Guide to Public Relations for Startups: How To Hit a PR Home Run
As a PR agency, one of the most common things we hear from early-stage startups is “we want to get on TechCrunch.”
pro tip 4 startups: focus on customer reaction 2 ur product, less on investor / press reaction 2 ur pitch. don't pay the rent.
— Dave McClure (@davemcclure)
Generally, this statement is faced with stoic resilience. The same resilience as when a 4-year-old tells you they want to be an astronaut or play for Barcelona FC. Rather than raining on anyone’s parade, we advise clients to work hard and put themselves out there. They should make the right contacts. And there is no reason they won’t be able to get there eventually.
While being featured on TechCrunch or Forbes is a great result for a company at any stage of development, far too often the hunt for the holy grail can distract earlier stage startups from thinking tactically, and developing strong, sustainable marketing strategies. The tendency is to burn through time and resources. Startups will aim for the big win but totally ignore which are more attainable.
An “earned” media result on a well-respected publication with a global audience of millions of readers is certainly a PR home run. However, based on our experience working with hundreds of startup clients, they first need to pass all the bases. After all, the main aim of getting visibility from media coverage is not just to show how amazing they are, but to ultimately meet their business goals. In this guide, we discuss how to build and manage public relations for startups.
Guide on how to build public relations for startups
So here are the three bases that any startup should pass, to move closer to hitting the public relations home run:
Base 1 – Get your house in order
The first stage of an effective campaign should always be a house cleaning. Before a startup starts trying to put themselves out there, they need to make sure that they are ready to show the best version of themselves.
The design and messaging of their own website and social platforms have to be on point. No sloppy looking web pages or blogs which look like they have been knocked together in a high school computing class.
After all, getting will drive traffic back to a startup’s website, and what happens next depends on the visitor’s first impression.
Focus on content marketing
Generally, we advise startups to first focus on getting a steady flow of content out on their ‘owned’ channels, before targeting external media. Owned channels include a company’s website, blog, social media channels, and also any secondary content channels like Medium, LinkedIn, etc. And since from leading brands create a piece of content each day, startups should start iterating with their own channels and see what kind of content really clicks with their audiences. at an early stage will help them further down the line when they begin targeting external media.
It is important to step past simply creating stories linked to the company’s product. Instead look at other parts of a startup’s journey. This may be more interesting, be it their team, their founder story, their big mission or values, or their company culture. More often than not, these stories are much more interesting to journalists and a wider audience. After all, the point is to share what’s different about your company, not what’s the same.
Optimize your content with SEO strategies
If a startup wants to maximize the effectiveness of their content strategies, it is also recommendable to take the time to do an SEO assessment early on in the process. Using tools like or , startups should be able to easily highlight any rookie errors like broken URLs on their site. They can also compare the strength of their own SEO rankings to their competitors. This allows startups to develop a solid SEO strategy early on. They can capitalize on later by earning high-quality backlinks through external “earned” media results.
Assessing the keywords, the number of backlinks and referring domains of their 5 main competitors will allow startups to create SEO focused content. This will help their ranking on search engines over time. Eventually making them more visible to potential customers and journalists. It also helps to highlight the different referring domains which are linking back to their competitors.
These are the blogs, ranking sites, and publications which startups should be targeting first, as they are obviously open to covering that specific industry.
Base 2 – Start putting yourself out there
Once a startup has their house in order, they are ready to start showing people around.
But it’s important to note that this essential first step should not be skipped. If a journalist can’t at least find a respectable looking website and social presence, the chances are that their interest will wane immediately.
One good way to introduce yourself to the tech community is showcasing on discovery sites like , or . If startups have a great product, post comments and interact by answering questions from users on the site, and bring their communities on board to maximize upvotes, they are in with a chance of on the site that day. This is a PR goal in itself and an achievement which should be shared extensively on social channels, and with the company’s existing community.
Now is the time for startups to start thinking about interacting with the media. But, in the highly competitive current media landscape, we normally advise startups to start aiming for the easier wins before heading straight for the big hitters.
Identify your target audience, then pick your media channels
Rather than aiming for the biggest names, startups should assess which channels can help them reach their target audiences. One option is to start pitching to industry-specific publications. While might not sound as sexy as TechCrunch, it is a big result for a MarTech company and will put them in front of the right audiences to meet their aims, whether this is attracting investors, or simply bringing in leads.
Another option is to start interacting with up and coming, medium-sized regional blogs and news sites like or . These types of publications may not have the same reach as global brands like TC. However, they often have readerships in the tens if not hundreds of thousands per month. And, due to the fact that they are still growing, they are much more open to covering news and announcements from other earlier stage companies.
