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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a little help guide in press best practices.
- 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 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?
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.