I outlined 16 must have customer acquisitions techniques for startups in a post last month. One of the most important techniques comes in the form of Public Relations and I think it’s important enough to warrant its own article. PR is how you launch companies, build buzz, and get valuable attention that ranks well above the noise of buying advertising. For example Apple only aired the 1984 ad once, but received over five million dollars of free publicity due to everyone talking + airing the ad again on the news. Like anything worth striving for in life, getting attention from the press is hard, but if you attack it with the right approach, it becomes fairly easy to do. We’re launching a new version of Padpressed later this week and I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learned over the years.

A lot of entrepreneurs ask me how I got on TechCrunch with PadPressed, so I included the exact email I used to pitch and get on TechCrunch at the end of the article with some notes.

Tell a Story

The goal of a journalist and blogger is to engage readers and get more views/subscribers. Something boring certainly won’t entertain the readers, so why would they write about it? Journalists are also in a position of power. They have hundreds of startups pitching them everyday and vying for attention, so you need to stand out of the crowd. The best way to do this is to tell a story that will transfer from (a) your mouth to (b) the journalist’s keyboard to (c) the reader’s eyes. If you can tell a story that intrigues and grabs people, journalists are far more likely to write about you, as it will drive adoption of their product.

Be Prepared Technically

Things spread fast in this day and age. Even if you’re not actively pitching, once you’re out in the wild, anything can happen. Articles can’t be re-written and you only have one shot at first, so make sure your app can leave a good impression. Around the time of launch, allocate more resources than normal in terms of hardware. This is so much easier to do now vs. five years ago due to Rackspace and Amazon. Also be prepared the second you give the story to someone as embargoes will most likely be broken in this day and age. You don’t want major press coverage to give a negative impact to users.

Segment Your List

You need to segment your press list depending upon the exact angle and topic of the publication. For example, with PadPressed, we’re approaching all the following segments of publications

– Traditional Tech Blogs
– Well known bloggers who could use the tech
– WordPress Publications/Blogs
– Apple/iPad focused blogs
– Media/Publishing Trade Specific
– Traditional media looking for iPad stories

You also need to adapt the story you tell and the pitch that you give according to the outlet you pitch. A WordPress blog should be approached much differently than a traditional media publication like the Miami Herald or San Jose Mercury News. It’s the same way pitching different companies and departments on a sale vary.

Give A Taste Of The Future

So when we pitched TechCrunch, we didn’t pitch it as a WordPress plugin company. That’s just not big news and though it’s a very cool, it doesn’t provide excitement. We gave a taste of the future of being available to All CMS’s, a hosted platform, and helping pave the way for the future of media via tablet publishing. Don’t talk too much about the future, since you’re not there yet, but give a glimpse into it. It also makes setting up future stories a whole lot easier. Once you reach those milestones, it gives the journalist something to refer back to and segway into the next article.

Be Brief

Keep your pitches short and make sure the basic gist fits into the first glance of a GMail subject line. Bloggers get way too many pitches on a daily basis and they need to get the gist of what you’re trying to do almost immediately. If THEY can’t get it in a few sentences, how are there readers ever going to understand what the product does?

Give All Links To Detailed Resources

Not being contradictory here, but complimentary. Keep the actual pitch email very short and to the point with a call to action. For more detailed information, link to it inside the email and make it apparent. ie- not thrown as a random obscure link.

Founders > PR Firm

It’s always better to have founders pitch a product than a PR firm. Yes, at some point, you may have a corporate com department, but for the most part, you are a small company whether or not you have a track record. Journalists also get a bit of an ego stroke when they deal directly with a founder (in a good way). It means a lot to them when an actual founder reaches out and takes the time to answer questions/deliver a pitch.

“Speaking of that and a heads up, some of the major Hackers & Founders meetups will be hosting the first in a series on how to get PR for your startup – with panelists from the founders who’ve done it, the reporters who cover them as well as the agencies who work with early stage companies. Shout out to Dave Ambrose on the Hackers & Founders Twitter handle for more updates when we do the event in November.”

Give direct Contact info and be quick

Most stories will go from pitch to print fairly fast in online media. Traditional print takes a bit longer, but even then, it can happen fast. When a journalist is on a deadline, they need to get the story done on time. If you can’t deliver fast enough, then you’re cut out. Give your direct contact info and during the launch period, make sure you are always around to answer questions. You should also give priority to whatever they need to get the article out – screenshots, giveaways, further facts,etc.

Ride a Wave

The best way to get press attention is to ride the wave of an already big trend being talked about. In some cases, you get an article solely featuring you or you may be part of a larger article on the topic. This often happens with iPad and iPhone apps or the trend of cloud computing. When I launched my first project to the press, we specifically aimed it at eBay raising their fees. The Associated Press picked up on it, resulting in coverage in USA Today. Here’s a throwback to my past days in the press.

