Alex's Tech Thoughts

Your News Is Not Interesting

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The biggest mistake I see startups make regarding public announcements is that they assume that just because they exist or that they want to announce something that the press will cover it.

Newsflash: Your news is not interesting.

No one is going to carbon copy your press release or blog post.

Nobody cares.

You need to make them care.

You need to take time to carve out an interesting story for anyone to care.

An interesting story is not that different from a pitch or storytelling to customers or investors. You need to pique the interest of the reporter and get them excited about whatever it is you are announcing.

But don’t forget what your company goals are for the press. It could be to announce yourself for the first time, it could be to get inbound customers, investors, talent or something else entirely. Whatever the reason behind wanting to get press (you always have to have a main reason) it will dictate where you should be pitching your story. There are different outlets for different goals. This will also help with making your news interesting.

Just make sure you don’t mistake seeing a lot of startups and announcements covered in the press as it being easy. The companies (or their PR agency), most of the time, found an interesting-enough-story to cover. For a startup new to getting press, doing it right is very hard.

So, in summary, your news is not interesting and no one cares. Once you accept that simple fact you need to take the time and carve out a story to make your announcement interesting and to get reporters to care about (and subsequently cover) you.

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Slow Dripping News

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I’ve been interested in the dynamics around press and startups since joining Aviary back in 2010. One of the co-founders took me under his wing, teaching me some of the ins and outs of putting together a story, pitching, and generally getting someone covering tech to be interested in covering a product launch. I’ve taken the knowledge I’ve learned there and applied it to all my endeavors as well as with helping other companies get out there publicly.

I’ve been involved with announcements on everything from fundraising and product releases to partnerships and new hires. Sometimes it is an exclusive and other times it is embargo’d with a bunch of outlets covering. One thing I haven’t tried yet is slow dripping news. What I mean by that is having enough news or content that even if someone gets an exclusive, there is still so much “stuff” that is interesting and exciting that the shelf life is long and there is a lot more opportunity for coverage. We (@SocialRank) have some things coming out before the end of the year and I think one of them really fits this criteria, so I’m excited to try it out.

Have you ever had news you could slow drip? How’d it work out? Hit me up here or on email (Ataub24@gmail.com)

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How Much Time Before An Announcement Should You Reach Out To A Reporter When Trying To Get Coverage?

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I’ve been around the block with product announcements, fundraising news, and everything in between from my time at Aviary and now at SocialRank (I didn’t do any press stuff at Dwolla; Jordan there was a stud). I’ve always struggled with the time-frame necessary to give a reporter enough time when trying to get coverage. I don’t have all the answers and I think the real answer is that it really depends and is situational. However, I think I’ve nailed down the time-frame for giving a reporter a heads-up about an upcoming product release and would love to share it here.

Let’s take a hypothetical upcoming product announcement that is newsworthy (i.e. you have a cool story that said reporter might be interested). Let’s say you plan to release it on September 24th, 2014. From my experience the best time to make first contact to set up a time to either get on the phone or meet in person is 9/4 or 9/5. Now it may seem like a long time before release but you need to give yourself some breathing room in case a) the reporter doesn’t respond and you need to try someone else b) they don’t have availability the next week but do the week after.

Hitting up the reporter on a Thursday or Friday also allows you to follow up early the next week if you don’t receive a response. The goal in your pitch is to give enough to information to pique their interest but not enough that you have nothing to talk about or show when you end up talking.

If someone doesn’t respond to the initial reach out or the follow up then it is fair game to hit up someone else from that organization in the attempt to get their interest. But never, ever mass email all of the reporters together because this is a) annoying, b) will piss them off, and c) they will either not cover you or cover you in a mean way (it has happened before).

Lastly, whenever you can, try to get a warm introduction to a reporter. They get hit up a lot and if you go in through the route of a friend or business relation you have 100x chance of them being interested in at least reading your email.

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Timing With Press

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If you’ve never worked with reporters or been involved with press announcements you may not know how to deal with timing when going to reporters with news. Over the past few years I’ve generally learned how to deal with it. Knowing this doesn’t mean that everyone that you want will cover your news, but it does make sure you give reporters enough time to get back to you and decide if it is interesting enough for them.

