How to Get Started with Public Relations for a Startup
It doesn’t matter if you have a tech product, a lifestyle product or are trying to jumpstart your company that helps animals find a home- public relations is one of the keys to success when it comes to startups. Businesses that are able to gain attention from the press help reassure the reader that the company they are reading about can be trusted.
The first step to beginning with public relations is knowing when to hire someone for the job. Sure, you might be a wizard when it comes to developing an app or designing the next best wireless earbuds. But writing? That comes naturally to a different type of person. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or family. Chances are you know someone in the marketing industry who can give you a few pointers or even assist you in writing your first press release and pitch. However, the best thing you can do for your company is hiring either an in-house person with experience or a startup marketing agency.
There are so many different aspects of public relations; we’re going to make it easy for you with a step-by-step guide to follow if you’re planning on tackling PR in-house or with an agency.
Before you tackle pitches and press releases, it is always a good idea to make a timeline to follow. This is especially important if you have a launch coming up, an event or any other milestone that is worth pitching to the media. The timeline will keep you on track and give anyone else who needs to be in-the-know the ability to see where you’re at and what is getting done. Take a look at this timeline example:
Start building a media list
Draft press release
Draft three pitching angles
Distribute press release
Add to media list
Follow-up with reporters
As you can see, the timeline demonstrates exactly when copy will be written, when pitching begins and when to do some research and add to the media list. We’ll get into what makes good copy and media lists next.
Research & Media Lists
After you establish your timeline, it’ time to do some research. Before doing anything, establish your audience and make a list of publications you can realistically be covered in and start from there. An easy way to see who might be interested in your company is to Google your competitors to see who is covering them. Be sure to make a note of the reporter’s name, email address and twitter handle in a spreadsheet to keep all of the info organized. Databases like Cision are also a great place to get contact information for thousands of reporters. These services are very expensive but are also a good investment.
Before you begin pitching, you’ll want a media list of 150-200 contacts. We like to use a spreadsheet to separate our lists into “Top 10”, “Top 20” and “Others” to know who we should focus on and what reporters we need to really establish a rapport with to get coverage.
Once you have your media list started (remember, you’ll constantly be adjusting and adding more in as time goes on), you can start on the copywriting aspect of PR.
Before you start writing anything, read up on some AP style tips and regulations. This will keep your writing up to par with the reporters and make their job easier. After you get the hang of AP style, start off by writing the press release then tackle the pitching angles. Check out our tips for each of these:
Writing a Press Release:
A press release should be one page long max. Anything longer and you will potentially scare off reporters. Reporters are always on a deadline and like releases to be short and to the point, but with all of the necessary information. In the press release, be sure to include two key things: links and general price point if there is one. Never use first person when writing a press release and please stay away from exclamation points, as it looks unprofessional.
Writing your Pitches:
Keep pitches short and sweet. This is the key to writing a good pitch. Reporters simply don’t have time for long emails. So, what we have discovered works the best is writing a short (3-4 sentence) pitch that gets the basic details across about why the reporter should care about the story. Then, at the very bottom of the email, paste the entire press release. This gives the reporter access to more info if they are interested or need something that wasn't included in the pitch.
Another thing to take note of is your subject line. This should be short but also, tell the reporter why they should care. Think of something along the lines of “This startup is changing the way we drink wine” (but obviously make it fit with how you are planning on changing the world with your startup).
Pitching & Following Up
When it comes time to pitch, the number one thing to remember is that it is not always easy. One pitch that might work for Digital Trends doesn’t get a response from Mashable. You just have to shake it off and try something else. It is important to remember that reporters are people, too. So take a look at their Twitter handles. Get to know them a little more and establish a relationship with them. Don’t be just another “PR robot”.
When it comes time to follow up, once or twice is the max. You don’t want to hound the people who are not interested. The follow-up should be even shorter than your last email and include a link to your website. Keep it to one to two sentences max.
So, I Pitched My List. What’s Next?
After you send out your pitches to your media list, you’ll begin to receive email responses from reporters looking for more information, samples, interviews, etc. Be mindful of the reporter’s time and keep your responses to a minimum and give them everything they need in one shot.
Don’t be discouraged if the response count is low- it happens. What you’ll need to do is re-work your pitches and try again until you find something that works.
We’ve found it helpful to make a new tab on your media list spreadsheet to track your responses. Here you should note the reporter’s name, outlet, email address and any notes to remember. This is also helpful if you need to share your results with others in your company.
Once the articles start coming in, be sure to share them on your social media accounts, post them on your website and send them to your mom (you know she loves that stuff).
We’re not going to lie, getting started with public relations for your startup can take a lot of time, patience, and trial and error. However, if you take anything from this blog post, remember to be creative, concise and treat journalists like they are people, too. If this all gets to be too much, don’t be scared to reach out to the experts for help!