How to Get Free (and Effective) Press for Your Startup

by MMC
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It feels good to be a startup owner. But building it, attracting customers, making profits, making it a recognized brand, etc. is not always easy.

During our last edition of Techpoint Startup School, I taught a course on getting free press for your startup. I thought I should share some of the lessons I gave with the Techpoint Africa audience.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Please feel free to ask questions/request clarification.

Lesson 1: Do you really need press?

Early startup founders always seem to forget to ask this question, mainly because there’s a common misconception about marketing and press. Press is different from marketing. Marketing is all about advertising your brand to attract customers, this helps you build traction. Press, on the other hand, does not necessarily bring you clients, but it highlights your previous successes and achievements, number of clients, level of revenue achieved, i.e. traction, to build your reputation . You need marketing from the start because you need traction that you can use to attract press.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you are probably ready to be published:

  • Do you have some traction (rapid growth, large customers, etc.)?
  • Have you been operational for at least 3 to 6 months?
  • Do you already have a certain reputation?
  • Have you ever run a successful or large startup?
  • Is there something really interesting about you, like an innovative and unique business model, or a ridiculously valued pre-seed round?

Present your startup to our editorial team here.

Lesson 2: Do the work

If you answered “Yes” to any of the previous questions, you need to do the work. Especially if you’re running an early-stage startup, finding someone to handle press relations for you will cost you, so you’ll just have to do the work yourself. You have to make things easy for the journalist. You must learn the art of storytelling and, where you can, you must make the journalist’s job easier by providing good images. This will make your pitch stand out.

Lesson 3: Where is your audience?

Depending on where you are and what your immediate goals are, you need to know who your audience is and where they hang out.

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If you are a Nigerian agro-crowdfunding startup for example, and your goal is to increase your number of crowdfunders, you don’t have to look for press on Techcrunch. Focus on putting pressure on a Nigerian publication. And no, not just technical publications. Most of your potential investors are probably in places like Nairaland.

Before Tage Kene-Okafor took over from him, Techcrunch’s Africa Correspondent, Jake Bright wouldn’t even pay attention to your startup unless you have at least reached the Series A stage. Even today, most African startups that end up on Techcrunch do this after launching a Series A funding round. In their case, their goal is to signal their viability to potential investors in their next round.

As an early-stage startup, your main goal should be to attract customers. The questions you should ask yourself are: What are my customers reading? Where are they hanging out? Linda Ikeji’s blog? The land of Naira? Nairametrics? Techpoint Africa? You need to seriously think about this.

Lesson 4: Connect with a specialist journalist

After finding publications and media houses that cater to your target audience, find their journalists on social media. Follow them, engage them, drop valuable information on their posts. Let them notice you for good.

Don’t throw yet.

Don’t interrupt their random leisurely breakfast at a restaurant where they are just recharging for the day or wherever and start talking about your startup (true story). Do not do that.

Lesson 5: Pitching

Send an email or text first. Don’t cold call

Unless you have met the reporter earlier, such as at an event, and have established a relationship, please do not cold call them. It’s completely disconnected, journalists are distracted enough to try to follow 20 stories at the same time. Be kind, send an email or text and be patient.

Part to press, not to blow

Now it’s time to pitch your startup. Points to note:

  • This may be a hard fact to swallow, but the media doesn’t owe you coverage.
  • The media is only beholden to its audience.
  • If you don’t provide value to their audience, you risk being ignored.
  • This should and can be a win-win for you and their audience.

If you just changed your startup’s logo, don’t expect the publication to announce it. It’s marketing, a paid service. A better approach to getting free press is to find a journalist who has expressed interest in the intricacies of user interface and design. You can tell a story about the inspiration for your new design choices and the lessons other startups can learn from your process.

The average journalist skims about 10 articles at a time. Make it easy for them by presenting an interesting angle from which they can build your story. This is where your storytelling skills come into play.

Suitable location

Every media publication has its trends and processes. You must study them. Some technology publications, for example, are more focused on gadgets than startups. Some people have a certain bias towards certain types of stories. Some have reproducible runs you can build on.

For example, Techpoint Africa has Techpoint Summary which is published every weekday morning.

Techpoint Africa also favors new and innovative startups. We release at least 3 new starter features every month. This is one of the few times you can get an article where the focus is solely on your startup. The only other times are when you raise money, hit an exciting (for our audience) or truly revolutionary milestone and (unfortunately) your startup fails (we hope you share).

Press is about reputation, not marketing. Most publications have a paid service for marketing (shameless plugin, email (email protected)).

Otherwise, you have to be willing to accept that sometimes the article isn’t just about you. This can be a topic that your startup can relate to and you can be mentioned alongside others. This is an opportunity to subtly build your reputation as an expert in your field.

You can also offer exclusives

But don’t overdo it. Don’t offer fake exclusives (repeatedly showing other publications breeds distrust) and make sure your offer matches their biases and inclinations.

Journalists are also human

Frustrated

We tend to dehumanize people who don’t play in the same space as us. Journalists are probably among the most dehumanized. We think it’s their job to provide you with coverage. Little reminder ; they don’t owe you coverage.

Approach them with respect, show them that you appreciate them. They pursue hundreds of stories at a time. They have goals to achieve and many arguments are presented.

If you’re tempted to say “but I’ll give you content and traffic,” don’t do it. Any publication or journalist worth their salt will be fine without your content. There are always content ideas for the discerning and curious, and even stories about you can be told without your input.

When offering by mail, don’t blind copy, it’s disrespectful and you risk being ignored.

Lesson 6: Maintain the relationship

After you’ve applied the previous lessons and found success, don’t stop at that first post. Maintain the relationship, don’t forget them and don’t let them forget you.

Respond to journalists when they seek insight into the stories they write. Reply if they have a negative tip about you and would like feedback and clarification. Reaching out to you means they respect you and give you a fair chance to tell a balanced story.

Answering questions about negative news also gives you the opportunity to somewhat control the narrative (not guaranteed). Take a cue from Jumia, they anticipate the media, with a proactive approach to all negative stories and challenges.

If you always respond to journalists, when they contact you as a source and with valuable information, you manage to stay on their radar. This opens up other reputation-building opportunities for you, like speaking at events, AMAs, etc.

Remember

Press is about building a reputation, not blatantly selling (again, it’s marketing, a paid service). You have to be willing to build it up slowly. And remember that you should always aim for win-win situations.

To pitch to the Techpoint Africa editorial team, please complete this form.

Image selected by A life without animals is not worth living Since Pixabay.

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