But what if you’re still in the phase where you don’t yet have the bandwidth for content and PR (but you know both could help you reach your growth goals)?
If that’s your situation, this post is for you. In it, I’ll highlight three ways you can use your blog to drive media coverage for your startup.
1: Publish Original Data
In our experience, publishing original data is one of the most effective ways to get the attention of a reporter or editor. Why? Because data you own is something that nobody else can offer.
Positioned right, it adds information, insight, or complexity to an existing conversation. But getting a story written about your data isn’t as simple as dumping it onto your blog. For best results, we recommend the following:
- Be visual. Whenever possible, find ways to represent your data visually – with charts, graphs, timelines, etc (see Figure 1).
- Provide analysis. Raw data is valuable because it acts as proof, but to get a reporter’s or editor’s attention, you’ll need to translate that data into insights. For example, if you have the latest number of mortgages in forbearance, offer insight about what that means for the larger economy’s post-pandemic recovery.
- Be transparent. Your data probably isn’t “perfect.” Maybe it represents a small sample size. Maybe you have internal questions about how reliable a certain metric is. That’s fine – as long as you’re upfront about these imperfections when you publish the data. Trying to gloss over your data’s flaws or overstate its value will ultimately cost you any credibility the data itself might have bought you.
- Have an audience in mind: Most startups don’t have the kind of data that’s likely to land them a feature in the Wall Street Journal. But chances are, you do have data that could interest a beat reporter in your city or an editor at an industry trade publication. Choose your data points and craft your analysis with a specific, narrow audience in mind, and you’ll be much more likely to get their attention with your blog.
Senior living market intelligence company LivingPath recently had success getting media coverage by sharing data. Shortly after publishing the post “What Are the Most Expensive Senior Living Communities in the US?” a reporter from Senior Housing News (a leading industry publication) reached out to interview them about their data. That interview informed this article (paywalled) a few weeks later.
Figure 1: LivingPath’s blog post included several graphs and charts
Try it at Your Startup
If you’re not in the habit of publishing original data, look to the following for inspiration:
- (Anonymized) customer data: For B2C brands, purchase trends can be interesting to trade pubs, especially when you put them in the context of other things happening in the industry. If you sell SaaS, look for trends in user behavior. If nothing particularly newsworthy jumps out at you, consider doing a “state of the x” benchmark report. Publish it consistently every quarter (or year), and you’ll become the authority for a data-driven narrative about your industry as Upwork did for freelancing from 2014 to 2019.
- Survey data: Don’t have much customer data on hand? Run a survey and publish the results. That, too, can become a benchmark report.
- Aggregated third-party data: If you don’t have your own data and don’t have the budget for a survey, try aggregating data from multiple sources to provide a more robust picture than exists elsewhere. (In fact, this is the method LivingPath used.)
2: Provide a Hot Take
Data is a great way to get a reporter’s attention, but gathering, analyzing, and creating visuals for data takes a lot of time.
If you don’t have that kind of time, another way to use your blog to drive media coverage is to publish “hot takes” – that is, controversial opinions about topics that are important to people in your industry (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: How hot takes appear to blog readers (artist’s rendering)
To be clear, I’m not recommending stirring things up for the sake of it. But as Josh often points out, it’s hard to resist the IT consultant who says IT consultants are terrible or the lawyer who’s highly critical of lawyers.
Saying something that goes against what’s clearly in your best interest is more interesting than a message that’s all about how great it is to work with a company like yours. To make sure your hot take doesn’t go too far and backfire, we recommend the following:
- Be focused and specific. The claim “Apple’s M1 CPU is bad” is much less interesting than a claim like “Even though devices powered by Apple’s M1 CPU are delivering more power to end users, they’re still prone to malfunctions and vulnerable to the ever-evolving threat landscape (just like any other device in the market).” The former is so broad as to be boring; the latter shows deep engagement with the details that matter most to the product’s users.
- Work with an editor or second reader. Have someone else who understands the stakes of your argument read your piece and offer feedback before you hit publish.
