How to hit the headlines

How to hit the headlines with a killer startup story

There’s nothing quite like seeing your company name in print. News coverage can give your team a motivational boost, it’s an excellent way to build your reputation, and it can have a positive effect on your bottom line.

In fact, when it comes to consumer familiarity, affinity and purchase consideration, expert third-party articles, reviews and content is up to 88 percent more effective than branded content and user reviews, according to a report from inPowered and Nielsen.

But public relations (PR) is not straightforward and developing and pitching your story can be a frustrating process. I spoke to some top journalists and a startup owner to find out their tips for framing a story, working with reporters and getting your company featured in the news.

Setting a strategy

PR can be an excellent way of building awareness about your brand, your team and your latest projects. But before you even begin to think about pitching the press with your latest news, you need be sure your company is ready for the spotlight – or the coverage you seek might not be as positive as you would like.

Think long and hard before jumping in; Is your website up to scratch? Does your service work? What do your reviews look like? Are you listening to customer feedback?  

If you’re satisfied you can weather journalistic attention, you need to have a solid media strategy in place. It will help you understand which audiences to target, what news to share, and how best to amplify your coverage.

To do this set some media goals that line up with your broader business objectives. For example, if your company is preparing for a funding round, it is often a good idea to focus on the growth and potential value of your service or product, because this is something that will interest investors.

In this case, milestones such as reaching 500,000 users in a short period of time could be a good story, as it shows your company is getting traction. Alternatively, partnering with a leading executive from another successful startup could play well, because it shows you have a growing and experienced team.

Ultimately, you must be extremely selective and strategic with the news you share if you want the exposure you receive to have a real impact on the success of your startup.

Finding a newsworthy story

No matter how solid your PR strategy, a story will only get traction in the media if it offers value to the readers, viewers or listeners of a particular media outlet.

“You need to be able to ‘sell’ your story in one opening sentence and there must be something ‘newsworthy’ or unique about it,” says BBC senior journalist and Coach to women in journalism Anna Lindsay.

“A new restaurant is to open in Barcelona next week” is not going to attract as much interest as: “An ex-military hero who lost both legs saving 30 children in Iraq is to open a new restaurant in Barcelona,” she says.

Of course, we don’t have to be heroes to get featured in the media, but she says that human interest is key:

“Who is involved? How is your product going to help people? My advice is always: How would you sell your story in one line if you were telling a really good friend in the pub?”

Pitching perfectly

Once you have a unique and newsworthy story, you need to think hard about who should hear it. This target audience will define the type of publication, podcast, or media outlet you pitch to. Draw up a list of targets that meet your criteria and find the editors and journalists who cover the type of story you want to tell.

You’ll need to write a personalised pitch email that covers the key points of your story – and include a press release with the details and a solid quote from the founder.

“The best way to get a journalist’s attention, or an editor’s when pitching, is to be direct.” says former LATAM journalist Oli Griffin. “Don’t waffle on, but also don’t send generic rubbish—we can spot a copy paste email template a mile off and we probably won’t respond.”

Following etiquette

It’s important to understand just how busy and under pressure journalists are. They receive dozens of pitches a day, so yours must be good and it must be relevant. If you pitch a journalist a story outside of their “beat” (the types of stories they write about), it will be a waste of your time and they will most probably ignore you.

“It’s OK to reach out as a stranger, but don’t be a stranger to the work of the journalist,” says coach and co-owner of Corpore Wear, Mike Thompson, whose PR efforts got his company featured in INC, GQ and other leading publications.

“We sell a posture shirt and instead of blindly blasting every wellness journalist, we focused on those who had covered the benefits of posture in the past and reached out to them and asked them to rate our product and then were patient but polite.”

Of course, you might not receive a response right away and while it’s important to be persistent, there comes a point when you should stop pitching and move on. Oli Griffin suggests limiting the number of times you send a pitch:

“Give up after three contact attempts, but be courteous. Maybe you didn’t get anywhere this time, but you might next time. You definitely won’t, though, if you’re unpleasant about it.”

Amplifying coverage

Use the press you receive to boost your social proof; make sure to share your coverage on your social channels (more than once) and include icons of the publictions you appear in on your website in an “as seen in section”. Not only will this improve your credibility, but it will show your existing customers how you are growing.

The effect of good PR is cumulative. You should aim to speak to the media every few months – in publications that align with your objectives – in order to see the most impact. If you don’t have news, you can reach out with guest articles in relevant publications, offer interviews and podcasts and start building your image as an expert in your field.

With some effort, focus, solid strategy and persistence, you’ll soon see your startup hitting the headlines!

Article written by George Chilton, Creative Director of content and digital marketing agency Hubbub Labs

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

Don’t forget if you have applied to be part of our “Pitch the Press” activity during 4YFN at Mobile World Congress Barcelona (26-28 February), now’s the time to take on board these tips and start preparing!