To explain timing I’ll use SocialRank’s recent funding and product announcement. We announced the funding and new product on May 13th at 11am ET. To make sure we received coverage I began reaching out to reporters on May 1st and 2nd (a Thursday and Friday).

The messaging in the reach-out was that we’d have some news coming out on the week of the 11th (not needing to commit to a hard date yet) and that we wanted to give them an early look. I also said that it would be a combination of a fundraise news, a new product, and some numbers sharing. This gave them enough to pique their interest. I also tried to keep it short.

Some got back to me immediately saying they were interested in chatting. Others got back and said it wasn’t a good fit for them or that they’d pass. I scheduled times to sit down with the ones who were interested. Ones that didn’t respond got a follow up email on Tuesday and Wednesday (in this case May 5th or 6th).

At the same time I put together two blog posts about our announcements (not one post on purpose in this case). At the end of speaking on the phone or in person with reporters I told them that I would follow up with a firm date of announcement and the unpublished blog. Within 24 hours of talking I sent them the blog posts and the hard date.

From there you need to make sure that the reporters, who want to cover you, have everything they need to be successful. This is everything from trying the product to giving them an answer to any question they might have.

And this is it. Cross your fingers that it all works out. It is mostly out of your hands. Some people plan on covering and it falls to the wayside because something bigger comes out at the same time, but this post should be a good indicator of the timing around dealing with press.

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The Blitz

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I went to breakfast with a friend last week and we got to talking about product and company launches.

One of the things we agreed on was that if you do a blowout launch, or what we called “The Blitz,” it can be the best thing or the worst thing for your company. The Blitz is basically doing press everywhere (usually with someone like a NYT or WSJ leading the charge. Think of a company like Brewster’s launch).

If you do it right it can turn you into the leader in your business space overnight. But if you do it wrong, it can be deadly for your startup.

I have a few companies in mind that have done it right and some that have done it wrong. The point of this post is: you need to consider carefully whether you want to perform the blitz when you launch (and anyone can do this either by themselves or by hiring a PR agency). It may be to your own detriment.

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The Roller-Coaster That Is The Startup World

If you’ve worked at a startup then you know the ups and downs that you can experience. Startups are not for the faint of heart. In one month you can experience everything from panic, elation, gratitude, fear, anger, indifference, joy, grief, frustration, relief, pride, jealousy, generosity, and much more.

One day you have raised money from the biggest names in the technology space, the next day you announce on TechCrunch- riding high on all the buzz about your company. Then a week later the press is gone, the product doesn’t work exactly as you had hoped, and your active user-base is dwindling by the day. It takes a special kind of person to dig deep, hunker down, and keep focus on building the best product possible. Vin Vacanti just wrote a great post about The Depressing Day After You Get TechCrunch’d

Bottom line: While startups have been glorified recently with everything from TV shows on Bravo to crazy parties — they are a lot more difficult than they may seem. Before you start or join a startup you need to remember that you will have ups and downs- but it is all worth it when you build a great product and positively affect people’s lives.

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Thoughts On Hiring A PR Agency (For Startups)

When I was doing research for my Warby Parker article for Forbes, a few weeks back, I read on Quora about how they so quickly became so popular. For their launch, they hired a PR agency and got into GQ. Then Daily Candy picked it up for their nationwide email blast and orders poured in. Not a bad bang for your buck.

Some people and writers in the startup space have negative feelings towards PR people. For writer, they think they are too much of a buffer between the writer and founder, they want direct access. For startup people, sometime they don’t think they are getting enough value for the cost (which means they should either reset their expectations or find a new PR person). While hearing some of those arguments, I think when done well a PR agency can take a company to the next level.

A good example is the well-known PR agency in NY, Brew PR. They are the go-to PR firm for startups (go-to meaning that they decide they want to work with you, which is not easy :P). They are known for many things, but especially for helping Groupme grow and sell within a year for $80M+ (on the communications and public relations side of things). They perfectly managed and delivered unique stories to different outlets, keeping Groupme in the public eye at all times. I’m actually surprised no press outlet has ever written (to my knowledge) about how influential and strategic Brew was in the execution of public relations for them. Maybe it is too late to write about it now.

