Whether you’re shooting for new employees, striving to boost your traffic, or just want to get the conversation going about your product, you should consider focusing hard on your marketing (colloquially called “PR”). In this article, we’ll show you tips and tricks for getting the word out on your product via writers and articles, and avoiding the common trap of ignoring marketing as a fledgeling startup.
I’ve done my own PR for several of my projects, mostly pre-seed/seed stage, in order to get initial traction (see Bits on FastCompany, RefreshBox on TechCrunch, SonyaBot on VentureBeat, BlingChat on EliteDaily and more). I’d like to share my success with you: how I did it and how you should do it, plus the emails I wrote to get featured.
In most cases, PR takes time. From my experience, these days it’s harder to get significant media coverage. Five years ago an investment round of $1M was significant cash; today it is far less appealing (think more than $4M). If getting backed by Y Combinator was a reason to cover your startup, it’s not enough these days in most cases. Consider this when you decide to do your own PR. If you have the capital and a strong recommendation of a PR freelancer or agency (effective ones are hard to find), you should consider outsourcing your PR. If you’re like the rest of us startups, and don’t have that kind of cash to spread around, you should do it yourself.
Finding the relevant outlets
Choose the outlets you pitch to that match your goal. For example, if you have an epilepsy seizure alert product and you want customers, you should attempt to connect with outlets that are popular with parents of epileptic children. If you want to hire new developers, pitch to a tech magazine. It’s worth mentioning that when you pitch to big outlets (for example, TechCrunch), there is a chance the article will be syndicated to other outlets as well so you can expand your reach. Indiehackers works is a similar way; writing or sharing articles for the Articles section about your company can also improve your chances at hiring.
You probably know your market, so at least you have some idea about the relevant outlets. You can expand the list by using SimilarWeb (in the example below you can see similar sites to TechCrunch). Tools like these can help you understand how much traffic your potential outlet has and where the traffic comes from geographically.
You should also Google the relevant keywords for your company and see what publications you find. Finally, if you are looking to gain users, and you already have early adopters, your best marketing move is to talk to them. Ask them where they read news about your market. It’s a surprisingly straightforward and simple way of uncovering possible outlet leads for your marketing strategy.
When we pitched Bits, an app for short comedy videos, our goal was to get more actors and comedians to create content on the app. We talked with some of our early adopters (who were actors and comedians) and they suggested FastCompany, Complex magazine and Vulture. We pitched to additional outlets, but these three were our main focus.
Finding the relevant writers
Once you find the outlets, make a list of relevant writers in each one and prioritize them. Start by searching for relevant keywords on the outlet itself (for example, with Bits I searched for Comedy, Vine, New App and more). See who wrote related articles, and check out all the articles written by those writers (really, you don’t have to read thoroughly, just understand how relevant they are to your project). The writer's relevance isn’t binary either; it’s a spectrum, really. Make a spreadsheet and score the writers’ relevance. For example, when pitching RefreshBox (content curation platform) to Sarah Perez of TechCrunch, I noticed she had written about content curation and that she writes a lot about consumers products. When pitching Bits to KC Ifeanyi of FastCompany I noticed he tends to write about entertainment and pop culture, but sometimes about tech as well. That intersection was my way in. When you research the different reporters, check out their Twitter as well, it should give you a good sense of what they care about right now, and sometimes they might even write that they are looking to talk to someone like you (if you’re super lucky). Don’t check just the tweets, either; check out the retweets & replies. Who knows what kind of information you’ll find that might be relevant to your project.
Find the writer’s email
You have several ways to do this:
- It might be available on the writer's page in the media outlet (click on his/her name);
- It could be listed on their Twitter bio;
- Use EmailHunter (it’s free);
- Install Clearbit’s chrome extension.
- Use your common sense ([email protected] and other common options).
Tip #1: If you type an email address in Gmail, hover over it, and check if you can see four blue icons below (near the “ add to contacts”). If you don’t, it’s not likely the email (still, it could be, but it’s unlikely).
**Tip #2: **In some cases, the Twitter handle can also be the prefix of the email. This method can be a longshot sometimes, but not a bad place to start.
