Over the past 10 months, I’ve met with dozens of startup founders in San Francisco. Mostly early stage, these founders know that branding and public relations play a big role in a company’s success, and they’re smart to think about it early. But the question I often get is: What if I can’t afford external PR help yet?
As a professional who works at a PR firm, you might be surprised by my response: You can do it on your own. PR is not rocket science. While it certainly requires skill that’s gained through years of experience, first-timers can certainly get their feet wet. It just takes some education, thick skin and flexibility to learn as you go. After all, entrepreneurs are fast learners, familiar with navigating the unknown and pivoting when necessary.
While this is a very simplified breakdown, here are 5 tips for pitching yourself to media.
- First, identify three journalists who might write about you or your product/service. Start by choosing the publications your target audience reads, and then choose the appropriate writers from there. Who are the beat reporters covering your space? What journalist names do you see most frequently in your industry? If you have trouble, look no further than your competitors. Search the articles they’ve been covered in and target those same journalists. If they’ve written about your competitors, there’s a greater chance they’d be interested in you, too.
- Next, track down emails. PR firms subscribe to services such as Cision, Meltwater or MuckRack for this, but there are less expensive options, too. Lots of journalists include emails in their social media bios (Twitter, most often). Some may give it to you in response to a polite LinkedIn message. Or, a tool I love and recommend is RocketReach. You can get five free look-ups per month or pay a modest price of $50, $100 or $300 for monthly packages. Still, it won’t break the bank.
- Next comes the media pitch. Write down three reasons why your company or product is unique. Why is it better than your competitors? What need does it fill? Who cares about your product, and why should people care about it right now? Do you have a particularly captivating personal story? That’s the basis of your pitch.
- For the ever-important email subject line, work backwards (nowadays, pitches are 95% email). Think about it in terms of a headline. What headline could you imagine your company in? Can you highlight a trend you’re a part of? Is your product satisfying an unmet need? Have a controversial point-of-view? The key is standing out in a reporter’s cluttered inbox, and the first thing they see is the subject line, so draw them in.
- Now you’ve got your pitch and an email address, so it’s time to hit send. Get right to the point, because journalists receive hundreds of pitches per day. If you don’t get a response at first, follow up on the same chain a day or two later with a brief note along the lines of “Hi Joe, any bandwidth to learn more?” The follow-up email increases response rates tremendously. If you still don’t hear back, it could be for several reasons, and probably just means your strategy needs to be adjusted. Perhaps you didn’t go to the right reporters. Perhaps you didn’t get to the point fast enough. Perhaps they don’t think it’s newsworthy, or recently wrote about something similar. Or, maybe they want you on the TODAY Show tomorrow morning (glass-half-full attitude).
Whatever your experience or comfort level, just start. Journalists are used to working with PR middlemen/women, but often prefer hearing directly from a founder.
And hey, if you don’t see success or have the time to pitch yourself, there are plenty of professionals to tap. Who knows, one New York Times article could be a game-changer and usher in thousands of new customers, and then you can afford a PR firm to do it for you.
Think we might be able to help your startup gain momentum with media? Let’s talk. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
West Coast Lead
I’m Brooks, an award-winning PR pro with a passion for telling the stories of innovative companies changing the way we live, work or play. Based in San Francisco, I serve as West Coast Lead for the agency.