Anyways, I think that if the PR agency can facilitate proper communication to outlets as well as develop and deliver a broader strategy then they are definitely worthwhile for a startup. I do, however, think that if you can, the best would be to have that killer PR/communications person in-house. It might be more costly, but if done well, can pay off in a big way.

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The Three C’s For Press

I haven’t been slinging the press rock for some time now but someone recently asked me how they could make their press pitch more effective. I responded by saying that your pitch should be well crafted, concise and compelling. The three c’s.

This is actually the case whether you know the journalist or not. 

Having a well-crafted pitch/story is obvious. You need to be able to string together a story. What is the news you are trying to get the reporter to write about?

Keeping it concise should be pretty self-explanatory. The writer is probably inundated with pitches and if you want there to be a high chance of your email being read, you’d better keep it short.

Lastly, making it compelling is the key to any good pitch. Why is what you are pitching important? What is unique about it?

If you can take that well-crafted story, make it compelling, and keep it short, you have a shot at getting covered. 

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Startup Press: Dos and Don’ts

Here is a little help guide in press best practices.

Dos:

- Do give your press contact a day or two to write the article. When covering the beat, it is easy to miss something to write about if not given enough time to put together a respectable piece on whatever it is you’re announcing. If you are afraid to give it to them with enough time because you think they will “break” the embargo then you are not close enough to them to ask for an embargo.

- Do give your press contact a clear story. You should be able to summarize it in one sentence. You will get bonus points (and be able to control the message more) if after you talk with the press, you send them an unpublished blog post that they can lift information from. This helps remove any barriers of press people covering you (ie they can tell you they forgot any details).

- Do thank your press contact for covering you after they write the article. Try to help them out by sending them cool and interesting stories that come your way. They will be appreciative and want to continue to cover you down the road.

Don’t:

- Don’t give the same exact story to 10 different outlets. If you can’t spin the story for different audiences, then you should probably go the route of offering one big outlet an exclusive.

- Don’t try to sell the idea of your company’s existence as news. Unless you are a previously successful entrepreneur who just starting a company, you need to actually be launching your product to get coverage.

- Don’t blindly email the same exact story to every tech reporter. It is not hard to tell that you didn’t do the legwork to craft an original email that is relevant to that specific reporter because of what they cover and their overall readership demographic. They are also mostly in the same circles, so they might even chat about it.

Protip: each tech outlet usually shares a chat group (often in skype) and they talk to each other about things that come in. All the time. Try not to email multiple folks at the same outlet if you don’t know them. They will find it mildly annoying.

Any other great Dos and Don’ts?

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Best Practice Of Press Release

There are many articles about dealing with press out there, not so many around dealing with the actual release.

When your company has something to announce to the public, the best thing to do is put together a company blog post that outlines exactly how you would like the news to be viewed and consumed by the outside world.

Once you have the blog post ready it is time to start talking to various outlets (which outlet(s) depends on if it is something embargoed or exclusive). You should understand which audience you are trying to reach. Investors? Developers? Consumers? Some other demographic? Then you should match the outlet(s) with the proper demographic you are trying to reach. This article can tell you more info on that.

I’ll skip the part about getting in front of the press writers and jump to the discussion you should be having.

You should have your talking points and things you’d like to get across in the conversation. Tell your story, product release, etc. to the journalist. Explain to them why they and their readership should care. Once they have committed to covering the news, you should share with them a password protected unpublished blog post. You should do this for a few reasons:

1) They can refer to it when they are writing up their piece if they don’t catch something or you don’t have enough time to give them the entire story on the phone/in-person.

2) Journalists write many stories a day while covering their respective beat. You are making their lives easier by assisting them in covering you (taking down any barriers for them is key).

3) You can publish the post and then let them link to your company, driving traffic to you and your news.

Announcing the news via a company blog post is the best practice when releasing press. It gives the company control of how they would like the news to be covered.

Look at some of the best technology companies with new releases- usually the press refers to their blog post (see Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

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