How do you attract quality media coverage as a startup? With COVID-19 sweeping the board in terms of news coverage, first time founders of early stage startups are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to gaining market attention. To state the obvious, nobody knows who they are or what they do. This creates a credibility gap that existing market players don’t need to content with and the wider the credibility gap, the slower you grow. Here are our top tips for attracting top-tier media coverage as a startup to build your brand!
Why public relations and media coverage matters for a startup
When brand building, public relations (PR) often goes arm-in-arm with marketing. But whereas marketing is based around what you are saying about yourself, public relations is the art of getting others to say it about you. Investors, potential clients and future employees will always divert their attention to your reputation first before engaging with you. Online due diligence has swiftly become the norm now. Without a credible reputation, you leave yourself at risk of missed opportunities that could very well accelerate your business.
Make no mistake, attracting top-tier media coverage is a key milestone in building your company image. Top-tier media outlets such as the Financial Times, CNBC, Business Insider, Fast Company and the BBC have all built their own reputations through decades of chasing and telling world-changing stories across politics, business and technology amongst other areas. Securing a feature in one or many of them demonstrates to stakeholders that you are to be taken seriously and injects prestige to your reputation, positioning it to grow.
But given the affluent nature of top-tier publications, their editorial standards are high. To get your startup featured in a top-tier publication, you need to meet those standards. Here’s our advice for attracting the sort of coverage every serious startup should be aiming for:
- All good things take time
- Demonstrate size and scale
- Localise your content
- Be prepared and don’t wast a journalist’s time
- Follow up to give it your best shot!
1. All good things take time
As a challenger brand, you need to move quickly to hit your growth targets but, be warned: reputation building is not something you can scale as easily as your user base!
Reputation can take years to build and just moments to take away.
We are reminded of that principle every so often with stories such as the Wirecard, WeWork IPO, Facebook’s privacy concerns, Huawei and TikTok data use scandals. You need to invest time and money into building your reputation over time. Investing in building rapport with the world’s most influential journalists is an important part of that process.
Patience is a virtue.
You will be competing with hundreds of other companies in your space for their attention. But just how do you do that? You will need to solve a problem for them as much as they will be solving a problem for you. Focus on providing suitable content by doing your research on the journalist and their beat and don’t be put off by the “not for me this time” responses. Just remember, the more awareness you build, the better your chances of being featured becomes. Remember the golden rule though, be respectful.
2. Demonstrate size and scale
Top tier outlets enforce strict criteria for company features. Many reporters maintain lists of companies within their beat with ARR of over $1m, $10m or $100m. Others use metrics such as employment, fundraising, valuations or connected investors. Your ability to demonstrate the size and scale of your business can mean the difference between attracting top tier media coverage or none at all. Other metrics you can leverage include number of active users, interactions or growth metrics (year by year, quarter by quarter etc.).
3. Localise your content
All news is local and without a focused angle your pitch will likely fall flat.
Always localise your content to ensure relevance to the journalist you are pitching.
Job announcements, market presence, office openings, founder or investor connections to the city or country are some of the factors that you can leverage to increase the story’s relevance.
4. Be prepared and don’t waste a journalist’s time
Should you be successful in generating an interview opportunity with a top tier journalist you should always be prepared. Don’t be afraid to ask them ahead of the call what they are looking for or how you can help them so you can prepare your facts, figures and messaging.
Naturally, you will want to promote your company, product or service. Try to hold back on that instinct. Oftentimes founders can spend more time promoting their company or product without giving the journalist anything for a story, hence blowing the opportunity. Ensure you’ve considered what tangible numbers you want to disclose about your company as this can have a big impact on your investment strategy later down the line.
If it’s a case where you can no longer share key facts or figures, don’t waste the journalist’s time and try to buy time on the call. They won’t appreciate it and it will damage your long term relationship. Let them know things have changed and you will get back in touch. As always: be respectful.
5. Follow up to give it your best shot!
Once you’ve had your interview make sure to follow up with the journalist to check that they have everything they need. Ensure you’ve attached a mix of high-quality photos. Avoid anything overly promotional with branding peppered within the image. Most top-tier outlets have a photo editorial policy that would exclude them. Salt of the earth photos are always a winner.
Oftentimes, the story will appear without a response due to the volume of emails they receive, but on the off chance no story appears, feel free to call journalists to check on the status. It could be stuck with an editor or, it may be featured as part of a series later that month or upcoming quarter.
On occasion, the piece might not be strong enough to secure editorial approval and therefore it could not be the content the journalist needs for the moment. Should that happen, take it on the chin, ask the journalist for their feedback and take it as an opportunity to strengthen your company narrative for the next time. And always: be respectful.
If you follow the advice above, and also review our advice on building your credibility with the power of a founder story, you’ll be well on the way towards attracting positive press coverage of your startup. If you have any questions or want to chat with a PR expert to see how we could help you further, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Managing Director at ClearStory International
James McCann is CEO of ClearStory International, a Dublin based international tech PR agency working exclusively with early-stage startups from around the world. Before establishing ClearStory, James was a former PR Campaign Manager with Web Summit, responsible for attracting top tier media to the company’s events across Dublin, Lisbon, Bangalore and Hong Kong. He currently lectures on Digital PR to final year students at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin.