It seems like I can’t swing a dead cat (I’ve really been wanting to write that lately) without hitting a local startup that is wondering how to get more press. The question poses a conundrum for enterprising founders who see the benefit of increased exposure but have limited time, money, resources and money to focus on PR.

That’s why a targeted approach is so crucial. And yet … and I say this with love … many of you are doing it wrong. I am not a public relations specialist. But I have spent 15 years writing for all manner of publications from teeny tiny weekly newspapers to wire services to national magazines to this very blog.

By my rough estimate, I’ve probably read or heard about a bazillion story pitches from entrepreneurs. So here is my free, mostly unsolicited, advice for how to improve your press strategy and hopefully score some valuable coverage for your fledgling company.

1. Figure out what you want and who can provide it.

For founders with limited resources the key is to first determine why you want press now and what audience you’re trying to reach. The answers to those questions will point you toward who you should contact. Are you wanting to spark investor interest or looking to hire? Then tech blogs might be your best bet. Are you looking for more clients for your B2B software? Spend time talking to industry publications that serve your niche. Not all press is created equal. A big story in your local newspaper is awesome, but if you’re trying to reach a specific type of client, a pitch to a small, but targeted blog could ultimately have a bigger impact. Make the  most of your efforts by identifying what you want, and then match your goal to a specific audience and publication.

2. Be clear. Be very, very clear. 

Occasionally one of my reporter or writer friends will post a press release from a (usually tech) startup on their Facebook page. Why? Well … I’m sorry to say that it’s usually to giggle at the jargon and ponder what the company actually does. These posts get a lot of likes, but not the kind that I imagine that the company founders wanted.

If you have a startup, you probably make something. Please say what that thing is: software, an app, maybe a tiny robot that delivers donuts to tech bloggers. If you want to use the word “solution,” I won’t stop you. But concretely describe what your solution entails. You don’t need to dumb your language down, however you do need to be precise and clear. Your goal is to be featured in a journalist’s publication — not in her Facebook feed.

3. Talk to the right people.

Earlier this year I had a startup founder tell me that her company had emailed some really big news to the top editor of a newspaper. And they didn’t hear back. Was it because the news wasn’t worthy of coverage? No. It’s probably because they emailed the wrong person. Find the reporters, bloggers and other media types who cover what you do. Contact them. They’re the ones putting together the stories, and if they have an editor, they’re the ones telling them why the story is worth doing at all.

Meanwhile their bosses are busy. When I worked in daily newspapers I would sometimes fill in as business editor. There were days that I spent 6-plus hours in meetings. I didn’t respond to email pitches. I didn’t even eat lunch. Meanwhile the reporters were out actively looking for things to write about. Cultivate a relationship with the people who will be telling your story.

4. Go beyond your product.

Of course you want to talk about  your product. And you should. But in many cases that makes for one story to tell (at least until you have more news such as investment or additional products). In the meantime, look for additional ways to get media attention. Expand your narrative, mine your areas of expertise and find new ways to pitch your business. Bend-based startup Cairn offers a great example. The subscription box company saw an opportunity for their product to be included in holiday gift lists, pitched publications and landed in holiday gift guides for Backpacker Magazine, 1859 Magazine to name just a few.

So contemplate: Does your company make you an expert in something specific such as cyber security or marketing automation or online donut delivery? Then pitch a story on that, with yourself as the primary source. Are you part of a larger trend? Are you responding to a unique problem? Can you tie your product to something happening in the news or an upcoming holiday? There’s more than one way to crack the nut of press coverage. If you’re striking out with a simple story about your product, regroup and see what other types of stories you have to offer the world.

There’s no doubt that some positive press aimed at the right audience can help your company grow. And you may not need even the help of a PR firm. But you do need to take the time to craft a thoughtful approach that tells the right story to the right people.

Kelly Kearsley writes and edits most of this blog. IRL she’s a writer, editor and project manager, mostly creating and coordinating content for businesses. She loves startups, entrepreneurs and helping companies find and write the stories only they can tell. (She actually doesn’t do PR). Reach her at [email protected] 

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley