How to Secure Coverage for Your Startup Client

"I can't believe no one wrote about this. *refreshes Google News*" (Thinkstock Photos)
“I can’t believe no one wrote about this. *refreshes Google News*” (Thinkstock Photos)

These days, the world of business-to-business (B2B) tech is saturated with new companies on a daily basis – meaning that media coverage is no longer guaranteed for every funding round, partnership announcement or executive Q&A. But if you follow these guidelines, your chances are bound to improve:

  • Pin down positioning. In B2B tech PR, it can be difficult to secure your startup client coverage when there’s no hard news or innovative, disruptive, world-changing product announcement, so that’s where positioning comes in. A relatively new startup has to have some sort of quantitative or qualitative edge. When positioning them in the media, it proves more fruitful to discuss the hard facts about what the company is doing rather than trying to convince reporters your client is an innovative disruptor. Empty buzzwords will make their eyes will glaze over (and shift their attention to a startup another PR agency is pitching).
  • Manage client expectations. This is an important one. Managing your client’s expectations is key when trying to secure them coverage. Building a relationship with media takes time, but unsurprisingly your client will want tier-one business press coverage now…and again next month. Assure them that when getting their feet wet in the fickle world of tech reporting, going for trade publications first can be an effective way to reach a target audience. That way, when working your way up to higher tier, more coveted coverage there will be examples to share with reporters and show that your client has established itself in the media.
  • Jump on trends. Asserting your client into the conversation and positioning them as a thought leader on their subject matter is another good way to ensure they get coverage. Stay up to date on what’s happening in key industries by following the right influencers on Twitter and bookmarking the appropriate target publications. Newsletter services like HARO and ProfNet that connect reporters with potential sources are also effective ways to keep up with and comment on trends. Browsing every HARO and ProfNet posting and acting quickly to pitch relevant opportunities have produced effective, quick and easy wins on many occasions.
  • Use your connections. Don’t have any? Make them! One thing that we may all forget sometimes is that it’s not the outlets that write stories – it’s individual writers that do. Get to know the reporters you target for stories on social media, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or personal blogs. By connecting and interacting with them it makes it that much more likely they’ll open your email pitch if they recognize your client’s name or yours. In other words, be a good PR person and do some research (but be cool about it – see next point).
  • Don’t be a pest. As we’ve discussed in a recent blog post on PR myths, there is a right way and a wrong way to pitch and follow up with reporters you are trying to get to cover your client. Although the format of a pitch, length, style, etc. are all subjective and depend on the pitcher and pitched, one thing is for sure and it’s that reporters do NOT enjoy bothersome “call-downs.” Sure, a quick call after an email may be a very efficient way of getting a reporter’s attention, but just use your best judgment and don’t risk having all your future pitches flagged immediately as spam. Similarly, don’t spam or stalk reporters too rigorously on social media – striking a balance is key.

So, what do you think? If you have comments, concerns or questions about PR for your own startup, feel free to drop me a line.

The Butterfly Effect in the Digital Age

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

The butterfly effect. Yes, it’s a movie starring Ashton Kutcher but what I’m really talking about is how a single action, no matter how small, can have larger, more drastic (even detrimental) effects on a bigger event. One commonly used example: a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, dramatically altering the course of a tornado in Texas.

Today, a number of small events have generated larger-than-expected outcomes, primarily because of the Internet. The Internet is the ultimate catalyst for this phenomenon, which we’ve now seen play out in the media over and over again. Events that may have flown under the radar in the past are now center stage.

Why has this changed? Platforms like blogs and social media give people a stage to speak their voice and bring national attention to small, localized occurrences. What was once a single, forgettable event can now blow up in your face or become an instant hit overnight. Take these, for instance:

Alaska Airlines’ ‘No Note to Fly’ Fiasco

Alaska Airlines recently booted a woman off a plane traveling from Hawaii to California because she had cancer and appeared ill, but didn’t have a note from her doctor allowing her to fly. Seriously? In their defense, they were following a (probably flawed) protocol and probably didn’t realize how this small event would blow up and get national attention. But it did, and the brand paid the price for what happened on one of its many flights on a global scale. Alaska Airlines was quick to issue an apology and offer a full refund, but the damage was done. The woman missed a chemotherapy appointment and the airline’s reputation was tarnished.

In this case, the butterfly effect triggered a negative outcome, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

The Blue Dress Incident, and it’s not Lewinsky’s

You may remember the hullabaloo last month over the questionable color of a dress. After the image hit Tumblr, the debate over the dress’ real color exploded all over the Internet. It was covered by numerous leading news sites, and even celebrities joined the online debate. Is it black and blue, or white and gold? Seriously, who cares? Apparently, everyone and their mothers.

