Zillow’s PR Formula: P+D+CM

There are few things more powerful for an exposure-wanting startup than data, and this Fast Company article about Zillow’s success does as good a job as any in showing how data makes a difference.

If turned into an equation (what is it with us and equations anyway?), Zillow’s PR success  would be:

P+D+CM (or Product + Data + Content Marketing).

What does this mean for every other startup?

Let’s assume that like Zillow, your product is killer. And also, like Zillow, let’s assume you’re committed to content marketing and are now using it to build your voice and reputation. So if product excellence and content marketing are set, it’s time to turn attention to the single most powerful element of Zillow’s PR success: Data.

Zillow took the data available on its site – aggregated from many sources from around the country – and pushed it out consistently and in compelling ways, giving reporters and editors the statistics and information they needed to write stories they never could have before. From individual neighborhood pricing to broader national real estate trends, Zillow became THE dominant source for real estate data.

The result? No one buys or sells a house anymore with first checking Zillow.

And Zillow was hardly the first to see the power of data as a PR tool. Stock market indices might be the most obvious examples of this data-driven effort, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.

What should this teach you? Here are some ideas:

  1. Package the Data You Already Have – Perhaps your startup is a marketplace for vintage widgets. What widget types are getting the most searches on your site? The least? What do pricing trends indicate about the next big thing in vintage widgets? Create a monthly or quarterly report to share with widget-focused outlets and reporters. The first couple may not stick, but eventually you can become a trusted source on all things widgety.
  2. Run a Survey – If you start looking closely, you’ll find that an inordinate number of news articles are based on survey data. This is an easy and painless process if you’re Fortune 500, but it can require too many resources for a typical startup. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to run a survey inexpensively. From asking a few fixed questions of everyone who visits your site, to leveraging online tools like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo, you can start generating compelling data quickly. That said, there are certain best practices that should be followed – this is a good rundown. (And here’s a list of resources to recruit survey participants.)
  3. Aggregate Other People’s Data – There’s no shortage of data on pretty much any subject. It’s being generated every day by analysts, associations, media outlets, bloggers and so on. Once you know the objective of your data effort, unleash some interns to find everything and anything they can on the interwebs, and then aggregate their findings into a monthly report, making you the go-to source for the data most relevant to your audiences.

Though a powerful part of PR success, data is too often overlooked or put aside due to cost, complexity or uncertainty. However, at a time when content marketing plays an increasingly important role in marketing success, hard data is very likely to be the most powerful content you have.


We’re happy to share our ideas specific to your situation, so give a shout if you’d like.