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As someone who has used public relations to grow multiple businesses, I often hear stories of entrepreneurs struggling to get press for their startups.
I know how frustrating it can be. From the outside, the media world can seem impossibly difficult to crack.
The truth is that there is no “secret sauce” to getting press. You don’t need years of industry experience or a gigantic rolodex to get PR.
As I’ll show you below, following a few simple tips can help you get into some of the world’s biggest publications.
1. Get your basics right
You should never have to fumble for words or throw around jargon whenever a journalist asks, “What does your startup do?” You should have a one-sentence, easy to understand explanation for your business that any journalist can follow and get excited about.
This might sound like Startup 101, but it is critical to getting press. Journalists have a tough job: they have to make somtimes dull business or tech topics sound interesting to readers. Sure, you could describe Uber as a “mobile peer-to-peer logistics facilitator,” but that will excite neither journalists nor readers.
I prefer the Adeo Rossi mad libs approach, in which you distill your startup’s definition, demographic and differentiator into a single one-sentence structure. This will keep your description easy to understand for anyone (including journalists).
2. Pick off low-hanging fruit first
Much of PR revolves around building relationships with influencers and journalists. This is a process that requires time, commitment and lots of patience.
However, there is one tactic that can get you in front of press fairly quickly. It involves using HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to get press mentions.
HARO is a service that connects writers, bloggers and journalists with sources. Journalists put up requests and state their requirements. If you meet these requirements and have something relevant to say (and the experience to back it), you can walk right into some top-tier publications.
I suggest picking off such “low-hanging fruit” first since it doesn’t require building connections or drawing in journalists. You can get press mentions by going where journalists already are and giving them what they need: sources for their stories.
Related: Pitching Your Startup to the Media
3. Weave a story into your pitch
If there is any “secret sauce” in PR, it is storytelling.
Storytelling is how you turn a generic idea into something your target audience (in our case, journalists and influencers) can understand and relate to. As the Harvard Business Review points out, character-driven stories vastly improve trust and empathy, which is critical if you want to stand out in crowded inboxes.
The key to successful storytelling for PR is to associate a general idea with an experience a journalist can identify with. Don’t tell journalists and bloggers about the “256-bit encryption” in your online storage system. Instead, remind them of the fear and panic they felt when they last lost their critical data.
If you can weave stories into your pitches and relate them to the everyday experiences of your target audience, you will win big at PR.
4. Use Quora and Reddit as influencer bait
An oft-repeated advice in PR blogs is to give value to influencers and journalists before you ask for anything in return.
One way I do that is by finding and commenting on relevant Quora and Reddit threads. Then I ask a leading expert in that field, say, content marketing, whether she would like to share her insights in that thread.
This does three things:
- I establish my credentials within the community on Quora and Reddit, while gaining some visibility
- I get a reason to email influencers and invite them into the conversation. I’m giving them value instead of the other way around
- I acknowledge the influencer as a leading authority in a field, which is probably something they don’t mind hearing
This is a powerful but little-used way to kickstart a relationship with an influencer.
5. Find and organize your outreach list
Successful PR is organized and process-focused. You don’t just reach out to a handful of influencers one day and forget about them for weeks. You must have a structured list of targets and an organized way to reach out to them.
I usually build my list of targets by searching Google News for my business’ target space (say “peer sharing” for a car sharing app or “personalized travel” for a travel concierge service). If I find that a journalist has written more than two stories about a particular space, I add them to a growing spreadsheet of prospects.
I then browse their stories to get an idea of what kind of topics and angles they’re interested in. This also gives me an idea of their personality and tone so I can mirror it in my emails.
It’s also a good idea to create an outreach hierarchy. Top-tier publications like TechCrunch go at the top, followed by industry-specific blogs, followed by generic blogs and finally, individual-owned blogs in the industry. This way, you can change the level of personalization in your outreach as per the prestige of the publication.
6. Capture attention with your subject line
Subject lines are critical for any kind of email outreach, but I don’t need to tell you this. You already know because you delete countless emails based on the subject line alone.
For successful outreach, my goal is to use a subject line that captures the reader’s attention. I want them to think, “This looks interesting…” and open the email to reader further, where my pitch will weave its magic.
In this Dan Shure interview with Kerry Jones, Jones points out three of my go-to tactics to write effective subject lines:
- Use data: Hard data and numbers that back up a claim always seem to excite journalists. If you’re pitching a story that has some stats, put it front and center in your pitch.
- Evoke curiosity: Use the curiosity gap tactic implemented by Upworthy, Buzzfeed and your favorite clickbait publication. Essentially, make an assertion in the subject line but leave the resolution in the body copy.
- Write subject lines like headlines: One way to write compelling subject lines is to treat them like article headlines. Use the same tactics, like power words or emotional copy, as you would in a shareable blog post.
7. Write a stellar pitch
There are two kinds of emails you’ll send in your PR efforts, including:
- Relationship building emails: Usually sent to influencers, bloggers and senior journalists. Your job in these emails is to start conversations and to be helpful.
- Story pitching emails: Usually sent to journalists covering a specific beat or seeking answers for a particular story. Your job in these emails is to attract and retain attention.
For the first type of message, I like to send emails answering questions journalists publicly asked, on Twitter for example, or send them information about something that might interest them. Make it about them, not yourself.
For the second type of email, you must come up with interesting angles for your pitch. Building a tool that helps criminal investigators discover links in data? How about pitching it as a tool to catch serial killers?
Alternatively, share data and exclusive insight the publication’s readers would enjoy. For instance, if you just polled 10,000 Snapchat users about their favorite lenses, share the results with someone who writes about social media.
Conclusion on press
Getting press mentions isn’t rocket science. All it takes is following a structured, well-organized process. If you can follow the above tips, you will find it easy to get into top publications and build relationships with your favorite influencers.