Not often funding news of less than $1M USD get featured on TechCrunch or other major news publications. Yet a few weeks ago, TechCrunch published Roojoom’s story following our funding announcement. We didn’t have any inside contact there, nor did anyone make an introduction for us. I pitched them the right way and at the right time and it worked. If I could do it, so can you. Here is how.
The original title of this post was “Why should you hire a PR specialist for your startup”. That was a few weeks ago when I started writing it… But things quickly shifted in a different direction that led me to now believe that early stage startups don’t need a PR company. It doesn’t mean they don’t need PR, oh they do. But they can do it themselves.
Here is a shortened version of my original post:
Why should you hire a PR specialist for your startup?
It’s 1 a.m. on Saturday morning and I’ve just finished my work day. I am the head of marketing for an early-stage startup, and the reason I worked this late on a Friday night (in Israel Friday is not a business day) is that I don’t have a PR specialist. So I’m handling the PR myself.
Good news first: I managed to get my startup, Roojoom, on VentureBeat – one of the biggest entrepreneurship / HiTech news sites!
But getting there wasn’t easy.
Let’s start from the beginning.
A few weeks ago my CEO informed me that we are about to close the seed funding round for Roojoom. “Awesome!” I thought. Time to get some press coverage. So I drafted a press release and sent it to a few journalists and PR friends, who each made some comments as I edited it.
Then, while waiting for the funding to finalize, several shifts occurred within in our company, including changes in the investors line-up. I re-edited the press release, and again sent it to friends, re-editing based on their suggestions. The release was ready, but I decided to postpone sending it out, as there was a huge conference going on which I assumed as occupying most tech reporters’ time.
Then I discovered our funding had already been featured on the French newspaper La Tribune. Apparently, a French reporter spoke to a colleague of mine at the aformentioned conference, and somehow got from her our info. Not good, I thought. Reporters always want to be the first to the story, and mainstream publications would not feature us if it would already be out there. A quick emergency consultation with a friend who owns a PR agency calmed me down a bit. She said that as long as Roojoom’s story appeared French there was no problem. But… I needed to quickly start reaching out to U.S. journalists before a small American blogger stumbles upon the story and ruins my chances with the big guys. And so I started sending the polished release out.
Have you ever sent out a press release? This is not a “send & forget” sort of thing. There are so many rules as to how to get things done. Everyone wants to be first and you cannot promise exclusivity to more than one reporter at a time. You want to make a prioritized list of where you want your news to be featured and then start sending it one by one, promising exclusivity in exchange for an embargo.
Add the fact that there is a 7-10 hour difference between Israel and the U.S., and you got one frustrated marketing manager sending out emails to reporters, tracking their openings withStreak, following up, and moving on down the list.
I started with TechCrunch, and after getting an unclear response, moved on to Mashable (no response at all!) and VentureBeat. One of VB’s reporters came through, and said they could feature us in their “Funding Daily” section tonight. Tonight? And on Funding Daily – not an exclusive article about Roojoom? Hmm… Not ideal, but would still get us on a major publication.
Not able to make a decision, I went to seek advice on my favorite forum – GrowthHackers
Here are a few of the answers I got:
“Since it’s not “exclusive” I think its fine. I would quickly try to line up some others as well.”
“Roundups never do well, nor get any traffic. Find somewhere else to take it, use VB as a fall back.”
“Why not still shop it around — if you get a better offer, take that offer. If not you still have VB”
“Take the non-exclusive gig that’s on the table now, then shop for more outlets and revisit later.”
As you can see, the answers did not exactly go one way or the other, but I went with the last one and decided to take what’s on the table now, and shop for more later. And so I did. I will never know if I made the right choice, but what I do know is that next time, I would be happy to have a PR professional who knows what he or she is doing to run this tricky process for me!
What made me change my mind?
Taking the advice from the experts, the following week I continued to “fish for more.” I followed up with the TechCrunch reporter who previously had no time to go over my release, and surprisingly enough – TechCrunch decided to do a whole story about us! The TechCrunch article got us not only a lot of traffic, but also brought in other interested journalists as well as potential leads. In addition, I managed to get us in the biggest financial magazine in Israel, as well as the largest entrepreneurship blog. All in all, the results I got were far better than I ever expected.
In the end: Do I still think I need a PR company? Definitely. That being said, I now think that early stage startups with a small marketing budget are capable of, and may be better off, handling their own initial PR.
- Make your disadvantage an advantage: If you are not a professional PR flak, don’t act like one. Journalists often prefer to interact with the entrepreneurs, so not having a PR person can become an advantage if you play it right. Avoid professional terms (such as “embargo”) and ignore traditional rules such as reaching out to only one journalist at a time.
- Focus on the relationship: Like everything else, press is all about relationships. I built relationships with several reporters, who in turn have come to me asking for help or connections. One even started using our product, which led to her newspaper becoming our customer! Relationships don’t guarantee a journalist will publish your news, but at least they will take a look.
- Follow Up: Reporters are busy people. They get hundreds of emails every day. If I hadn’t followed up with the TechCrunch reporter, he would have never read my press release.
What do you think? Do you do your company’s PR on your own, or do you hire a professional to reach out to the media for you? I would love to see you share your own experience with PR in the comments!
For more advice on how to do your own PR, checkout my PR guide for startups.