This is a perfect example of how one small thing – in this case, an oversaturated photograph of a striped dress – can get national attention. Not your usual example of the butterfly effect, but nonetheless an example of a small event exploding into absurd proportions and becoming a bigger issue than expected.

Good or bad – we see the butterfly effect phenomenon play out in the media on a daily basis. One thing is certain though, hope that your brand doesn’t find itself in a situation like that of Alaska Airlines.

#PRmyths – A Good Story Will Sell Itself

What’s the first thing you do when you receive a piece of information that really interests you? Share it, right?

What about information that, albeit interesting, just isn’t in your wheelhouse? DELETE.

Knowing this, why do so many PR people not take the time to carefully research and target the right audiences for their stories?

While the old adage of a “good story sells itself” exists, it certainly doesn’t ring true in a digital world. A good story is fantastic – a PR person’s dream in fact – but it will only be amplified when it reaches the right targets. Ones who will care and then share (and share, and hopefully share some more).

Reach the wrong audience and … crickets.

The lesson here: don’t let a good story fall on deaf ears. Do your homework, find the right people to tell it to and watch your story spread like wildfire.

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#PRmyths – It’s All About Media Relations

2005: Media! Media! Media!

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Ten years ago, PR and media relations may have been close to synonymous, but the role of a PR professional has evolved extensively. We’ve moved beyond the focus on media to assume a more strategic role at the heart of all communications.

2015: PR as a strategic marketing partner

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If your PR plan doesn’t have a media, social and content play, then it’s missing some critical components. Each of these should tie into each other. We are constantly working to guide our clients to create compelling content that can then be used for media and social. These areas of communications should no longer be operating in silos.

Check back every day this week for another PR myth debunked, and chime in on Twitter with the hashtags #PRmyths and #TheNewNorm.

Pitching Shades of Grey

The phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey is sweeping the nation – nay, the world. We’ll admit it…we’re not immune to the buzz. We love buzz! Buzz is what we do. So buckle up, strap in and come up with a third innuendo for this sentence, because we’re sharing the five things Christian Grey taught us about media relations.

1. Be clear and keep a cool head.

greyspam.tumblr.com
greyspam.tumblr.com

When pitching, be clear about the story, and provide all the top line information right off the bat. Also, don’t get overly excited when a reporter expresses interest – it could scare off your target, and the opportunity could finish prematurely.

2. Subject headings are vital. 

imyours90.tumblr.com
imyours90.tumblr.com

In the book, Ana and Christian talk a lot via e-mail and their phones (enterprise mobile collaboration, or sexting?). They keep those subject headings interesting. That’s something to keep in mind when pitching a reporter who’s already sifting through hundreds of emails with stale subject headings.

Also, cool it with the ellipses, guys. Don’t start a sentence in the subject field and finish in the body – the body of the e-mail! Get your minds out of the gutter.

3. Mutual satisfaction. (What’s in it for them?)

foreversours.tumblr.com
foreversours.tumblr.com

Sure your client gets coverage, but what’s in it for the writer? Pitch a story that will lend itself to the larger scope of your media target’s work. That way, both parties come away satisfied.

4. Do your research. 

zoesaldans.tumblr.com
zoesaldans.tumblr.com

As the head of a giant corporation – or whatever the heck his job is – Christian needs to always be in the know. He takes it a bit far when he finds out Ana’s email address, place of work and life history without permission – but hey, the guy’s got balls – and not the kind your thinking of.

This should go without saying, but you must research your targets before pitching. Understand their coverage areas, and read as much of their material as you can. Reporters can smell a cookie cutter pitch from a mile away.

5. Tie up loose ends. 

havecoloursinyourlife.tumblr.com
havecoloursinyourlife.tumblr.com

We know it’s a bit obvious, but humor us – you’re still reading this thing after all. What we’re talking about here is closing the loop. Always follow up to thank the reporter and provide any additional materials – but don’t go overboard. One email is usually plenty.

Whether you choose to see the movie, or lie and say you didn’t, we won’t judge you. You can just tell everyone you were doing research on pitching!

What OkCupid and Other Dating Sites Can Teach You About Media Relations

Fact: There are 54.3 million single people in the U.S.

Fact: 41.3 million people in the U.S. have tried online dating

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Are you surprised by these stats? I was. Even living in Silicon Valley – where online dating is pretty much the norm – I was still amazed to see that 76 percent of single people have tried it. Assuming of course that not too many “taken” people are trying their luck online.

