Congratulations, your hard work building a shippable product that users are going to love is finally complete. Now, its time to tell the world about your creation. Unfortunately, standing out in the sea of daily startup launches leaves most founders floundering. Refining your pitch and delivering to the right people in a way that resonates takes practice, but with a bit of research, planning and tactical execution, you can setup your PR efforts for success.
Here's a three step strategy that has worked for us.
Step 1: The Pitch
Getting your pitch down is critical. What’s important to remember is that to truly stand out, pitch your story, not your company.
What Not to Do
A good place to start is how not to position your company. Avoid the recent trend focused on comparing your company to other startups that are familiar - for example, “We are the Uber for X."
It lacks creativity and is tried so often that it positions your pitch for the nearest trash bin. Instead take a chance at being unique, even if you fall flat early on. The important thing to remember is that its your goal to stand out, not to be “like” someone else’s company.
Put Yourself in the Writer's Shoes
Try your best to think like a journalist. The articles written across the web are created to grab attention and tell a story. Look no further than the types of articles and language used by the authors in which you are targeting. Doing that extra bit of research prior to sending your pitch can go a long way to improving your overall conversion rate - by targeting writers who are already writing about your industry with an angle they haven't heard before.
In the same vein, think about angles. Beyond simply pitching your company, understand what is important to not only the individual you are pitching, but also the industry in which your product fits. For example, look to hot-button issues that are relevant now and see if you can align your startup as the solution to the problem on everyone’s mind. You probably see the end result of these pitches everyday without even realizing it. They typically read something like, “Meet the startup trying to fix [this broken thing that everyone is talking about.]”
This is exactly the approach Virginia-based PFP Security took when aligning their security product with the recent media stir surrounding the hacking of your car’s onboard software systems. In July of 2015, Wired released an article highlighting how hackers remotely shut down a Jeep on the highway with the driver inside. The article was an internet sensation that led to months of follow-up articles including this piece from the Washington Post entitled, “Meet the start-up trying to keep hackers from hijacking your car,” featuring PFP Security.
Speak Like a Human Being
Overall, don’t settle for another dry, buzzword-laden pitch. Have your company meet as a team to brainstorm ideas. If nothing interesting comes of it, bring in an outside individual or group to help. Sometimes, its even worth waiting to pitch until your startup has something truly noteworthy to share. The reality of today is that the market is far too flooded for the “press release” tactics of decades-past. To get noticed, you need to standout.
Step 2: Targeting
Create a target list segmented by importance. As you start reaching out, be sure to mark each by contact date and include any pertinent notes about the interaction.
Get In a Directory
Let’s first start with how to target. Hundreds of startup sites exist with the sole purpose of featuring new and exciting companies set to launch. There is going to be some overlap in every list you find, but here and here are two aggregated lists to start with. Both lists provided have several sites where users can create company profiles of their startup which can go a long way in early marketing efforts. Now, back to targeting.
Get the Right Tools
A quick Google search will provide hundreds of tools to aid in your influencer targeting efforts, but typically you can pull together an impressive list with some quick manual searches.
First, search for influencer lists. Simply type in your industry focus and add “influencers” or “writers” to the tail end. Pitching for press coverage is not new for startups and typically there are individuals who have done a lot of the heavy lifting by identifying targets for you. Its often the case that they will share their lists in the form of blog articles. Publicize and IT Manager Daily both contain a great starting point for your compilation efforts.
Next, search for websites with articles related to your industry and target the authors. Many sites will include author’s email addresses if you do some digging. Simply click on the authors bio or travel to the site’s contact page. If only the editor’s email is listed, its worth a try, but services like EmailHunter can give you access to direct contacts at publications across the web. Understand that every journalist on any given website has their own focus area, or “beat”, they cover. Sending your startup pitch to a site’s Apple reporter won’t get you far. The more levels of contact you can bypass allowing your message to get into the right person’s hands, the better shot you have at landing a write-up.
Aim For Those with Reach
Close out your list by targeting individual writers who have the greatest potential to get your product in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Buzzsumo offers a service that allows users to discover influencers based on the content they publish and, more importantly, how much their content is shared. This allows you to not only target individuals interested in writing on topics related to your product, but also allows you to focus only on the individuals who have the greatest potential to bring the most value to the content they produce.
Step 3: Delivery
Pitching is a learning process that improves over time. Don’t pitch your most critical targets too soon.
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
When it comes time for delivery, really think through your execution strategy. Some like to take the quick approach to hit key targets immediately by offering an “exclusive”. While this approach can work when coupled with a strong pitch, taking a more conservative approach is best for most startups. For these companies, the first rule of thumb is to avoid sprinting through all your targets on day one. Eventually, when you have your messaging in a place you believe resonates with your contacts, start reaching out to some of the more critical targets who have the ability to catapult your product into the public’s eye. Once you are able to secure a few write-ups, you can even use the articles as leverage by highlighting them within your pitch.
Think about the medium in which you’re delivering your pitch and put yourself in the position of the person on the receiving end. In most cases, your method of delivery will be email. Great email pitches tell your story, while being succinct. Captivating headlines, blurbs, short sentences and bullet points are where you should focus your content efforts.
Use the Curiosity Gap & Get Personal
Start with creating an engaging email subject line. Try to tell as much as you can, as early as you can, without being the same old dull pitch media outlets hear everyday. While its important to grabs someone’s attention, a story that can live up to a headline is critical.
Open your email by addressing your target by name, otherwise the reader will assume they are one of hundreds receiving your message today. Your email’s opening sentences should reinforce and expand the headline. Keep sentences to a minimum, never using more than 1-3 consecutively. Next comes your bullet points. Bullet points are an easy consumption medium and can include everything from features, usage statistics, funding numbers, key investors or founders, launch dates and more. Using this format to relay your previously refined pitch will keep your message clear and concise.
Round out the email with a push in the direction of the action you want the reader to take: Offer up your CEO or key team member for an interview, invite the contact to your launch party, or highlight a promo code for a free download of your product so they can [potentially] review. Finally, make sure you sign your name and leave a detailed email signature including all relevant contact info, website and social channels.
After working out the best format to deliver your pitch, focus on optimizing your delivery process. If you’re using Gmail, utilize the canned response tool to keep all variations of your messaging pre-loaded and ready for email insertion. Or even consider using a product like Mailchimp. This way, you can not only optimize your delivery process, but also your messaging. Their product offers several features including segmenting, A/B testing, and action tracking which can help you get the most out of your efforts.
A final thing to remember is to make yourself available. Things move quickly in this industry, so have your phone on you and email always open in case someone reaches out. Forcing a contact to wait is the quickest way to be passed over and avoided in the future. Keep in mind that your time spent on a successful PR campaign is an investment. Few activities have the ability to move the sales and marketing needle like widespread press coverage. Putting in the effort is the key to being rewarded.