It feels great to be covered by the media, but unless there’s a business goal for getting press, it often doesn’t lead to any useful outcome — aside from allaying your parents’ fears that you don’t have a real job.
Often, the goal of PR for startups is not for the obvious reasons. Here are the 7 objectives I’ve seen startups reach using PR — and how you can apply them to your strategy.
Goal #1: User or customer acquisition
This is the most common reason startups seek press, but it’s often misguided, or entrepreneurs’ expectations are set too high. Viral and word-of-mouth marketing are usually more powerful channels for startups, but press is a great way to get the loop going. Every virus needs a patient zero.
Jason M. Lemkin, the CEO and founder of EchoSign wrote that press, “mainly TechCrunch” along with networking, “over time generated perhaps 25 percent of our first $100k [in annualized revenue] directly or indirectly.” After about a year, EchoSign’s top source of new revenue was viral.
Goal #2: Boosting SEO rankings
If you know anything about search engines post-AltaVista, you know your site will be ranked more highly based on how many credible sites link to it. Getting wide press coverage across a verity of press outlets is a great way to build links. If this is your goal, make sure the press outlet actually links to your company. If they don’t, email the journalist after the article is published and politely ask them add a link to their mention.
It’s even better if you can get linked to from articles that have SEO friendly-titles. Muck Rack still gets a lot of traffic from a 2009 article on Journalistics titled “Where to Stalk Journalists on Twitter” since people keep discovering it for the first time via search.
Where to target: Focus on low-hanging fruit to build a lot of links. It’s often easier to get a quick hit in a publication’s online-only blog rather than its print or TV arms.
Goal #3: Building credibility and trust
Companies including Kickstarter and Mint list the press outlets that have covered them on their front page. Even Temple Run, one of the most popular iPhone games with over a million user ratings, lists press quotes on its App Store page. If they still need a credibility boost despite their tremendous scale, your tiny startup might too.
Where to target: Go for big names. It’s doubtful NPR is anywhere near the top traffic referrer for Kickstarter, but it’s the perfect endorsement for the crowd they’re targeting.
Goal #4: Attracting advertisers
If you’re a programmer building an ad-supported business, you’ll soon learn that media buyers don’t read Hacker News to learn how to do their job better like you do. They read their own set of “ad rags” aimed at the mad men and women of today, and get ideas about which new companies to call up about their next ad buy. Even ubiquitous companies like Facebook and Twitter with little to gain in general notoriety from media will put a tremendous amount of effort to getting the right kind of coverage in Ad Age.
Goal #5: Raising money
Many venture capitalists and angel investors spend a tremendous about of time reading news about the industries they invest in. Union Square Venture’s Fred Wilson wrote, ”I do read news pretty much non stop throughout the day.” Prominent angel investor Chris Dixon went further and said, “A person mentioning news that I didn’t know about, that is relevant to me, is a failure in my newsreading methods.”
A story can be aimed at investors perhaps by mentioning impressive usage metrics or key hires. VC associates who don’t have decision-making power may then reach out to you, so you’ll usually be better off getting introduced to a partner, but having well-timed press can generate more excitement as your meetings are happening.
Goal #6: Hiring strategies
Similar to investors, potential employees will want to get involved with companies they hear good things about. People actively looking for their next job will start reading almost as much as VCs.
Zendesk provided Business Insider with a tour of their office, which inevitably got turned into a slideshow with an impressive 70,000+ views. Potential customers won’t care much about Zendesk’s two fully-stocked kitchens, but it’s surely a nice recruiting tool.
Goal #7: Testing out a new idea
I recently met with the managing director of an accelerator that strives to adhere to the lean startup’s minimum viable product (MVP) philosophy. He lamented that the whole point of the MVP is to validate an idea or learn from users and customers, but many startups only get the products out to their friends and family for feedback. Without a bunch of users, and for consumer apps a wide variety of users, how can you know if your MVP’s right for the market? Imagine if Pinterest had relied only on their techie friends for feedback rather than getting it out more broadly across the country.
We’ve been able to use press coverage to quickly learn from users how to improve good products, and also to learn quickly if a product is a dud and needs to be completely rethought. The faster you get users the more quickly you can learn.
PR’s not the answer to everything, and I’m not advocating you necessarily use PR for any of these functions since it depends on the dynamics of your startup.
But if you are going to use PR as many startups have done very effectively, it’s essential you know what you want to accomplish with it — so that you get more than a Google Alert out of it.
Gregory Galant is the Co-Founder of Muck Rack, a social network for journalists and companies seeking press, and the executive producer of the Shorty Awards. To help fellow entrepreneurs, he also created Venture Voice, a podcast with the founders of Twitter, LinkedIn, The Vanguard Group and more. He is a mentor for TechStars NY. BusinessWeek named him one of the “Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs of 2010.”