Top PR and Media Secrets for Startups

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Last week, BIGfish CEO Dave Richard took to the virtual stage with fellow media professionals for a Clubhouse discussion on “PR & Media Secrets for Startups.” Joined by Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner, InkHousePR’s Beth Monaghan, Uber’s Sasha Hoffman, and TechCrunch’s Natasha Mascarenhas, the Room offered honest advice for startups looking to build buzz in the media. The panel even brought up a few lucky entrepreneurs to the stage who were able to ask questions about their own ventures! In case you missed it, check out some of the key takeaways from the conversation below. 

What do PR agencies look for in a client? 

Depending on the company’s size, client roster and scope, PR agencies look for a variety of different criteria when it comes to taking on new clients. As Beth from InkHouse noted, while many inquiries come from companies in “emergent situations” looking for immediate help, those clients are rarely taken on. Storytelling works best when you start at the beginning. 

At BIGfish, a boutique-style agency, we find ourselves frequently in touch with startups looking for support when getting off the ground. For CEO and Founder Dave, BIGfish is like “a VC firm – if we wouldn’t invest in the company or product a client is selling, we won’t work with them.” As a small tech agency, BIGfish is able to be very selective with client proposals. In the industry of tech and innovation, entrepreneurs and inventors are not sitting still, and we’re excited to see new companies growing every day!  

How should startups best tell their story? 

When it comes to storytelling for startups, the whole panel agreed that the most important aspect is knowing your audience. Your first step is defining who should be reading about your company – new customers, investors, or even competitors. Sasha pointed out that startups don’t actually need everyone to read your story – you only need the right people to read your story. It’s about quality over quantity. By thoughtfully prioritizing the outlets you pitch and doing your research, your media coverage will be much more meaningful for your business goals. As Natasha from TechCrunch noted, a story that runs in The New York Times about a product looks very different from a story in TechCrunch about that same product. Understanding your audience will help you know how to tell your story. 

A central value for the BIGteam that Dave pointed out during the discussion is “at the end of the day, storytelling is really key.” This is the best way to increase engagement and build a relationship with your audience. There are several ways to help get your story told. Scott recommends following journalists and influencers in your startup’s industry to curate a list of those already shaping the conversation. In addition, tapping into trade publications can be a great way to get your startup’s name out there, as those verticals have an important incentive to tell new stories changing their industry.

Reporters don’t want to tell the same story someone else has. Both Dave and Beth agreed that while Scott would take their call to hear about a new client or interesting announcement, he’ll only run the piece if it’s a good story worth telling. 

How much $ do you need to raise before journalists cover your funding? 

While we all wish there was a magic number that would guarantee funding coverage, Natasha Mascarenhas let us know that is not the case. Instead, coverage is reliant on how unique your story is. In the tech industry, it is common for announcements to be formulaic and fall flat, but with an interesting, timely hook, your story is more likely to be covered. While Natasha conceded that, “If you are just a coding bootcamp, we probably won’t cover you,” she also acknowledged that if your story is spun out of a unique situation or distinctive insight, your announcement becomes a lot more newsworthy. 

Journalists see hundreds of pitches every day, and as Dave noted, it’s important to not sit on the decades-old formula of media relations. A lot of startups simply look at the competitive landscape and use it as precedent. Instead, it’s best to break the mold and highlight your individuality. If journalists weren’t optimists, they wouldn’t be covering startups! Now is the time to show them how you’re different. 

When is the right time to hire an agency? 

After a few questions from the audience, the final guest on the stage asked one of the age-old questions for any business or startup gaining traction: at what point is it worth it to start working with an agency? There are several ways startups can tackle PR – you can take a DIY approach, with all media relations coming from your team, you can hire in-house help for assistance with media outreach, or you can hire an agency to outsource media relations, social media, thought leadership and more.  

The decision to hire an agency or mobilize on PR initiatives in-house should be contingent on your startup’s bandwidth and budget. When just starting out, it may be more cost effective to take the DIY approach, or even hire interns to help out and learn with you! As you start to grow, a smaller PR agency can serve as a great extension of your own internal team – and will aggressively fight for your business through passionate, hard work. 

For startups, it can be useful to “keep your powder dry as long as possible,” as Dave mentioned. But once the time is right, bringing on an agency to serve as your partner and resource will only help bring your startup to the next level. 

Have any other insights for startups looking to build buzz in the media? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter

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