There are many common misconceptions in the startup world about PR agencies and the role they have in gaining media coverage, particularly for companies that operate in the tech space.
For example, the idea that I can just ring up my friends at Forbes and Entrepreneur to write about clients regardless of their product offering is a fantasy that just falls way short of the mark.
My time as a PR professional working with early-stage startups has shown me time and time again that startup founders often have unreasonable expectations of the services we offer and what media coverage we can achieve for them.
Here are five of the most common misconceptions that I have found whilst working in PR for startups.
1) PR companies are friends with journalists
I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time a client asked me to just ask my connections at TechCrunch, VentureBeat, or Entrepreneur magazine to write about their product – rich enough to actually own these publications and make this fantasy come true perhaps.
Whilst relationship building is indeed important in PR, very few PR professionals will actually have friends in the media who will write about any client they may have regardless of the product. Contrary to popular belief, the most effective way to build a relationship with a journalist/publication is to provide a steady source of relevant, high-quality content that is interesting to their readership and fits in with the style of the publication.
2) Journalists are really interested in my product launch
I appreciate the energy that accompanies the launch of a new startup, I really do. Particularly when it is the first time for a new founder. The mixture of adrenaline, nerves, and tension is the reason I wanted to work with startups in the first place.
However, whilst carefully tailoring a launch press release is very important to explain your product and the story of your company, envisioning your company name in headlines all over the internet is more likely the stuff of dreams.
The actual launch of a product is not a real story, particularly if it is A) nothing new and B) comes from an unknown startup founder. Journalists are more interested in bigger milestones like funding, and why you made a product rather than the actual technology itself.
For example, the reason behind why a founder created an online marketplace for carpark space rental could be due to rising cost of inner city real-estate, the under-utilisation of existing space, and the prevention of constructing more carparking eyesores.
The exact ins and outs of how your algorithm works to find your ideal space are not going to give journalists anything other than a yawn. What they are more interested in is the real life problem you are solving for consumers. This is the story you should share with them.
3) You need to tell them everything about yourself in one PR
Before you start pitching to the media, you really need to understand the reality of reaching out to journalists.
Most journalists will receive hundreds of pitches every single day. Combine sifting through these multiple pitches with writing articles, conducting interviews, research and other editorial duties they may have, and there is very little time left to go through each pitch email thoroughly.
You can be considered lucky if a writer opens up your email and spends 20 seconds skimming through. More likely than not, the only part of the pitch that the journalist will read is your subject line. Therefore, it is essential to make an email and the subject line, short, snappy and to the point.
4) Using big words and jargon will really impress journalists
People need to understand that journalists are like loud speakers to the general public. Their job is to take the information you give them and dissect it into an article for their specific audience.
General tech publications will not have readers who understand very in-depth and advanced technology. Journalists don’t have the time to spend 2 hours learning about astrophysics to understand how your app works. The most effective way of conveying your message is to explain it in a simple, easily understandable way tailored to the publication that they work for.
If you do want to go into great detail about your technology, the best bet is to target industry specific publications, where the audience will understand and find value in the subject matter.
5) It’s not a success unless I get on TechCrunch
TechCrunch is a great publication, and there is no doubt that securing coverage on it will raise the profile of your startup. However, it should be the final goal and not the first step.
More times than I care to remember, clients have demanded that we get them on TechCrunch for a story which isn’t really that newsworthy. That’s what they are paying us for, or so they think.
What I find is more important and more effective for a startup seeking media coverage to grow their online presence is to find journalists and publications that specifically cover the beat of their products.
You are much more likely to get coverage on niche publications that focus on the area that your company operates especially when you are an early stage startup. Think VR Upload or Edtech Digest rather than NY Times and WSJ. Whilst the names of these household name publications may look good on your outreach list, the chance of really gaining media coverage is often unrealistic.
PR for startups is not rocket science. Understanding the media and the online environment as well as having realistic expectations is the key to gaining effective media coverage for your startup. So put your ambitions for TechCrunch, NY Times and Entrepreneur on the backburner especially when you are only at the launching stage, unless you have really created a product of Elon Musk standards.
Instead, channel all of your energy into working closely with your PR agency to understand the realities of your specific product and which PR channels are the most effective to pursue.