Public relations (PR) involves translating your products or services into accessible and newsworthy stories. However, just because you may be small or lacking in name recognition, this should not stop you from reaching the likes of The New York Times, TechCrunch, or CNBC.
Here are 13 proven tactics to secure golden PR coverage for your startup, whatever your stage, sector, or size.
1. Use your data
If you are in eCommerce you are likely sitting on fascinating retail data. Uber releases insights on travel trends, app analytics startup, App Annie provides an annual report on mobile trends from its proprietary data. For startups, the power of data often shows the power of the precise platform you are selling to customers and how actionable insights can be leveraged for potential clients.
2. Conduct surveys
Creating well-executed surveys can get acres of news coverage. Depending on your buyer, you may for instance survey CEOs, CIOs, or consumers. Platforms such as SurveyMonkey or Typeform are free to create surveys.
The essential thing is to work backward with a series of headlines already in mind as you create the questions. In one case, an early-stage startup, Spotted, a data and research startup in the celebrity endorsement space, surveyed 300 U.S. consumers of all ages. This asked them to rate the likability, relatability, attractiveness, trustworthiness, authenticity, and facial, name, and voice recognition of 400 actors who had brand endorsements. The result, finding that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, representing Under Armour, is the most successful brand ambassador, was covered on news sites including CNBC and Variety.
3. Plan PR stunts
Nearly 20 years ago, Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce (then a challenger company) sent “protestors” (in reality, paid actors) to picket the conference of their far mightier rival, Siebel, in San Francisco.
“Protestors” carried banners calling for “an end to software” and with it grew the cloud. Marc Benioff says the stunt “boosted salesforce morale, got great press coverage, and within two weeks more than 1000 organizations signed up for our service.”
He credits this type of action in making Salesforce the $13.28 billion revenue a year juggernaut it is today. Such stunts, done right, can position you as a disruptive brand and gain the media’s attention.
4. Respond to game-changing issues
If you have something genuinely meaningful to say you can react to the news agenda. You might provide a response to a tax change blowing up in your sector, difficulties in recruiting enough biochemists, or sweeping regulatory changes.
For instance, Jonny Ryan, chief policy officer at the privacy-focused browser, Brave, has owned the seemingly obscure but core issue of data privacy and GDPR (calling out massively larger tech companies), appearing weekly on sites including the FT, TechCrunch, Reuters, and Bloomberg.
In my case, my startup created thought leadership to protest against keyword blocklists discriminating against the LGBTQ community. It was covered in media publications such as The Guardian, Campaign Ad Age, Advocate, PinkNews, and Fast Company.
5. Find out what journalists are writing
Some journalists will publicly reach out online for insights for a story they are working on, which means you just have to be the right person, with a novel insight, following the right channels.
Check out #journorequest (Twitter) Response Source or HARO (Help A Reporter Out) for these calls. In addition, generally following journalists on Twitter means you will get a sense of what they are interested in, as well as being a first responder when requests are made.
6. Release Product News
If you show the value of a new product release or update (how it will directly impact people) this can be potentially very interesting to media.
Canva, the design company with nearly $250 million in funding, announced a variety of new features, including a video editing tool. The company gave the news to TechCrunch. Getting in TechCrunch certainly paid off: social media shares of the article have reached 53,000 engagements according to BuzzSumo.
7. Create compelling case studies
Case studies provide insights into problems faced by many people in your sector, providing your product as the superhero solution. By explaining with numbers and examples of how your solution helped solve the problems of real people your story comes to life for journalists.
8. Create killer thought leadership
Create a blockbuster white paper or thought leadership piece. I achieved coverage for my most-recent startup in outlets including The New York Times, Forbes, CNBC, and Wired through this route.
However, any study should merely illuminate wider and important issues, rather than talk up your solution. Think for instance of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends, published every year since 1995, and eagerly anticipated and covered by news media because of its value, and despite its low production (simply a slide deck).
9. Leverage funding and corporate news
Getting your fundraising announcement in TechCrunch or VentureBeat is a rite of passage for many startups. However other corporate announcements should also be considered – major hires or significant global expansion. This provides a steady narrative of growth.
10. Ride-on seasonal PR waves
Every year there is a ready calendar of PR fixtures including Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Easter, the summer holidays, Halloween, and Christmas.
In a successful outlet for their brand identity, learning app, Duolingo produced a premium feature, “Duolingo Push” for April Fool’s Day which was covered in Mashable. This announced that their brand owl will pester you (like it does on the app) playing on their core mantra of needing regular practice and encouragement to learn a new language.
11. Create your own thing!
The biggest hitters can rewrite the calendar – Amazon created Prime Day as an annual media fixture, while in China, Alibaba made Single’s Day a cash and media extravaganza.
On a smaller scale, the charity Movember is known for asking men to grow mustaches in November, while a travel company in the UK recast the third Monday of January as Blue Monday – mathematically “proven” to be the most depressing day of the year and an ideal day for us to book a vacation.
12. Enter industry awards
Many sector news sites and publications run flagship awards, recognizing tech and innovation. Though there is usually an entrance fee, for those who are nominated or win, this is valuable PR and an opportunity to be featured in a key sector publication read by your dream customers.
13. Write for a publication
Finally, there is a bloom for startups writing good guest content. The biggest news sites are not off-limits if you can produce novel insights and data. For instance NewsGuard, which has less than 40 employees, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times on what it had learned about fake news since it sought to tackle the issue with its solution.
However, bylines on news sites such as Construction News to Search Engine Journal can provide a powerful outlet to reach the people that matter.
Central to succeeding in any of these PR tactics is ensuring that you can create and distill fresh ideas, data, and insights. Getting this right can translate into powerful results and provide a public barometer of success for your startup.
Guest author: Jonathan Marciano is a Director of Communications, who has managed marketing at several hypergrowth startups, and at corporate giants such as EY. Connect with him on LinkedIn.