Try to Make A Connection Beforehand

If you’re in the tech sector, especially in Silicon Valley, odds are you spend a good amount of time at events and conferences. Bloggers/journalists get paid to go to these events and are often there as well. Don’t go into a full on pitch, since you’re probably not ready for press coverage. Do try to make a personal connection beforehand just so the intro is warm when you are finally making a pitch.

Exclusives Can Help But Are Tricky

TechCrunch and other blogs often like to get exclusives, but it also hurts your chances with other blogs. Certain launches have certain goals. Is it to reach a specific audience? Is it to have the widest distribution and buzz? Is it to cause potential partners/acquirers to jump? Exclusives are like the super power up that you can only use once per level in a video game to kill a specific boss or opponent. Make sure you use it for the right purpose and at the right time.

Don’t Copy/Paste

For the love of God, do not mail/merge or copy/paste a pitch to a journalist. Yes, you can re-use some parts of the pitch such as what you do, but keep things at a personal level. You may have to type 100 emails, 50% of which don’t even get a response. That’s called having to hustle. You would think it’s hard to tell if something is copy/paste, but a good journalist can see right through it. No personalization, vague statements, etc.

Follow Up

First off, don’t pester journalists if they don’t want to cover you. It’s nothing personal and everyone makes bad judgment calls. There’s just not enough time to properly cover all the startups. If they DO show interest, make sure you’re on top of the ball. If they forget to followup, make sure you get them the info they need and get the article to press. Getting a piece of press coverage is A LOT like making a sale. Not following up on a warm sales lead is foolish and so is the same with a journalist.

Offer Something To Readers

If you look at many of the successful launches on TechCrunch, they often offer some NONMONETARY giveaway, usually in the form of early invites to the service or a limited number of free premium accounts. This isn’t bribing, this is adding utility to the readers of the publication. One goal of a writer is to provide utility to their readers. By offering access to an app that is hard to come by elsewhere, the story certainly provides utility.

Stunts Can Be The FireStarter

Stunts aren’t a sustainable way to do press, but they can certainly get the momentum going for a company. One of the most famous examples to this day is Half.com renaming Halfway,Oregon to Half.com. AirBnb happened to do the same thing by selling cereal during the presidential elections of 2008 (Obama O’s and Cap’n McCains). You need to find a way to rise above the crowd and be a proverbial Purple Cow. Once you have the spotlight on you with massive attention it makes it a lot easier to get attention in the future for more mundane things such as product launches.

Leverage Your Contacts

Odds are someone you know, knows someone at a press outlet and can give you an endorsement. Being backed by the right angel or VC can be insanely useful as well. YCombinator companies are able to get tons of press due to the sheer network and validation of being part of YCombinator. Doing partnerships with other companies is also another way to leverage your contacts and network. By doing a partnership with an already recognizable brand, you increase the likelihood that a press outlet will take a liking to your pitch.

Example PR Pitch Email To TechCrunch

This is the exact email I sent to TechCrunch when we launched.  Nothing was omitted, including my personal info.  Feel free to say hi :)

——————-

Subject: Exclusive for TC: Launching Padpressed- make any blog feel like a native iPad app

Hey Mike,

Launching PadPressed tomorrow at noon EST and TC gets free reign on an exclusive before then. PadPressed makes any blog look and behave like a native iPad app. We’re talking accelerometer aware column resizing, swipe to advance articles, touch navigation, home screen icon support, and more. We’ve built some pretty cool tech to make this happen smoothly, and it works with your existing layout (iPad layout only activated when the blog is accessed from an iPad). Okay, I’ll shut up now and you can check out the demo links/feature pages below, which are much more interesting than my pitch.

PS- Would also be happy to do giveaways to TC readers. Thanks again and feel free to reach out if you have anymore questions (skype,phone,etc. listed below).

Video Demo: http://vimeo.com/13487300
Live demo site (if you’re on an iPad): jasonlbaptiste.com
Feature overviews: http://padpressed.com/features
My contact info: j@jasonlbaptiste.com , Phone: 772.801.1058, Twitter: @jasonlbaptiste, Skype: jasonlbaptiste

-jlb
772.801.1058
You Should Check Out JasonLBaptiste.com

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Some notes:

  • Gave TC the exclusive due to the goal of getting a large reach and seeing if there was enough demand to further the project.
  • Highlighted what it did in one sentence with key features following thereafter.
  • Highlighted the tech behind it so this seemed special.
  • Added in giveaways.
  • Most important part:  direct links to the exact resources they would need, including my phone number.  Mike emailed back soon thereafter and Alexia called an hour after.  The article went from pitch to being live in < 5 hours.
  • Update:  I added in the subject I used.  I literally spent close to an hour on it, email testing it.  I would send myself emails using the subject line to see how it would appear.

All of the above are important, but the one that will carry over to other aspects of your startup happens to be – “Tell A Story”. If your startup can tell a story, then you are far ahead of the curve. What PR tips have been the most effective for you over the years?