Ask anyone in PR how to get media coverage for your startup and they will tell you that you should be building relationships. They will add that cold calling and sending out press releases is the worst way. One single friend in the media will get you more coverage than a long list of email addresses, echoing the Startup Grind value “Make friends not contacts”.
What they usually do not tell you is exactly how you build these relationships. I have worked on both sides, sometimes pitching to journalists in my PR role and sometimes chasing entrepreneurs in my freelance role so I can explain exactly how to do it.
You get these relationships simply by being someone they can find and someone they can trust. Journalists always work on deadlines. They do not have much time for searching and less for waiting. This means that all you have to do is to be helpful and dependable, even when you are not pitching your own startup.
How exactly do you do this? There are five things you need to do:
First of all you need to be visible. if you are not easy to find nobody will ever think of talking to you. A journalist searching for sources will use their existing contacts or ask Google. If you are not already in their rolodex you can at least come up in searches by talking about your field or just startups in general on social media and in your blog. Make sure that your real name is on all of these things or this will never work. Take every opportunity to speak at events, too. This gets your name and bio on the event website and gives you something else to post on social media about.
Second you need to be 'findable'. Many times I have had to drop an idea to talk to a startup just because the people were hard to contact. Make sure that someone can find you personally by googling your name, and make sure that your company website has real human names and actual contact information. A webform promising a response in 48 hours is no use and will be ignored. At the very least have a firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com email address, but frankly I would rather see the name of the founders and their email addresses. Whichever address you use make sure that someone is monitoring it. And if you ever hope to be in mainstream news a phone number is a must-have.
Third you need to be reliable. Whichever email you use, someone has to respond quickly. When I am writing an article I need to know if you have received my message and that you are interested. If you do not reply quickly I have no idea if you are going to reply eventually or if you never saw the message so I ask someone else instead. If you do promise to send an answer by Thursday then make sure that you do it. Quite often there is zero margin for delays so a late response means that you miss a chance to help with this article. Worse, I might never ask you again. But if you respond quickly and keep your promises you end up in my list of dependable sources, which is exactly where you want to be.
Fourth you need to be helpful. Just answering quickly isn’t actually enough. You also need to help in some way. This means that if you are asked a question make sure that you read it carefully and answer the question. And if you cannot answer the question directly you can still be helpful by suggesting someone else or some other way to find the right source. “I do not know but you could try Anne Other “ is actually pretty useful, as is “I do not know but maybe someone at Startup Grind could help”. Whatever you do make sure you give some sort of response because the worst reply to any question from a journalist is the California no – simply not answering. Always answer quickly, even if you are not able to help. This also helps create the impression that you are a good source.
Fifth, you should be doing this personally. Don’t leave talking to media to an underling. You will get much more mileage by doing this yourself. First of all this delights journalists. Talking to the boss is much faster and simpler because you are not hearing “I will see what I can do” all the time. This also builds your visibility and credibility in a way that no other person can do. When your company gets some traction you might need some professional PR help, but at the beginning the PR contact should be the founder and on the website the PR contact email should be yours, or the firstname.lastname@example.org email address should forward to the account you always monitor.
When the day comes that you need to pitch your new company, a new app or whatever all of this will help. You will not be the random stranger cold calling with a spammy press release, you will be someone they know and trust. In PR, too, making friends is better than making contacts.
Andrew Hennigan is a communication consultant, business school lecturer and freelance journalist, speaking and writing about communications, culture, technology and human factors related to innovation. He teaches courses about social media, networking and influencing for graduate students at the IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management. He lectures about effective communication and the impact of culture on communication, management and innovation in conferences and company workshops. He also coaches speakers for events and ghost-writes articles for busy people. Current based in Stockholm, Sweden.