I'm always getting asked the question: "Patrick, how do I generate more PR for my company?" It's a simple question with a complex answer. The reality is that PR is often an afterthought for entrepreneurs. It's usually one of the last things they think of until they see a competitor get mentioned in Techcrunch or they realize that they're struggling to hire great engineers because they don't show up in search results.
PR, when done properly, can have a huge impact on your company as I detailed in my post 5 Ways PR Helps your Startup a few weeks ago. Whether it's increasing your visibility to drive sales, getting in front of the likes of Accel Partners or Greylock for investment opportunities, or keeping your people proud and happy to be working for you, great PR has lasting tangible and intangible value.
So what can you? What are types of programs can you launch to generating high impact PR? Let's dive in:
1. Funding News: Most technology blogs are interested in funding stories. This is even more true when you have either a) Brand name investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital or Accel b) High profile founders who have done it before like Dustin Moskovitz at Asana who co-founded Facebook or c) A fairly large funding round (north of $20 million).
Tip: Never approach media outlets until your deal is signed, the money is in the bank and you're certain your new investors are OK with you announcing the deal.
2. Product News: One of the companies I work with, Zently, was recently in Techcrunch to announce a small funding round as well as the launch of their product. The round was small, $1.6M, but it was the innovation around the product that made the story interesting. Zently is trying to simplify renting by providing services that help renters more easily manage their expenses with roommates and also helps landlords manage rentals.
Tip: Make sure your product is as close to market ready as possible and rehearse your live demo multiple times to ensure the demo with reporters is flawless. You never get a 2nd chance at a first impression. Also really make sure you're targeting the right reporter who covers your industry.
3. Hiring News: This one is usually much harder but if your company is fortunate enough to bring onboard a rockstar new CEO, COO, or other C-level executive you can also generate PR using hiring news. One way I've seen this done effectively in the past is as part of a larger "momentum" story where the company announces multiple important hires along with some important company milestones. This makes for an interesting growth story for journalists and if you're industry is hot than it can feed into a broader trend story as well.
Tip: Ensure your new hire(s) are 100% onboard, signed and have started. Preferably, ensure they've been working in the company for a few weeks or months and have a solid understanding of the product and your business before putting them in front of the press.
4. Partnership News: This angle is sometimes overlooked by startups but can be very effective particularly if the partner in question is a well known, successful company. If your company has partnered with Google, Amazon, Verizon, Walmart or some other large brand, that can be newsworthy for reporters. Partnership news can be highly effective if part of your commercial strategy relies on them and you can sign a number of them in quick succession. You'll also find that the news of one deal often can impact your ability to do more, similar deals. Particularly if the company you partnered with is in a highly competitive industry. If that's your strategy, you'll want to make sure you don't do exclusive announcements with a particular media outlet however. You want your PR to be as broad as possible.
Tips: First, getting your partner to agree to announce the deal is obviously critical. Don't waste time trying to do partnerships just for the sake of PR. Even if the person who did the deal with you is in favor of announcing it, the approvals still have to be cleared by the company's PR and, often, legal teams. That's not always as simple as it seems. In addition, you'll really want your contact to provide a quote, go on the record or be available to talk to journalists and provide their perspective of why they did the deal with you.
5. Awards: Awards aren't going to get you into the Wall Street Journal or on the Today Show but they can still provide useful boosts in credibility and help your visibility. You will want someone on your team to keep a calendar of the various different types of awards that you should be applying for and track the deadlines for submissions. There are various different types of awards to be aware of that range from industry specific awards (best VR application) to broader awards that can be around a particular discipline (like Brand Campaign of the Year) to awards like Innovation of the Year or Fastest Growing company. Some examples include the Technology Fast 500 Awards, The Crunchies and the World Economic Forum (WEC) Technology Pioneer Awards. The awards can vary in terms of prestige and newsworthiness but one thing that's certainly a bonus is the ability to attend the event and network with other leading companies and other industry luminaries. Play your cards right and who knows who you might meet.