A recent conversation with a friend currently navigating the online dating seas got me thinking. He was talking about his “approach” to communication on OkCupid and my PR mind couldn’t help but drift to how much of a parallel there is between the approach one takes to online dating and the approach for media relations.

So I decided what better topic for a blog post, right?

Know Your Goal

First and foremost, a person should know what they are hoping to accomplish in terms of a relationship. Are you just looking for casual dating or are you ready to settle down? The answer to this may change which online dating site you should select. Tinder has a notorious reputation for being casual. Match.com is known for more serious relationships – just take a look at this Reddit thread.

How does this relate back to media relations? Well, the first thing you need to consider is what media goal you are trying to accomplish for your client. If they are eager to get in front of C-level folks, then business press is where you should go. If they are keener to reach the line of business group then you should pitch the story to HR, sales, finance and other specific vertical publications.

Selecting the Right Target

The fun has only just begun. Once you’ve identified the site that best suits your needs, it’s time to go fishing. You can scroll for days and days trying to find which matches tickle your fancy. You’re looking for someone who likes yoga, hiking and wine tasting. Honestly, that shouldn’t be too hard to find in the Bay Area, but maybe you also want someone that has a specific quirk or a creative “About Me.”

As is the case when selecting the characteristics that make up your perfect mate, selecting the right media person to start a conversation with begins with selecting the right publication. Then comes the harder task of narrowing it down and finding which writer is most relevant to the story you are pitching. Media often complain to PR people about receiving pitches that have nothing to do with their beat. So make sure to do your research and pick the reporter who would actually cover the story!

Grab Their Attention

Short and punchy? Long and heartfelt? What’s the best way to grab your new online interest’s attention? Be creative!

Same rules apply with media, although I’m pretty sure a reporter at Bloomberg would not appreciate a long, heartfelt pitch. This goes back to doing your research. Use what you do know about the reporter or fellow online dater to craft a personal note that makes them feel special. A generic email you can mass-send to potential matches rarely works as well as a tailored, specific pitch for each individual.

The Follow Up

Now this one threw me for a loop. My guy friend said that sometimes a girl will respond to him once and then go silent. “What the heck?” I said, at first.

But then I thought, “Wait…I know exactly what he’s talking about.” Ever get a response to your pitch saying they’re interested in speaking to your client, but then when you follow up with availability they no longer respond? I’m never really sure about what happens here but I try to get creative in my follow up notes. No, I’m not one of those PR people that simply keep sending emails saying “just following up on my previous note.” Try relating back to something they just wrote and get the conversation going that way.

In both online dating and media follow up, maybe check back in once or twice, but if you don’t hear anything the message should be loud and clear: MOVE ON.

The Pay Off

Bam! You’ve started a conversation with the lucky dater and secured the coveted in-person meeting. The hard work is mostly over.

The same goes for finally securing that phone or in-person briefing with a reporter. You are on the line, listening to your client give the company elevator pitch, and you’re just thanking your lucky stars that both joined the conference line on time.

Now if you especially lucky, the meeting leads to a follow-up date (also known as an amazing article)…but don’t bank on it. Nothing’s a 100 percent when it comes to dating or the media.

Show Interest

Even though you got the pay off, your work isn’t done. It’s important to now nurture the relationship. With online dating, that is if you liked the person, maintain that communication and set up another date.

With media, keep the lines of communication open. Shoot them notes every now and again commenting on an article they just wrote and offering your perspective or flagging a piece of news you think they would be interested in writing about. The best relationships media have with PR folks are beneficial for both parties; the same can be said for partner relationships.

Well, you get the gist. If you need to work on your media relations, head on over to an online dating site and put your skills to the test.

LeBron: A Lesson in Reshaping Perception

What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison
What a PR superstar (oh, and basketball, too). Credit: Keith Allison

Let us take you back to early 2003.

LeBron James, the most hyped high school basketball player of all time and the supposed next Michael Jordan – which is one of the most misused pieces of acclaim for any basketball player who shows any flash of brilliance – was in his senior year and the undisputed #1 pick in that year’s talent-rich NBA draft. True to the ideal narrative, LeBron, raised in Akron, Ohio, was taken with the #1 pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In his seven years with the Cavaliers, LeBron made all the right moves (short of winning a championship). To the NBA, its fans and the media, LeBron was an uber-talented player who had deftly and maturely handled an enormous amount of pressure since entering the league. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

And then, in 2010, came “The Decision.”