Writing the email
This is the most time-consuming phase because you need to adjust the email to the angle that would most likely appeal to the writer (this requires research, and Twitter becomes handy here).
However, there are some broad rules which are applicable to most writers:
- They get tons of emails, so try to be concise!
- Lose the marketing talk, especially in the subject line. I mean, it needs to be interesting and different, but it doesn’t need to be something in the nature of “the most innovative app you’ll see this year” or “the next billion dollar company”. They already get plenty of those emails.
- Some writers will write in their Twitter bio or pinned tweet how they like to be pitched (Josh Constantine of TechCrunch is a good example. I reached out to him twice before I used his preferred template, to which he responded).
Below are some of the emails that got me media coverage. I tailored each of them based on the research I conducted.
I used this title line because I saw that KC writes a lot about TV, but he also wrote a bit about comedy, Viners, and once in a while about tech.
As for the email itself, I was trying to be concise and extremely clear about what we do. I was also trying to create some FOMO by saying that, although we are under the radar, we already have a growing community. In the end, I talked about our vision in order to make a hidden implication that “I know we’re just starting, but here’s why we’ll be huge and why you should write about us… before everyone else will”.
I used this headline because I knew Sarah is being approached by companies with significantly more users than we had (that’s an understatement). I decided to go for “the David” approach (as opposed to “the Goliath”), in which good things happened by surprise (they did) to emphasize the “magic” of sitting in the garage at night.
Sarah is a tech writer, so as you can see I tried to pitch in an entrepreneurial nature. In the first paragraph, I showed I mean business and that we already have traction from notable tech influencers.
In the second paragraph, I explained the value prop and in the 3rd-5th paragraphs, I was talking about the team and about the fact this is a side gig.
I remember trying to pitch this chatbot that my friends and I built for wedding-related outlets and writers. Since the wedding approach didn’t work, I needed to find another angle. Jamie Leelo is a comedian who writes for EliteDaily (among other outlets). Elite Daily was exactly the kind of outlet we wanted demographic-wise in order to get initial traction. I used this headline because Jamie is a comedian, and he’d appreciate the tongue-in-cheek tone.
I started with a clear overview of what we do, and later I touched a bit on why this idea novel and special so she’ll get the feeling she might be onto something promising.
What to expect after you hit send
In most cases, you aren't guaranteed a reply unless you have extreme validation. Dom Hoffman, Vine’s co-founder, got instant PR when he just announced that he was launching a new Vine-like app. In all other cases, it’s best to try to follow up once or twice if you think the writer is extremely relevant (for example, it worked with KC). I use: “In case my timing was bad, giving it another try”. In 2019, checking if someone got your email sounds bad, in my opinion.
Invariably, some writers will respond. While this is a good sign, some writers will say something like “get 100K daily users and then we'll talk” or “I only write about social apps if I hear about them from friends and colleagues”. While it’s frustrating, be respectful. They get pitched a LOT and they’re in high demand; if you get pushed off, don’t take it personally.
When a writer decides to write about you (hallelujah), try to make it clear when you’d like their article to be published. Mention your needs as well (“we intend to officially launch next week, so can this be published on Monday?”). Of course, there are exclusives, embargoes, and other PR-related terms which I’m not getting into and can affect the timing of publishing, but these are the basics.
From my experience, writers usually want to interview you in some way before beginning their article. This is a great time to set out your values and expectations for the article before any work is done. Getting on the same page as the writer is crucial. However, if you are not being interviewed, make it crystal clear that they are writing about your goal. For example, if you are looking to attract skilled employees to your startup, you should ask the writer to mention that there are new open positions in your company. Also, ask them to add a link to your hiring page if you have one.
All the above projects/companies didn’t get to product-market-fit. While in some cases you need initial traction to test your product, it’s preferable to start doing marketing after you’ve achieved validation for your product. PR alone will not make your company successful; it’s just another tactic among many others, so don’t give it more credit than it deserves. No amount of marketing can replace validation.
I wish you the best of luck in crafting the perfect marketing and PR method for your own startup! If you have any of your own tips or ideas for boosting your marketing, tell us down below in the comments.
And check out my website for more from me!