6. Data Stories: One of my all time favorites. The press always loves to write about data. If your business / product is very data centric and you can provide unique insights on what's happening in a certain industry you can create very compelling stories for the media. For example, I came across a company in the real estate technology space that created a story showing US migration patterns during the summer using their data. They were able to tie that story back to a wider story about how people were leaving Silicon Valley due to rising house prices and get their story featured in a local newspaper. Another example would be a company like App Annie using its data to show how downloads and revenues for mobile apps changed due to a recent major change in the App Store. Data stories always get an audience if the data is interesting enough and can help make your company appear like a thought leader in your industry.
Tips: Avoid sharing all your data up front with a reporter. Give them a few sample data points as a teaser and invite them to discuss the data in more depth. Always try to understand how this data can be interesting for the reporter's intended audience. Why should they care? How is this different? Is it unique? Try to time the release of your data along with a wider story happening in your industry or in the society (see Newsjacking below). Lastly, a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Try to design a cool infographic to add visuals and depth to the data.
7. 3rd Party Research: 3rd party research is where you partner with a major research agency and commission them to do a study of your customers / consumers / industry. The data in this case isn't always yours or specific to your product but it's specific to your industry. Companies and governments do this all the time to try and publicize aspects of their industry or product and even to influence government policy. For example, this year Lyft, the popular ride sharing app, commissioned a study which they do each year with the Land Econ Group to assess the economic impact of their ride sharing business on local economies. In this case they surveyed 38,000 of their own customers and 15,000 drivers. The goal was to understand the impact of Lyft on local economies in terms of how much additional revenue was generated in the local economy by passengers, how much income Lyft drivers had earned for their own families and how much money was saved as a result of time saved by passengers (you can see the survey results here). Not only is this data very useful for Lyft itself but it has a clear PR benefit by showing the monetary value of how local economies benefit from Lyft traffic and by how much.
Tip: The key to driving thought leadership is to do this kind of research consistently. Try and do this kind of research yearly so that press can start to monitor changes in your data over time. After 3-4 years these stories, and the data you provided, become even more compelling and help position you as the go-to experts in your industry.
8. Personal stories: Personal stories are particularly effective with mainstream consumer media (think USA Today or The Today Show). Your goal here is to try and uncover a story of how your product or service makes a meaningful impact on a consumer's life. Personal stories today are used by brands big and small and can be a powerful way to establish a deeper, more emotional connection with consumers. They help consumers bond more deeply with your product and move your user further up your Brand Pyramid closer to your brand essence. Here's a great case study on how Chase, a large financial institution, has been using content and storytelling to build its brand. The right kinds of stories are occasionally picked up by the media and amplified resulting in free PR for the company in question.
Tip: Keep your story authentic, honest and true. Don't try to force things or create stories that aren't real. Look for real life examples of how your product is making an impact and document that. At best, the press may want to run a story and interview you or the person in question. At worst, you can still run this story on your own blog and distribute it across social media. Either way you win.
9. Newsjacking: Newsjacking is the art of identifying a story that's currently trending and jumping on the bandwagon in the hope to shine some news upon yourself. For example, you might see an article on the ever increasing cost of housing in the bay area, a sad reality we all live with, and offer to give your perspective on why consumers are using your app to find housing in the Easy Bay to save money. Likewise, you might come across a story on TV about traffic congestion in the city and offer to give a product demo of your Limebike bicycle ride sharing service to the reporter to explain how your bikes will take cars off the streets.
Tip: Newsjacking is highly time sensitive so you really have to ensure you get your pitch to the reporter / producer (in the case of TV) within 24 hours of the story coming out. You also have to ensure that your product / service really has a natural fit with the story in question and it helps if you pitch your story in a way that really helps extend the original story as opposed to being a pitch about your company.
That's it! Hopefully a number of these tips should be of help. Make sure to check out other posts related to PR on my blog and subscribe for future stories. In addition, I've got a vcast on my YouTube channel that talks about the Brand Bible; A tool you'll want to have well in advance of doing your PR outreach efforts. As always, I appreciate any likes, shares or comments and hope you enjoy the rest of your day!