- Sure, you can spend thousands to get media attention for your company. Or, you can use these tips to earn coverage.
- Media and analyst relationships, like any, are a two-way street, so make sure you provide value when pitching these parties.
- Prepare to handle lukewarm or negative reviews and to seek backup when needed.
When your firm has a product or service to sell and a compelling story to tell, there are ways to get noticed without spending a fortune.
For startups, it’s very possible to get time with the thought leaders covering your market. Analyst firms like 451 Research or Forrester, for example, range from tech to manufacturing to retail, and individual analysts are always looking for up-and-coming industry entrants.
Consumer product companies have harder rows to hoe because the customer and influencer universe is exponentially larger and more diverse than for, say, a SaaS B2B firm. But there are tactics that may give you an edge over competitors vying for mindshare. All you’ve got to do is convey a solid strategy and newsworthy story.
Before we dive into these tactics, let’s cover some definitions.
PR Terms Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Newsworthy, from the perspective of an analyst or a journalist, means an item is targeted to the audience, has a new or original hook and is timely. A seafood delivery service that launched last month isn’t news. A seafood delivery service launching next month that uses blockchain so customers can go online and see exactly where, when and by whom their fish was caught may catch an editor’s eye.
Earned media is when an analyst or editor decides to highlight your product or service. It’s free, but it’s not given freely, thus the word “earned.” Examples are the feel-good segments at the end of a news show or an analyst’sblog on a technology that the expert considers innovative, using your company as an example.
Thought leaders, for the purposes of this article, includes people in these categories:
Who they are
Can I get their attention?
Journalists who cover specific markets, such as the IT channel or manufacturing
Yes, if you are relevant to their audience
Business & financial press
Journalists who cover business topics as well as those focused on VC, PE and markets. Ranges from more general interest to specialty sites to behemoths like Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.
Maybe. The broader the coverage and bigger the name, the harder it is to break in. If you work with a VC or PE firm, leverage those connections.
May be independent or with firms like 451 Research or Forrester or IHL for retail. Firms go broad, while individual analysts specialize.
Yes, but you need a compelling story to get free coverage. Analysts need to remain current, so focus on what’s unique about your offering.
Business & financial analysts
May be independent or with investment firms like J.P. Morgan or Citi.
Maybe. Again, if you work with a VC or PE firm, leverage those connections.
Generally target C-suite executives, but there are special-interest sites for many roles.
Yes, but not necessarily directly discussing your product. Approach with insights on trends affecting the audience.
You’re unlikely to get a Kardashian photographed with your product. Think your top 50-100 most socially active "lighthouse" customers and speciality influencers.
As with social influencers, there are podcasts on everything from true crime to entrepreneurial life. More than 25% of Americans listen to pods.
As with other forms of online advertising, you need to align your message with content. A great way: Offer up an SME or founder as a free, non-promotional guest.
National mainstream media
Network and cable/streaming TV, websites, national glossy magazines and big news operations like WaPo.
Much more difficult than any other category, but for some startups, it’s worth a shot while using our advice for relationship building.
Local mainstream and business media
Local market network and cable/streaming outlets, websites and local news operations.
Yes! Not a gimme, but much more doable than national, especially if you’re a job-creator in the area or give back to the community. National outlets often pick up feel-good stories from local media.
“PR team” is a flexible term. At a startup, one founder generally takes the lead on marketing and sales and is the natural point person for media, board, analyst and investor relations. When you’re ready to hire a marketing professional, look for a recent record of engaging with thought leaders in your market. You want a Rolodex, not just knowledge of marketing tools and techniques.
If you don’t have an in-house PR leader, there are entrepreneurs who will act as virtual, part-time leads until you’re in a position to build a team. Look for low-overhead consultants with deep domain expertise in your industry. Ask your network for recommendations. Check out LinkedIn, and review analysts’ “best of the best” reports.
Big PR firms put their top people on big-name accounts. As a smaller company, you’ll burn more cash in fees, in many cases, than it would cost to hire a PR specialist in-house or on retainer. And in some instances, you’ll be a training project for junior staff who haven’t been in the industry long, have few connections and may not know anything about your market.
