How To Win at PR
When writing the “Art of War” Sun Tzu argued that perception is key to winning in war, and perhaps nothing could be more accurate in business. How your company is perceived, how you are perceived as a founder and leader, and how you tell your story to become the narratives that underpin fundraising, partnerships, user growth, and ultimately success. Understanding your story, and having the right partners to align with can mean the difference between raising your Series A, and waiting on the sidelines for the right funding partner.
So here are some key steps you need to take to win at PR?
Relationships, Connections, Friends
Building impactful funding relationships is important to your startup growth and survival. Perhaps of equal importance is remembering that journalists and the media are the gatekeepers to the public and mass audiences. The tech world is actually very small, comprised of players who have known each other for years, and who largely support each other in their endeavours and new ventures. Goodwill is everything in the community. In the same way that when you are fundraising, connecting with the right people is important, when you are gearing up for PR, having friends and advisors in the industry is massively helpful. If you don’t have a media network yet, most founders don’t start going to industry events and learning what the top media personalities and journalists are passionate about.
Kara Swisher from Vox owned Recode, loves stories about big tech and the intersection of power, (and misuse of power) and innovation. Swisher has been an advocate for changing the ratio of women and minorities in tech, and standing up for the underrepresented. She’s been described by Newsweek as “Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech journalist”.
By going to industry events and meetups, you can hear journalists speaking and learn what areas interest them most. Keep in mind that they are inundated by founders wanting their startups to appear on Techcrunch, Forbes or Entrepreneur. Your best bet is to introduce yourself, keep it short and sweet, and tell them you would love to send them news of an upcoming announcement. Journalists for big media usually have public email addresses you can find on their Twitter profiles.
People love stories about people. Think about it. What was the last time you read a feature piece about a tech product or tech feature (other than Apple)? In the same way, you carefully strategise your business story for investors, your media story has to connect and be of interest to a mass audience. The “hero’s journey” is a very common, and successful technique to capture a journalist and audience’s interest. It involves telling the story of a founder in such a way that an audience finds the founder relatable, and inspiring. For example, Kathryn Minshew, Founder and CEO of the Muse tells the story of being turned down 148 times when pitching investors, before landing funding. She then offers helpful advice about staying the course and remaining resilient in the face of rejection. Telling your story of your entrepreneurial journey, while giving an audience key takeaways and tips, makes a successful story that a journalist can pitch to their Editor. So, consider: what challenges have you as a founder overcome, and what advice can you give others in the community that genuinely adds value?
A relatively straightforward (although not guaranteed) story to tell is around a recent funding announcement. Remember, if you have yet to announce your previous funding rounds, you can roll all of your capital raising, into one announcement in the press. Once again, do not spend too much time focusing on tech features, more on the people involved, the problem you are solving, and what this means in the broader market context. Tech journalists will mostly be keen to understand what angels or funds participated in your round, how much was raised, and your vision as a company. When writing your press release, consider your strategic objectives—gaining more partners in the market? Increasing the company valuation for the next funding round? Attracting top talent? Spin your story to highlight these key points. Once again, the audience is everything so strategically create a story that engages your audience, leading them to the conclusions you would like communicated. For example, if you want an audience to conclude “this looks like an amazing company to work at”, talk about talent retention, culture, diversity and why you are geared to win.
The Art of the Follow Up
Like many things in life, success in PR involves maintaining strong, respectful relationships. You would be astonished to have a few founders write to a journalist after an article has gone out, to thank them. Similar to when anyone does you a favour, make sure you show members of the media respect and gratitude when they take the time to write about your company. Journalists can write about anyone’s company, so if they are writing about you in either a full feature or event just a mention, thank them. Tweet about how grateful you are for their story, tag them and the media outlet and write a short follow up thank you note. It costs you nothing and ensures the journalist who worked on your story feels appreciated. Make sure to maintain the relationship. Don’t hit up the journalist with unnecessary emails, but do invite them to anything you believe may add value to them.
Backlink It Up
Lastly, don’t forget to request that the journalist backlink to you. Perhaps the most important part of receiving online press is that it backlinks to your site, creating Domain Authority, SEO juice, and directing new users to your site. Backlinks are the core of your story, so make sure you always ask a journalist to backlink to your web presence.