Life of FBi | Non-Tech Start-up Founder

Looks like a Chinaman, Sounds like an Aussie, Utterly Confusing

Lessons Learned from Getting a Ton of Press

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Disclosure: Although this is being published at my personal blog, 99.9% of credit for anything PR related should go to my co-founder, Danny Wong. The other 0.1% for me turning up to the photoshoots.  

If your startpup has less than $100k in runway, is less than 100 days old, and has less than 100 visitors a day, don’t use a PR firm. I don’t think you’ll be able to find a journalist who will tell you they’d rather receive a pitch from a junior media relations person at some PR firm than the founder of the company who lives, eats and breathes the story of the startup. With that said, how do you actually get journalists to care about you.

The Funnel: In a lot of ways, it’s not that dissimilar to business development with clients. For every 100 journalists you pitch, there will be 30 who open your email, 12 who reply to you, 5 of whom you can actually get on the phone with, and 3 who pitch the story to their editor and maybe one, if you’re lucky, who publishes the story. Let me say that if you’re got a 1/100 hit rate, you’re actually doing fairly okay. So before ever crafting a pitch, set up a CRM tool. At Blank Label and our new brand, Thread Tradition, we use HighRise. A CRM tool will help you keep track as you grow your database of journalists to the hundreds and thousands. It’ll help you visualize who is a warm lead so you can follow-up when you have new news, who is based where so you can meet them in person on travel, things you just won’t have visibility over when everything’s in your email.

Transaction vs Relationship: Obviously the earlier you start developing relationships the better but likely you’ll start just around launch of your product. It’s hard not to be very transactionally driven because you pitch, you follow-up, you follow-up and then if they’re not replying, you move on. From our experience, a lot of journalists really don’t like this approach and will likely blacklist you from their contact list. Damn! The relationship driven approach is replying to the journalists columns, dropping them really light emails with feedback on their article and nothing to do with your startup. After a few quality touch points, they will likely either ask you what you do (because they’ll just be curious and click on that link you’ve left in your email signature) or when you finally do drop the pitch, they’ll likely read the whole thing. Of course this takes a lot more time, both on a per journalist basis as well as needing to develop relationships weeks, if not months, before you want a story to go live. A lot of our bigger stories, we first reached out to the journalists 3-6 months prior.

Research: Something that will help a lot is doing your research up-front. This might sound like a no-brainer but read at least three articles of the journalist you’re about to reach out to. And drop a note about one of their articles in the first two sentences of the email, if in the subject line, even better. Research actually should take up 80% of your time doing PR. You’re reading anything in the news related to what you’re doing, e.g. small business sections of LA Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times; any publication relating to startups, e.g. Entrepreneur Mag, INC Mag, Fast Company; and industry specific publications. You’re learning which writer covers which sections of the publications, they’re writing styles. You’re following them on Twitter. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. At Blank Label, PR was one person’s full-time job.

Do you have any stories or advice on how startups can power their media relations efforts? Please feel free to add your tips in the comments below.


Written by Fan Bi

April 26, 2011 at 12:17 am

Posted in General

2 Responses

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  1. There aren’t very many blogs that actually share tactical advice on PR. I’ve actually seen Blank Label in quite a few publications including the ones you mentioned. Thanks for sharing.

    Jon Stephens

    May 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    • Completely agree. I haven’t been able to find a lot of advice online around how startups have gotten traction with publicists. Yet, for a lot of early stage consumer startups, it’s incredibly important.

      Fan Bi

      May 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm

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