Startup founders wear many hats — product manager, salesperson, HR leader, and even technologist. But in between developing your MVP (that’s Minimum Viable Product, not Most Valuable Player for all you sports junkies) and seeking funding, it can be tough to think about how to share your great ideas with the world.
Enter the media. Building a good relationship with the press and getting a few articles written about you in reputable, relevant publications may be just as valuable in the early days as a killer investment pitch. It can generate buzz, attract customers, and even help you raise funding — investors do a lot of Google searching before meeting with a company!
But if you don’t have a background in PR or marketing, your first time pitching the press might seem more daunting than an investor conference. As the editor of a publication that specifically focuses on covering tech founders and the startup world, I’m here to give you the 4-1-1 (really, the 101) on getting media for your startup.
Create a media kit
A media kit is a one-stop shop for a journalist looking for information about your company. Think of it like the investor deck or company summary version of your startup, but geared toward a reporter’s eye and specific needs. At a minimum, it should contain your elevator pitch or mission statement, explanation of your product, logos and images, and contact details of a company representative (or if it’s still just you as the founder, your email!).
Later stage or more complex companies may also include items like any additional press coverage, prior media releases (more on this below), executives bios and head shots, client testimonials, and funding details. Pick and choose what works for you, but remember: journalists, like you, are busy. Making their job as easy as possible will make them able to write about your company faster — and hopefully more comprehensively.
Send a pitch
A pitch email is the PR version of a sales call — it is your way of letting a reporter know what your company has to offer and see if it’s a fit for an article. Though, like cold sales calls, these aren’t easy to write or send, they are a proactive way to get your name in front of journalists who may be seeking to cover exactly what you’re building. Reporters do conduct research to chase after stories, but many articles are written simply from information in the form of a pitch that gets sent to them.
As any startup founder knows, the first thing to do is always to identify your target audience. Don’t waste time going after journalists that you don’t have a chance of attracting to your story. Research reporters that cover your “beat”; for example, if you are a health technology startup, you will want to find the reporters that cover health tech companies. At larger publications — say, Mashable or TechCrunch — there is likely at least one reporter, if not more, that will be relevant. And don’t forget the industry, trade, and niche publications — using the example above, there are a dozen publications that specifically write only about health tech, digital health and health IT. Hone in on your best bets and focus on those.
Now it’s time to write your pitch. Think about each sentence carefully, because there shouldn’t be many — get to the point as quickly as possible. Craft an eye-catching subject line to tell the reporter exactly what you’re emailing them about and why they care. Then put the Who, What, Where, and Why right up front, all within the first paragraph if possible. But most importantly, show what problem you’re solving with your startup.
Finally, make it interesting. Your product might not be the sexiest, but adding a human element, a surprising anecdote, or a major stat (think big accomplishments) can grab attention and get the reporter’s brain wheels turning.
Answer these questions:
- What makes you stand out?
- What effect will your product have in the market?
- What audience will care about this? You can base this off of your customers or potential customers, but remember that the reporter will be thinking about their own readership.
Finally, remember that reporters are human beings. Be respectful, recognizing that they probably want to write many more stories than they have time in the day for. Try to build a relationship, not an immediate sale. At Hypepotamus, we get many pitches for companies that are interesting, but a bit too early-stage (think pre-product) for a story. But if the email exchange is pleasant, we’ll often reach back out in a few months or be much more receptive when the founder touches base at a later date.
A few additional notes
Be ready to respond. If your pitch was timely and tied to news, and a reporter wants to cover it, you should be prepared to answer back with additional information, quotes or visuals within a few hours. News gets stale fast, and nobody knows that better than those who write it.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response right away. Again, reporters get a LOT of pitches. Especially if it isn’t an incredibly timely topic, they may not answer right away — they may not answer at all. Don’t be upset, but do…
Follow up. If you haven’t heard back within a week, you can send a brief and polite follow up email. There’s always the chance your pitch got lost in a very busy news day, a vacation, or a spam filter, so this is perfectly acceptable. However, remember that you’re building relationships, not hammering a nail. Tread carefully.
Make social media your friend, but don’t let your guard down. According to Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans get news from social media platforms. Reporters are constantly scouring Twitter for stories, and use the platforms to build more buzz for their articles. Use these often-misunderstood platforms for good by following the reporters you have researched and identified as good targets, seeing what they’re interested in, and potentially tweeting at them about a company announcement. Read more about social media for startups here.