The main storyline of the 2009-2010 NBA season wasn’t the actual games, but LeBron’s impending free agency. The bottom line was that there were only a few teams that had the financial flexibility to sign LeBron to a full-term, high-paying contract, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. On the evening of July 8, 2010, LeBron was the star of a bloated, self-indulgent television special on ESPN that was held solely for LeBron to announce which team he had chosen. The now-iconic line uttered by LeBron at the climax of the show: “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.” Miami it was.

The backlash was immediate.

Back in Cleveland, LeBron’s former fans burned his jerseys in the street, and the owner of the Cavaliers wrote a scathing screed against LeBron (that might’ve held some weight if it hadn’t been written in Comic Sans font). Everyone who wasn’t a Heat fan was sour on the fact that he was teaming up with fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a “super team.” The result was that LeBron was public enemy number one to everyone but Miami fans, and the crassness of “The Decision” had a lot to do with it. Public perception: overwhelmingly negative.

As LeBron won two championships in Miami, the majority of the public began to somewhat warm back up to him: chalk it up to the adage that time heals all, or most, wounds. Cleveland also positioned itself perfectly to potentially sign LeBron to a maximum contract and bring him home in the 2014 offseason, when LeBron was once again (and maybe for the last time) a free agent, and this became more of a reality when LeBron’s Heat team got thoroughly outplayed in the 2014 NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. The best player on the planet surveyed his surroundings, perhaps realizing that his current super team wasn’t so super, and disappeared for a few weeks to make one of the most crucial decisions of his life.

Then came the bombshell.

On July 11, 2014, LeBron revealed in a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he had decided to return to the Cavaliers. His announcement was in stark contrast to The Decision: his essay was genuine, heartfelt, and devoid of fanfare. Here was a player who wanted to return to his roots and deliver his hometown team something they’d never had: a championship. THIS decision – probably owing largely to how it was communicated – was roundly applauded by fans and the media. Public perception: overwhelmingly positive.

In life, and especially in the sports world, people tend to get second chances. You need to look no further than the NFL’s Michael Vick for a prime example. But LeBron’s case was unique in that he never really did anything wrong – at least, nothing that brought real harm to anyone or justified any legal action against him – but he toyed with a few of the emotions that are most sacred to sports fans: loyalty (leaving Cleveland in such a cold manner) and humility (doing so during a national TV show). In returning to Cleveland, however, LeBron orchestrated one of the most profound and immediate reputation makeovers in the recent public consciousness. He let us know that he had unfinished business in Cleveland and that delivering a title would be one of his greatest accomplishments, and we knew he had the wisdom afforded by experience to mean what he said. But undoubtedly most importantly for LeBron, he was making a decision that was completely true to himself – and at that point, public perception be damned.

No News Is Not Good News in PR: Tips for Consistent Media Coverage

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Thinkstock

The single most important job of a PR professional is getting your clients nice placements in the media. But what do you do when a client doesn’t have groundbreaking product announcements or exciting customer wins? A smart PR agency knows that you don’t just passively wait around for hard news to fall in your lap – you take an inventive approach to media relations. In B2B technology PR this is especially crucial, because drumming up buzz can be tricky for some of the world’s less “sexy” technologies.

Struggling to keep your clients in the press? Use these tips that we have success with on a regular basis:

Join the conversation
Increase brand awareness and drive credibility by inserting your client into larger industry conversations. When a reporter is working on a news story, they usually like to include third party commentary for perspective and authority. By staying on top of the news in your clients’ space, you can proactively pitch your executives as subject matter experts to reporters. In doing so you have made the writer’s life a little easier and also landed thought leadership in an article on a topic that directly relates to your client.

Be sure to closely monitor newsletters like ProfNet and HARO, which are great services that match up journalists with sources, and act quickly on postings relevant to your client.

Show some personality
Executive profiles are a great way to secure major feature articles without news. Start by doing some digging on what makes your clients’ top executives unique. Interesting childhoods, cool hobbies and unorthodox leadership approaches are all great hooks. Often the founder of the company will have a great story about what led them to create their business – use that when possible. There are lots of reporters in business press and local publications who regularly profile executives, so do some research and pitch accordingly.

Get back to the basics
Some of the most successful media placements are not the result of pitching a press release, but instead uncovering a natural match between client and media. Take the time to find that perfect reporter who should definitely know about your client, write them a genuine note explaining why you think they’ll care, and offer them an introductory briefing. Coverage won’t be guaranteed, but this can be a great way to forge important relationships so that the reporter may think of your client when working on a story down the line.

At my agency, some of the biggest hits we secure are the result of proactive outreach rather than an announcement. We see time and time again that being both creative and tenacious in your approach to media relations can lead to impressive results.

When there’s no hard news, what other methods have you had success with for getting clients media coverage?