Start building relationships with editors
It is important to build positive relationships with editors at these types of publications. These journalists are likely to continue expanding over time. Just remember that Techcrunch and TNW both started off as blogs years ago, and look how that turned out.
If the company doesn’t have any particularly eye-grabbing announcements about key events like product launches, partnerships or funding rounds to share, they could consider contributing thought leadership content.
These non-promotional articles tend to focus on offering takeaways to the reader via insights. Rather than being overtly promotional being non-promotional is a great way to increase visibility and improve SEO rankings too. You can find some tips on how to do so
Startups should try and develop a good base of media results and mentions across a wide range of publications. These results should then be shared on the front page of the company website, under the ‘featured in’ section, with live links so that visitors can check the coverage out for themselves. Another option is to create a media pack or section on the startup’s website which showcases all of their previous media coverage. It can also include essential information for journalists such as press releases, press photos, and promo videos of recent products etc.
Increase organic coverage
Placing this content in front of visitors is a great way to improve brand trust and reputation. It will also increase the chance of organic coverage. In my experience, media coverage grows naturally from the first result. The more a company’s digital footprint expands over time, especially with organic external “earned” coverage, the more chances there are of other journalists’ interests being sparked when they stumble across a company online.
Base 3 – Establish yourselves as experts
By this stage in their development, the chances are that a startup is already ‘on the radar’ of larger, tier one publications. The next step is to start a conversation.
One of the best ways to meet journalists from leading publications is at industry events. This way, you won’t have to compete with thousands of other pitches in their email inbox. The events industry is booming. Regardless of where a startup is based, the chances are that there are hundreds of events just a few hours away.
These events are a meeting place for all the key players in the startup ecosystem, from journalists to startup organizations to potential startup partners to VCs and angel investors, offering a potential goldmine of connections.
Most events accept applications for speaker and workshop roles on their websites. Startups should take a look at the different narratives they have been creating about their company via content. They should look at areas where they can offer expert insights and takeaways to other startups and ecosystem players. Only then they should start applying.
Don’t worry about defaulting to your CEO as the spokesperson of your company
It is important to note that it isn’t just the CEO who could make a good speaker. Startups should , and highlight other members who would be able to impart wisdom on different themes, be it marketing, development or product management. The aim is to get the company name out there. It doesn’t really matter who is the person standing on the stage.
Host events to build media relationships
Another option is for the startup to host events themselves. Startups can host workshops, round-table discussions with other industry leaders, hackathons or customer appreciation events. These are a great way to interact with an existing community, but also meet potential new customers and employees too. Startups should be sure to invite journalists from local, and also global publications to attend the event. They should promise one-on-one interviews with key attendees.
It is also time for startups to start engaging top-tier media outlets directly. That means not only via press releases about key company milestones and announcements but also to offer thought leadership articles and commentaries on industry and news events. According to a survey carried out by , 96% of B2B social buyers rate consider thought leadership content as important or critical when choosing a solutions provider.
Offer the media interesting content, not just headlines
When trying to catch the eye of the world’s largest publications, it is always best to ‘give more than you take’. This means offering journalists data, white papers, interviews, and insights. That can help public relations specialists build an interesting story, rather than just sending them a pitch and expecting them to cover your most recent product launch. The point is to demonstrate that the startup is really doing something different, and is at the top of its game.
Reach out to specific journalists with a background in your sector
Don’t follow the spray and pray method of contacting ALL of the key journalists from target publications. Rather, it is important that brands take the time to highlight journalists who have already covered their particular industry.
Tools like and are great to gather media contacts and keep an eye on news trends so as to pitch the right people at the right time. But remember, personalization is key when interacting with the media. Show journalists that they have been specifically chosen for a particular theme or story based on their ‘beat’ and previous work.
Takeaways on how to do public relations for your startup
It isn’t impossible for a startup to hit the home run earlier if they have a particularly amazing piece of tech or company backstory. However, it’s important to manage expectations and plan strategically for the future. Doing so will allow startups to grow their digital footprint and their reputation over time. Startups can then constantly meet business aims via public relations strategies. The aim is to start a steady conversation with as many different audiences as possible.
By keeping their community and key media players up to date with the evolution of a startup, and its effects on its wider industry as a whole, the chances of hitting the home run increase exponentially over time.
Craig Corbett is principal at media incubator and PR startup . Alongside his keen interest in startups, Craig is passionate about supporting the media industry, is chairman for CEE tech publication , and a regular contributor for leading publications such as VentureBeat, TNW, Entrepreneur magazine.