Jason Berek-Lewis Creator, Healthy Startups
Image courtesy of http://www.getsocialpr.com
Startups, entrepreneurs, the disruptive nature of new technology - these are hot topics in the media right now. Just as it has never been easier to startup, this post will show you that it has never been easier to get media coverage for your startup.
Generating coverage still has its challenges. There is just so much noise right now and journalists and traditional or 'old' media organisations are feeling the stretch of budget cuts, falling circulation and the 24/7 or 140 character news cycle. The definition of media is also in flux and this can leave entrepreneurs and startups unsure of where to even start. If your aim is to generate more media coverage for your startup, read the tips below. If you want to learn more or want to discuss anything in this post, leave a comment below or contact me at https://twitter.com/#!/healthystartups
The one thing that your startup has that no competitor (large or small) can take away from you is your story. Why did you start up? Why are you seeking to disrupt industry X? What was your 'aha!' moment? How did your founders meet? Whyt did you choose that quirky name? What is the emotional response you hope that people have to your startup? What motivates you to get out of bed every morning, even when you are bootstrapping?
Answering these questions and more will help you to tell your startup story. Like any great story, yours should have a begining, a middle and an end. You might not think there is an end to your story, but think of your startup as a trilogy (we are all geeks, we all love trilogies, don't we?) - right now you are in Episode I or Episode II. There might even be a prequel you want to share...
When you do tell your story, remember this: the story is never about the technology you are developing. The story is always about people, motivation, triumph and loss. You might think that's melodramatic, but your daily newspaper isn't full of drama and conflict for no reason: if it sells papers, it will sell yiour startup story too.
Create your own content
Journalists and bloggers are time poor. Tens, maybe even hundreds of media/ press releases I have written have shown up online or in newspapers verbatim: the only thing that has been changed is the addition of the journalist's byline. The biggest thrill I get in my work is seeing a journalist cut and paste my media release into their newspaper: this means the issue has been covered exactly the way I wanted it to covered. I call it a 'media win'.
By creating your own content, either as a press release, an opinion article, a blog post or web copy you can also score your own 'media win'. One way to make this more likely is to write about the industry you are disrupting, rather than specifically writing about your startup. If someone working for Sickweather wrote an opinion piece about why tracking the spread of disease is important for public health and disease production, its more likely to be picked up by a local newspaper or a technology or healthcare blog than if the same person wrote a post/ article about how amazing Sickweather is as a service. Both articles can contain similar key messages/ key pionts, but I am sure you can see why the second approach is more attractive to a newspaper, blog or website editor.
When I started studying public relations in 1998 we were taught that 'media' meant television, radio and newspaper news. Now, almost a decade and a half later, the definition of 'media' is radically different. You might be after coverage in your local newspaper, a national newspaper, a state or national television or radio program, on a podcast or blog, or you might want to get your service mentioned in a widely distributed email newsletter.
Of course, there has always been niche media: health publications, hospital publications, health professional publications, IT journals, etc. Now, the diversity of media is even greater. Sure, your dream might be to be covered in the The New York Times or The Wall Strret Journal, or if you are a tech head you might be after a much coveted post on Mashable or Tech Crunch, but are these the best places to get coverage?
If you want 'everyone in the world' to know about your startup, then have a go at pitching one of the sites above. If you do get coverage, you will be noticed by millions and forgotten in miliseconds. Your startup will gain more benefit from a short article in relevant trade press or a post on an industry specific blog. Think of your (potential) users. What do they read? Answer that question and you will immediately know where you should be pitching.
Based on the paragraph above, you will want to know more about pitching journalists. Well, I am not going to tell you about that - at least not yet. One key tactic that will help you to secure more coverage is networking. Who knows the journalists or bloggers that cover your niche? Who knows the people who know the journalists and bloggers? Who do you know who has gotten coverage in a publication or blog that you would like to see your startup covered in?
Your network can help you to get covered in lots of different ways: they might hear about a journalist writing a story and let you know all about it, they might know a hungry journalist who is keen to prove they have a nose for a good story, they might be getting coverage themselves and become a source for a journalist who is always looking for something new to publish.
You should also get to know the journalists who cover your niche. Follow them and engage them on social media and blogs. Let them know that you enjoy their writing and why you enjoy it. Everyone loves to be told they are doing a good job, even journalists! Write a letter to the editor thanking the newspaper, journal or blog (and the journalist) thanking them for covering an issue that is relevant to your startup. Leave (positive) comments on a journalist or newspaper's blog. Positive engagement can help your name/ your company's name to get on a journalist's radar so that when your media release appears in their In Box they may be more likely to give your story a run.
Sharing a journalist's work on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other social media is also a great way to get them to notice you. But, don't just retweet every single story or blog post they write. Share the stories that resonate with you and let your followers (and the journalist) know why the story is worth sharing.
Networking is also a proactive way to build your own targeted media list. If you get to know (either in person or via email/ social media) many of the relevant journalists in your niche, you can start building their details into your own media contact list. Yes, you can always buy a list or pay a media release distribution service to send your media release to thousands of (totally random) media contacts, but you will have a better chance of getting coverage if you personally send your media release to 20 journalists who know and trust you.
If you are just starting out, you won't have a media list of journalists you personally know and you won't have any credibility in the bank as a source of great stories. When you are coming in at the ground level the best tool you have at your disposal, the one tactic you have up your sleeve that can help you secure coverage is your pitch.
If you make a cold telephone call or cold email or tweet to a journalist you have 20 seconds, one paragraph, one email subject line or 70 characters to use to catch their attention. Make it count. Your email subject line could read: YOU MUST WRITE THIS STORY! or you could try: New app cuts doctors' paper work by 1 hour a day. I know which email I would open.
The reality is that the first journalist who answers the phone, the first one who opens your email or visits your Facebook page probably won't write a story about you. But right now there is a journalist out there who is on deadline. They need to write a story - now! They are staring at the Blank Screen Of Death. Your email pitch could save their hide. What are you waiting for? Get pitching!
Who's your spokesperson?
Before you email that pitch, decide who your spokesperson is. Who in your startup will be the person that deals with the media, answers their questions, takes the time to help them to understand your niche? Choose one person in your startup to become the media poster boy/ girl and stick to it. For most startups, this will be your founder but there is no unwritten rule that says it must be your founder who speaks with the media. Find the best evangelist, someone who knows it all and make them the spokesperson. I know this sounds shallow, but if you are planning on pitching radio, podcast, television or web video programs, make sure your spokesperson is animated, articulate, confident and can talk their way through mud. There is not much point putting a wall flower in front of a television camera - they won't sell your startup.
Get some help
I could keep writing and writing, but I want to save some copy for a sequel to this post and I want to save your eyeballs from fatigue. You don't have to do all this PR stuff by yourself. There are plenty of online resources that can help, and there are PR types and consultancies that specialise in helping startups to promote themselves. There are even consultants who have a special interest in healthcare startups ;) If you do have questions, please contact me and I'll do my best to help out. Send me a shout out on Twitter (see https://twitter.com/#!/healthystartups) or leave a comment below.
Do you have another PR challenge that I can help with? Get in touch and I'll share what I can in a future post.