- Show a better way. Hot takes are fun, but straight up complaining gets old fast. The most compelling of these types of posts are ones that offer an alternative to whatever the author is critiquing. For example, if you want to highlight security flaws in Apple machines, show how IT admins can prevent security incidents with, say, your device management software.
Earlier this year, Apple device management software provider Addigy saw success with the “hot take” method by publishing the blog post “Apple Silicon Is on the Way: How to Support the New Line of High-Performance Machines,” which started with the quote about Apple’s M1 CPU above.
While that may sound like a pretty mild take, reporters who cover Apple took note because companies that work with Apple almost never say anything even remotely negative about the brand.
Try it at Your Startup
Startup founders usually have plenty of strong opinions that would count as “hot takes.” The challenge of turning these into effective blog content is twofold:
- First, you have to convince the founder (or, if you're the founder, yourself) that publishing these hot takes won’t alienate potential investors, employees, partners, customers, etc.
- Second, you have to figure out how to craft these hot takes so they’re controversial enough to be interesting to reporters but not so controversial that they deter all the groups I listed above. As you can see from the Addigy example, in some industries, you don’t actually need much heat!
The good news is that most startups have the alternative solution built in: your product or service. Line up these dominoes right, and they’ll clearly point to your organization as the way out of the problem you identified.
3: Provide Nuanced Insights from Experts
No data handy? Skittish about offending people? Never fear: you can still use your blog to drive media coverage of your startup.
The third method we’ve seen succeed is to publish deep, nuanced insights from industry experts. We’re talking really in-the-weeds commentary and / or analysis that requires years of experience and familiarity with complex concepts.
This tends to work for a few reasons:
- Reporters covering these issues need sources who can comment on them intelligently – and, often, contextualize current events with what’s happened before.
- Capturing insights in a blog post offers a proof point about the thought leader’s credibility. An outbound pitch email introducing your thought leader as a source might work – if you reach the right reporter at the right time. But having blog content available on the web for whenever they happen to research the topic your experts know about increases the odds that they’ll come across your experts when they most need them.
For several clients, our media team has found success including links to relevant blog posts in pitches to reporters.
The general gist of these messages is “This thought leader has expertise that might help you. For a taste of what they know about, check out their past work: [link to post].”
I know, I know. This technically involves some proactive reporter outreach. But this step is not mandatory.
For best results without proactive outreach, be sure to optimize your blog for search and promote it on social (especially Twitter!) to maximize the odds that reporters researching the topic in question will find your thought leader.
One Last Step: Promote Your Content to Boost its Visibility
Hitting “publish” on a blog post is the end of your writing journey – but the beginning of the blog’s life in the world. To maximize the odds that your target audience (reporters and editors at key publications) see it, be sure to promote it. At the very least:
- Share the link to the post on your startup’s social media channels (ideally with some appealing visual content like a chart or a thought leader’s headshot with a key quote overlaid).
- Include a link to the post (and some hype-up language) in your regular email newsletter.
- Update a couple of older posts on your blog to link to the new post.
For anyone reluctant to toot their own horn (or who questions the value of tweeting out a blog post when it’s SEO’d to the hilt): a writer and literary agent whose newsletter I subscribe to recently mentioned that many of the 18th- and 19th-century American authors we consider “classics” today were the ones who “took matters into their own hands.”
Newsletter excerpt: the best-known authors of yesteryear were ruthless self promoters
In some cases, that meant paying for their own printing and publicity rather than trusting a publisher to do it. The result: they sold more books. And we still talk about them.
Bottom Line: Publish Things that Matter to Your Audience
While we’ve seen all three of these methods drive media coverage of our clients, none of them is guaranteed. Because of that, it’s important that your blog includes things that matter to your primary audience.
So don’t publish data that will only appeal to reporters if your blog is otherwise full of how-tos for customers. Don’t run a hot take likely to offend your most loyal readers. When in doubt (and this applies to more than just your blog, my friends), aim to do a single thing well rather than many things poorly.