5 Tips for Connecting With Media
1. Don’t expend all your energy and resources on one channel or one “Big Bang” announcement. Seeding the landscape ups your chance of attracting attention.
People absorb information nonlinearly, and it’s sales gospel that you need seven to 13 “touches” to convert a lead to sale, even after you capture the prospect’s attention. In our context, the thought leader is your customer, and you have to be there when she is thinking about her next blog, interview or segment.
Think of reporters, analysts and influencers as middlemen. They “buy” newsworthy items and “sell” them to their audiences. Thus, the No. 1 job of the person or team handling your press and media relations is to figure out a variety of ways to convey the message that your service or product is relevant to the thought leader’s audience, right now.
As to how you do this, many traditional marketing assumptions no longer apply. The learning cycle is now less of a classic funnel and more of a start/stop/go back/repeat process, in which people are constantly accumulating and reevaluating information until the point at which they make a purchase or, in the case of a thought leader, engage. Google refers to that flash point as the “zero moment of truth,” and the more fluid nature of this cycle can actually play to the strengths of a nimble, entrepreneurial company.
As part of your business plan, you identified the “why” for your product or service. If you have a killer pitch that attracted VC funding, start there. Answer: What problem are you solving, who’s your target customer and what’s your unique value prop? What does competitive analysis show? From that outline, plan multiple pieces of content — articles, videos, social posts — that target every stage in the new, nonlinear buying journey. Creating these helps with your marketing and sales efforts while also showing the thought leader that you’re committed to getting your message in front of prospects.
Remember, the end goal of compelling storytelling isn’t to get attention from media and analysts. It’s about using media and analysts to get attention from current and prospective customers.
2. Learn who covers your industry, determine which voices are most influential and attack by building relationships.
First, build your thought leader list by working backward: Go to the trade journals, social media platforms and media brands that cover your industry or market— wherever your customers get their information. Identify which writers cover your niche and which analysts they often quote.
Generally, the more niche or geographically contained your business, the easier it will be to identify the influential voices in your space. If you are a B2C ecommerce firm with a national customer pool, for example, there are more options for coverage, but it may be more difficult to get noticed. If you do, however, the payoff can be huge.
Once you have your list, look for “contact us” or “masthead” pages of your chosen outlets. Some analyst firms and sites/publications will have direct emails. If not, jump over to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, TikTok, Clubhouse — wherever your thought leaders hang out looking to influence your customers. Follow them, engage, retweet, and comment on their content.
If your company and product or service are compelling, then influencers, reporters and analysts will engage because they want to stay ahead of the curve by finding fresh new services, products, trends and technologies.
Analysts in particular often have their own blogs and broad discretion on what they write. By engaging on social media, you may be able to set up a free briefing session. And even if you don’t get a writeup this time, you’ve begun building relationships with the influencers relevant to your audience and articulating your story. Old-school? Maybe, but for technology and B2B startups especially, it’s more effective at reaching serious buyers than auto-blast emails and clever memes.
3. Grow your own influencers.
Earned social media is critical to growth. Use social channels to cultivate “champions” and “advocates” in your customer community. There’s a lot of power in word of mouth — not you talking about how great your company is, but customers speaking about the impact your product or service has had on their businesses or lives.
Gamification, applied judiciously, can encourage customers to advocate for your brand. However, advocates are best accrued via genuinely superior products and services, which cause them to emerge spontaneously. But in so doing, remember your end goal, which is not social for its own sake. Work to convert those interactions into sales engagements.
4. Remember that a product launch is a marathon, not a sprint. Building buzz is a process that starts well before you make your first sale — and continues long after.
You have your network of thought leaders with whom you have established relationships and whose platforms can connect you with your future customer base. During product development, you listened and fine-tuned and verified the market opportunity for, and relevance of, your offering. Now, the most important task for the business owner, marketing manager or consultant is to sustain this network’s attention throughout an extended launch period.
Best practices include offering exclusive briefings pre-launch, setting up one-on-one interviews between top analysts or reporters and your founder or looking to be a guest on a podcast. Your team might undertake a road show or rent a booth at a trade show. Many industry events have “startup villages” where space is sold at a discount. One technology channel show set up a “Shark Stage” and gave speaking time to product startups for free.
