important that startups take the time to handpick journalists who have already covered their particular industry, and who are likely to be interested in their news. Tools like Cision and MuckRack are great to gather media contacts and keep an eye on news trends so as to stay relevant. But remember, personalization is key when interacting with the media, if journalists get the impression they are on a mass mail list, they are even less likely to respond than normal.
There is no silver bullet approach to how startups should approach PR and marketing. Ultimately the companies who create the most world changing products, build most amazing, diverse teams, and give the most back, will have more chance of getting the recognition they deserve.
But after working with hundreds of startups at various different stages of development, I can say with great confidence that playing the long game has the best chance of success.
Startups who develop their own interesting narratives over time, put themselves out there via a range of channels, and say yes to different opportunities within their communities will naturally find themselves standing out from the crowd and getting media coverage. And in the process, are also much more likely to be able to build strong, sustainable companies by if they match their business and PR goals along the journey.
But remember, an effective PR strategy does not stop there. As soon as a startup has finished one campaign they should immediately be starting about the next one. As long as a company, team and culture are doing amazing things, there should be amazing stories to share!
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