The industry of Startups continues to boom. Last year, venture capitalists invested $69 billion in over 7,700 companies. Usually between the Series A and B investment rounds, Startups and their investors realize the need of media attention to grow the business.
At this point, most Startups investigate potential relationships with outside consultants, PR agencies or other marketing firms, who deliver promises of press releases and immense amounts of media coverage.
During this dance, one side tries to win an account and the other envisions above the fold coverage. Unfortunately, the dance leads both Startups and flacks to ignoring the realities of the shrinking media landscape.
The demise of traditional print journalism is well documented. The growth of digital outlets never delivered on the promise to recouping journalist jobs. Having plateaued over the past several years, the employment picture continues to darken for journalists in digital outlets, according to The Columbia Journalism Review.
These three factors—increased number of startups, decreasing number of journalist, and flacks willing to promise anything—as created the perfect storm of noise that is increasingly challenging to break through.
To put this problem in perspective, one journalist told me the other day he gets "40 to 60 pitches per day" from PR people sent to his email. This is an example of bad PR, and there is no excuse for it. It’s why many poke fun at the industry. This specific reporter writes one or two stories a day, and probably won’t cover 60 different companies in a given year, never mind 60 in a day.
Reporter inboxes are flooded with irrelevant noise that often gets deleted before opened. Here are a few tips to help Startups pick the right partners to work with and breakthrough the noise.
1. Work with experienced storytellers. Startups know their technology better than anyone. The first goal needs to be translating tech-speak into a meaningful story applicable to a wider audience. Press materials filled with meaningless buzzwords that focus on technology for the sake of technology quickly become fodder for reporters on social media. To break through the noise, your message must be clear, concise and compelling. Expect pushback from an experienced storyteller if you try to edit gorp back into the story.
2. Flack relationships aren’t the priority. According the to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PR Specialists outnumber Reporters almost six to one. Startups are obsessed with the relationships flacks have with reporters, and they shouldn’t be. We all know who the reporters are and the reality is reporters care about clicks on stories as much as startups care about clicks to their website. A reporter isn't going to write a bad story because he or she drank a hefeweizen with a flack at the hip new brewery in The Mission.
3. Your relationships are. If handed a pages long list of media targets at the start of a relationship with a flack throw it away. It is an unrealistic and useless document. Startups need to prioritize relationships with an identified set of external influencers. Many of these will be reporters. Some may be analysts or key industry influencers. The initial list is probably greater than five but less than 10. Targeting more only adds to the noise you are trying to breakthrough. The external firms you work with should look to bolster your relationships with these influencers, not theirs.
4. Build Your Social Eminence. Reporters want to interview experts. Being a CEO of a startup doesn’t necessarily make you an expert. When a media pitch does break through the noise reporters are likely to start their research by looking up the CEO on social media platforms, or the company’s blog. Experts have followers, usually a lot of them. Experts also engage in conversations. Reporters can quickly become disinterested in speaking with you if your LinkedIn or Twitter followers are sparse and you haven't blogged in a year.
5. Be responsive to reporter inquiries. Don’t ignore opportunities to provide reporters information because the scope of the inquiry is slightly outside your purview. The resulting story may not provide the immediate value the Startup is looking for, but it can be the start of a long, productive relationship.
6. Ditch the press release. In general press releases have become useless documents that add to the noise. There's no law that says "thou must issue press releases" and by the time a press release is issued the news has typically become stale. If you have built social eminence, blogging about news can be an attractive alternative, especially if the post generates comments and conversations.
7. Set realistic expectations. Despite the dancing that was done at the start of the flack/Startup relationship, both sides must have realistic expectations. You are a Startup with limited, if any, referencable customers. The Wall Street Journal isn't going to write about your new product offering. Attempting to deliver a story that won't work is a waste of time, your budget, and creates more noise. Building the right story will get you there, but it happen overnight, and it won’t be based on a product announcement.
8. Focus the story on user experiences, not the product. The technical prowess used to build your offering is of secondary importance to a story that leads with how user experience is enhanced.
9. Avoid Pay, Spray, and Pray. When the right story isn't crafted, flacks fall back on paid for services to spray content into the bowels of the Internet and pray it gets picked up somewhere. This completely misses the goal of delivering the right message to the right audience. Any results generated are likely useless.
10. Build your personal messaging platform. Yes, you are the CEO of a Startup but you are also a person with other interests and passions in life. By combining business acumen with personal passions can be of interest to reporters looking for input on trend stories of the day that interest technology and life.
The media landscape will continue to change but doesn't show signs of growing. The mediums may evolve, but will always depend on clear, concise and compelling stories. Starting with this foundation is the one constant to help break through the noise.