It’s not uncommon for startups to reach out to us when they have funding news to announce. After all, it’s the most obvious time for coverage, and done right, the results are predictable and almost uniformly positive.
But what does a startup do when it doesn’t have news?
This summer, we wrote about five tactics that can yield media coverage. In this piece, I outline four higher-level strategies you can put in place to help your startup get a steady stream of attention.
Strategy 1: Use Tropes, the Lifeblood of Startup Coverage
Without knowing it, you see headline tropes all the time:
- This startup is the Uber of X.
- This founder says industry X is broken, and she’s here to fix it.
- What X can teach us about Y.
Tropes (which the Google machine says are commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works) are popular because they work. By framing something new in a familiar way, tropes tap into the power of the “mere exposure effect,” which basically means we like things more when they’re familiar to us.
Here are some of the most common tropes, with examples from each. As you read them, think about which ones could work for you and your startup:
- What X Can Learn from Y
- The X of Y
- How to X Like a Z
- We Did X. Here’s What We Learned.
- We Binge-watched 15 Hours of Amy Barrett's Speeches. Here’s What We Learned About Her Judicial Philosophy
- If You’re in Situation X, Startup Y Might Be the Answer
- What Event X Means for Industry Y
- Startup X Wants to Fix Problem Y
- Lessons Learned from X
- This CEO / Founder / Exec Wants to Y
- The X Playbook for Y Situation
- Values That Drive Company X
Want to dig deeper? Check out this post we wrote about tropes last year.
Strategy 2: Share What You Know with Those Who Need to Know It
Thought leadership is a critical part of any startup PR program, especially for B2B.
Why? Because it’s often a startup’s quickest path to the credibility required to close a sale (as they say, no one ever got fired for hiring IBM).
Thankfully, startup founders know more about their space than anyone in the world. After all, they dropped everything to pursue an opportunity that no one else saw.
Here are four quick steps for turning your thought leadership into media coverage:
Assess what you know
Let’s say you have an AI-powered SaaS startup that helps large financial institutions sell to more consumers. At minimum, then, you (or those you work with) are experts at AI, SaaS, financial marketing, compliance, and running a startup.
Think about your customers’ pains and motivations
Ask yourself, “What is my audience dealing with right now and how can I help?” Keeping the AI startup example in mind, perhaps you know big legacy banks are struggling to acquire young customers as cost effectively as more innovative startups.
Identify outlets whose audiences need to know what you know
Although the media industry is hurting, there has been an explosion of new media outlets – blogs, podcasts, newsletters, etc. – meaning that there are great targets for your specific areas of expertise, no matter how narrow.
Reach out to introduce yourself
Once you identify outlets that you think would be a fit for your expertise, send them an email that says, more or less, “Hey, I love your site / podcast / blog / newsletter, and I think my expertise would be useful to help your audience compete with more nimble startups. How can I throw my hat in the ring as a contributor / guest?”
Strategy 3: Look at the Calendar
We want to think every article is a brand-new idea, but the fact is that there are certain kinds of articles that run at the same time every year.
In fact, as I write this blog post, writers all over the world are putting their finishing touches on gift guides, “year in review” articles, and next-year outlook pieces. So while it’s probably too late to land those, it’s never too early to start planning for them.
Holidays and Seasons
Holidays and seasons are obvious targets for calendar-based pitches, especially (but not only) for B2C and DTC startups. Some quick examples:
- Christmas is a natural for gift guides (examples here for our clients: Cubii in TechCrunch and Packed with Purpose in Parade)
- New Year’s is perfect for resolutions (“eCommerce Resolutions for 2021” or “Startup Founder Resolutions for 2021”)
- Fourth of July is great for founders (“Why These Founders Went Independent” or “Startup Founders Leading a Revolution in Industry X”)
- Halloween is a great time to talk about the “monsters” your startup tackles. (“X Monsters Lurking in Every Data Center”)
- Spring is great for pitches about getting your house in order (“Does Industry X’s Tech Stack Need a Spring Cleaning?”)
Conferences and Buying Seasons
Think about the calendar of your own industry, often characterized by seasonal buying patterns or important conferences and trade shows. For example:
- HR benefits startups build an entire year of business around open enrollment in November and December.
- Consumer startups often launch new products during and around CES in early January.
- The annual late-summer HIMSS conference is where people go to learn about the latest healthcare innovations.
Strategy 4: Try Newsjacking – Jumping Into a News Cycle Created by Others
People in PR love talking about newsjacking, but really it’s just what we should all be doing all the time.
What is newsjacking for startups? It’s the act of inserting your startup into high-profile news that’s independent of your business, often involving larger and better-known organizations.
We recently did some newsjacking for a battery technology client called NanoGraf. When we learned Tesla was hosting a battery day we reached out to reporters and editors who we knew would be covering it.
Working with our client, we analyzed what Elon Musk said, drafted an in-depth blog post outlining their perspective, and reached out to reporters with that information. (Here’s the Wired piece we secured as part of this effort.)
You can do the same. Stay on top of what the big names in your space are doing. Did they launch a new product? Did they stumble? Did they get acquired? When something happens that gets broader attention, find a way to make that relevant to your business.
(More newsjacking inspiration here, courtesy of Hubspot.)
We talk to a lot of startups that have worked with – and been unimpressed by – other PR firms. They tell us that their firms waited around to be told what the news was, doing little between announcements to land coverage.
But a lack of news should never be an excuse for a lack of coverage for your startup. Hopefully this post helps unlock some ideas you can secure immediately.
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