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  • Writer's pictureZach Servideo

6 PR Tips for Startups

Successful PR strategies are driven by compelling storytelling and authentic relationship building. Here’s how to get it right.

I’ve been in PR since I was 10 years old. In 1995 I discovered Tiger Super Data Blasters. I convinced my fellow classmates to request Data Blasters for Christmas and coached my friends not only on how to monitor sports stats, but also how to send messages so that we could gossip during class. I was a natural.

Since the Data Blaster, I’ve worked with hundreds of businesses to help them build their brands through successful PR campaigns. Here are six tips to get your company’s PR off the ground.

1. Craft a Narrative People Will Care About

You can’t pay people to care. You must persuade them. You have to earn your audience’s attention with a credible narrative. One of my all-time favorite press releases is Moat’s introduction of the Moat Video Score. Moat checked numerous credibility boxes with a who’s who list of partners advocating for the Moat Video Score at launch.

Now, while a great press release is table stakes to showing up to the press conference, the approach you take to media outreach is critical.

2. Don't Waste Reporters' Time

If you’ve ever been around reporters, or followed them closely on Twitter, this is their biggest complaint. They get hundreds and hundreds of useless press releases and email pitches. They’re far more likely to respond to messages specifically tailored to their interests. Even if they don’t write about your story immediately, they’re much more likely to respect your time because you respect theirs and will open your emails in the future.

Find the handful of writers who would actually care and pitch them thoughtful stories. If your media list is over 100 people long, you’re doing it wrong.

I advise a quality over quantity approach. Instead of 100, focus on no more than 10 journalists at a time. Then, read through the past articles from each reporter you contact, and find some common threads in their writing to allude to in your talking points when you call or email them.

3. Have an Angle

People are launching companies and products every day. What about your story fits with what the writer typically covers? Is it a local story? Is it about a topic the writer has expertise in? Pick a lane.

Basically, be able to answer the question: “Why should anyone care?” “Because I spent a lot of time on my thing” is not the correct answer.

For example, I know the tech reporter at Variety appreciates bootstrapped businesses who punch above their weight in the entertainment industry. When a friend of mine left a heavily venture capital-backed media measurement business for a bootstrapped YouTube advertising startup, I knew I could play up the David versus Goliath angle to land a Variety profile story.

4. Give Writers Time

Believe it or not, writers aren’t just waiting around to write about you. Set a clear embargo date for your press release. You need to give reporters a minimum of two weeks for any pitch, and more like a month, if you can.

I’ve corresponded with reporters for over a year on various stories before they found the time and angle that fit what they thought was appropriate for the publication. Truthfully, I’ve heard from several reporters that they’d love to cover this or that, but simply don’t have the time. Even if you receive a polite decline, that’s a good sign you’ve at least crafted a decent pitch.

5. Provide Writers With Everything They Need

Don’t make writers hunt for basic information (remember what we said about not wasting writers’ time?). This isn’t uncovering the Watergate scandal. Make it easy for the writer.

Be sure you have contact info for interviewees, images/videos, an official press release, etc. in an email (or better yet in a Dropbox folder they can reference without having to download on their own machine).

6. Follow Up, but Don't Be Pushy

My general rule is: It’s OK to follow up once a week after you send your pitch and once the day before your press release or announcement goes live. If I received a reply of some sort expressing initial interest, I might press a little more and follow up within the same week, but never more than that.

If you’ve made your two pitches but didn’t hear back, move on.

Remember: PR is About People.

PR, from the writers to the readers, is all about people and their stories. Be honest. Don’t promise exclusives if you’re not going to honor them. Don’t lie about having access if you don’t have it. If your entire PR plan is sending out the same cold email press release to a list of email addresses you only took three seconds to look up, don’t be surprised when your effort is completely wasted.

And remember: PR is only one tactic in your wider marketing arsenal — don’t spend all your time on it.

PR doesn’t directly drive sales, but it does elevate your brand to a larger audience that enters your marketing funnel, thus indirectly enabling sales opportunities. If you don’t have structured plans in place for intake and continued marketing to build a long-term engagement with customers, then you’re squandering an opportunity that only comes along two to three times a year, at best.

Your company is never going to get covered on a monthly or even quarterly basis without significant investment and a variety of stories to tell. Be prepared for when you do land that unique story and, in the meantime, keep your momentum going through other channels, such as email marketing, direct sales and social media.


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