Put the Relations in Public Relations: 5 PR Tips for Startup Founders

Pub logosI have been doing PR for startups for more than 20 years, and over that time I’ve seen great interviews and total disasters. The great ones seem effortless; the bad ones are slogs. What makes the great interviews great? Given that the R in PR stands for relations, it should be no surprise that their success is based on relationships.

Startup founders need not be longtime friends with reporters, but they should take the time and initiative to connect with them in a meaningful, honest and mutually beneficial way. Here are some PR tips for founders to keep in mind as they establish and build important media relationships.

  1. Be Engaged
    It surprises me that for something founders want so badly – positive coverage of their companies – that they sometimes act as if they are doing reporters a favor by talking to them. This may fly for “unignorable” companies like Apple or Uber, but it doesn’t work for the rest of us. Look, I get it. Founders are busy. There’s a lot on their minds. They might even be a bit nervous. But put the phone away, lean forward, make eye contact and connect.
  2. Make it Clear That Today is the Day
    Evergreen stories – those that have no time-sensitivity – are the enemy of startup PR. It is up to the founder to make it clear to the reporter why today is the absolute best time for a story. A timely hook will not always be obvious, so be creative. Refer to the reporter’s recent work, to something making headlines, to a growing trend or even just summarize recent successes. Creating this urgency is the difference between the meeting ending with a “let’s stay in touch” or getting a startup profile that accelerates growth.
  3. Organize Your Thoughts
    It’s an old adage, but it works: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and tell them what you told them. Reporters don’t have time to waste. Each answer starts their internal clock ticking. They want to know where the answer is going and when it will be over. By using lists, reporters can easily follow along, will know to not interrupt and won’t start wondering “Where on earth is this going?” or “When the hell will this be over?”
  4. Know the Reporter’s Work
    Most founders on an important sales call wouldn’t fail to know as much as there is to know about their prospect. It’s the same with reporters, and due to the public nature of the “prospect” it’s way easier to learn everything there is to know about them. Startups should identify the reporters focused on their space, follow them on Twitter and set up alerts to catch the articles they write. With knowledge of prior work, it becomes easy to connect during the interview, either at the start (“I read your piece on consumer demand and wholeheartedly agree…”) or in response to a question (“It’s like what you wrote in the story yesterday…”). This should be genuine – not the result of scanning a few headlines in the minutes before an interview.
  5. Give Them the Next Scoop
    Reporters frequently end interviews by asking “Anything else?” or “Did I miss anything?” When they do, do not say “No, I think that covers it.” Instead, recognize this as the perfect opportunity to share ideas for their next story. For example, a response could be: “I can’t think of anything else for this topic, but something we are excited about is…” Should it be that nothing comes to mind, be sure to reiterate the most important point from your conversation, saying: “I think we covered it; however, I do want to reiterate how important it is that…”

Reporters are people, and people want relationships to be a two-way street. The steps above are about creating respect, establishing honest communication and building mutually beneficial connections.