Separate your efforts based on stages of the launch process. Of course, there’s a lot more to each of these areas (that’s another article), but as an outline:
Prelaunch: You might have already begun an email or social drip campaign hinting at products or services to come. Engage trusted thought leaders by providing an early look at your product or service. If you take this route, you may need to ask reporters or analysts to accept a nondisclosure agreement, in which they agree not to release information ahead of a specified date. Reporters and analysts are busy, so the earlier you get them info, the better.
At launch: At this stage, you share detailed product specifications, partnership information or pricing if you’ve withheld these details ahead of launch. Your “lighthouse” customers, or early adopters, can bring credibility and third-party validation to your message, if cited in a way that is authentic and focused on results. Focus on the problem and how your product or service solves it. Take advantage of your owned content pages, such as your blog and social media properties, and ask customers if you can showcase their stories there.
Post-launch: This is an ongoing effort to sustain interest. Founder interviews, customer stories, event participation, demos, more partnership announcements and benchmarking milestones, spooled out over time, can provide constant buzz. Focus on customer wins, financial and market-share milestones, funding wins and business partnerships and co-branding efforts.
Always approach your target media and analysts while considering what’s relevant to their audiences. That will help your team decide on the type and timing of your outreach.
What First-Time Founders Need to Know About Business PR: With relationship-building at its core, PR primarily relies on strategic communication. And ultimately, companies that understand industry trends are seen as leaders.
5. Treat thought leader relationships like any other relationship — that is, not as a one-way street.
Make sure you or your marketing person or team is not reaching out only when you have product news to share. Be a resource. Offer your experts as sources to journalists, and share interesting data. Prove yourself genuinely helpful to thought leaders, and they will look forward to hearing what you have to say. Contrastingly, don’t stalk reporters and analysts with tons of follow-up. You risk becoming the person they hate hearing from and automatically ending up in the recycle bin.
In smaller businesses, and frankly larger ones too, at least one executive should work on nurturing relationships with a few key members of the media and analyst community.
Contrary to the cliché, there is such a thing as bad press. Don’t freak out over a negative, inaccurate or lukewarm review. Think of this situation like a customer complaint, with your PR person or contractor starting the conversation. Be proactive, and engage your media “customer” in an honest and direct manner. Follow the tenets of social media crisis management, like responding once or at most twice publicly, then switching to private channels.
Learn from your critics. Demonstrate genuine receptiveness to alternative points of view. Build solid counterpoints before engaging with critics, and use care in countering them. Be sensitive to the environment and message landscape; for example, engaging on the phone is very different from a public Twitter discussion. No matter what, stay calm to avoid overreacting.
Where appropriate, ask client stakeholders to interact with media or others who are not receptive to your message.
Finally, don’t ask to proofread a story before it’s filed. No, reporters don’t need your approval to print only the parts of your story that they found interesting. If you didn’t get your main point across in an interview or with your press release, it’s not their fault. However, if a media outlet states something factually incorrect, follow up immediately, explain clearly what you see as the problem and ask for a correction. Journalists want to be accurate, and if the information is indeed incorrect, most will correct it. If your spokesperson said something you didn’t like in print, however, that’s not factually incorrect. If a statement was taken out of context, again it’s important to discuss it with the reporter. They may or may not change it, and you may need to pick your battles.
The Bottom Line
Finally, remember the adage, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” Before you sign off, make it clear what you want the thought leader to do, respectfully. Publish an article? Give you an opinion on your strategy? As in all strong marketing, a call to action is essential.
About Our Author
About Market Impact: Market Impact is an agile communications firm that helps B2B technology companies elevate their brand for strategic growth. Whether you’re a technology startup or preparing for your next merger or acquisition, Market Impact will deliver tangible business results.
About Nikolett Bacso-Albaum: Nikolett is a strategic, collaborative team leader with 20 years expertise conceptualizing and implementing world-class global communications programs. She thrives on managing multiple, complex projects and leading high-performing teams and has proven success in leveraging PR, AR, events and integrated marketing to increase brand visibility and help drive sales.