PR Advice for Tech Startup Founders With One of A Kind Products

by Michelle McIntyre

As a seasoned public relations professional, I’ve enjoyed many productive and passionate discussions with genius technologists who want their “one of a kind” startup product covered by the media.

shutterstock_374219557

Here’s a tip for inventors. Quality feature stories are written because something is societally relevant, interesting cocktail conversation fodder or a unique problem solver. Journalists do want to know, how will this change the world?

During an initial consultation with a founder usually I start out by asking what is different about their new product or service.  Sadly 75 percent of the time the answer is, “There is no other product like ours.” And it’s hard to respond without objection because  99 percent of the time that’s not true. Usually I can find an example of several similar products via a simple internet search.

The secret to a company getting coverage is simple. Leave the ego at the door. Quit thinking a product is the only one of its kind and ask others like an experienced PR professional what is really interesting about your story.

One founder I met with was finalizing an app that tracked a child’s to-do list. I searched and found another app that made the exact same claim. They in turn switched to a communications plan that made more sense having to do with showcasing their expertise in productivity instead of touting its uniqueness. It had a beautiful interface by the way.

Another tip is when you share information with the person you have assigned PR to don’t hold back on the good stuff. One founder I worked with waited a few weeks to disclose he was born with a serious medical problem and had several surgeries to correct it. Through diet and exercise he overcame it. His online fitness community he created was partly born because of this rough start in life. As soon as he told me, I told a Business Insider writer. She liked this angle about the founder and wrote a feature about him and his co-founder.

This app was also quite unique though. It weeded out bully comments automatically. That in fact was an impressive feature and resulted in nice coverage in TIME. But when you start with a claim, that a new product is super unique, unless you have a third party expert saying it, it’s usually a turn-off to writers.

To quote Journalist Dean Takahashi via a story he filed on PR tips in Venturebeat a few years ago, “What I love is finding something unique and interesting to write about. I want to find something magical, and I think most journalists, even the most cynical of the bunch, share the joy of discovering something really cool. Sometimes the real story isn’t the game itself. It’s the person who made it.”

I don’t mean to call out a founder who is a hard working, award-winning and an obviously smart inventor. The point is be very careful about telling someone your product is one of a kind. It probably is not.

I worked with a brilliant technologist with an artificial intelligence startup who wrote a celebrated technical paper years before the formation of the company. The technological phenomenon discussed in the paper was “in” iPhone’s Siri. When I pitched a writer I started with that detail, its impact on technology that tens of millions of people use. (Last I checked around 41 million people used the Siri voice assistant.)

This business reporter filed a story soon after. And that story focused on the startup solution, the funding and its venture capitalist. But the hook was the impact of what was in that paper.

In summary, journalists get pummeled with hundreds of pitches and press releases a day. Make sure you leave your ego at the door when talking to them: test your story line or pitch on a friend or family member to see if they say, “That’s interesting.”

Let others decide what’s interesting about your startup story, trust their feedback and go with it. Be careful going down the path of saying it’s a one of a kind product. It likely is not.

Photo: Shutterstock

###

Michelle McIntyre is the president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a seven year old tech PR consulting firm. She’s the recipient of 11 awards for outstanding results mostly from IBM. She’s held numerous nonprofit executive board positions focused on enhancing the lives of children. @frommichelle on Twitter

 

The First 3 Steps in A Startup’s PR Journey

Publicity matters to your company because it affects reputation and influence and this might surprise you: it also boosts *SEO.

shutterstock_421563208

Because of this, quality media exposure needs to be at the top of every startup founder’s priority list.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to hire and acquire customers without it. Before prospective employees decide to apply for a job, they look up a company online and check out what others are saying. If a company has had coverage, they are perceived as more important to the world.

So what’s a startup to do? There are many tactics to try. Here are three to start with.

1) MAKE AT LEAST FOUR MEDIA LISTS

Junior PR people usually get put on media list compilation duty when they serve a new client at PR agency. Long time clients usually have their lists compiled and updated already. When I worked at a PR agency in Palo Alto, California, in the early 90s at first I spent about half my time working with a database of about 5,000 journalists for a whole agency. This helped me learn how to build and maintain a quality list.

Early stage startup CEOs and their marketing VPs just beginning their PR journeys usually start with list making. And one just won’t do.

Here the types lists you might need: journalists and analysts attending your next conference. Top five to 10 industry-specific publications and newsletters. Thirdly, your regional list. Is there a local news journal that covers companies like yours? Like here it’s the Silicon Valley Business Journal. If you are in Dallas, it’s the Dallas Business Journal.

Lastly make your stretch list. Which media outlets are your absolute favorites? What is your dream headline and where do you want to see it? Did you always want to be quoted in Fortune? If you know what you want, you have a better chance of getting it.

2) ISSUE NEWS

Keep in mind your news does not have to be in the form of a press release. Write a 300-500 story and publish it on LinkedIn or Medium. Post it on your website. Write a few paragraphs and email it with tailored cover notes to 10 key journalists. Make sure it’s hard news. That means real news with details.  As an aside there are things called feature releases but you have to be experienced at PR to be successful with one of those.

The biggest journalist complaint is lack of details. If you are announcing a new product, say ship date and cost. If you have vaporware consider not issuing news about it. Try not to go “backwards” on this tactic. Don’t say, “We need to make some news. What can we issue a press release on?” Read what the local business journal people are writing about. It may surprise you. For example, a writer may be interested that you doubled your office space. They may not care that IDG gave you a newbie award.

3) INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO KEY JOURNALISTS

There are many ways to do this. But keep in mind that they are busy. A Venturebeat writer who covers tech news told me on average he files five news stories each day. That’s really busy.

shutterstock_1141272125

You can meet writers at a trade show by walking up and saying, “Hello.” You can go on a multi-city press tour: meet two journalists in four cities and tell them about your company.  You can send a personalized note to a handful of key reporters in your industry as well as a couple of regional ones. Ask, would you like to have a cup of coffee over a 10 minute get-to-know conversation? Say you are new to reaching out to the press and wanted to start out on the right foot.

Note that it’s easier to set up a meeting if you have a high title like CEO, are in a super interesting industry or have some hard news to discuss. Do not send a mass email though. That’s tacky and journalists can tell that when it’s happening.

An infographic in a 2019 Wendy Marx @WendyMarx blog post says mass email blasts are the sixth most offensive act a PR person can commit against a journalist. 

That’s about the gist of it. If you are starting out on your publicity journey do three things: make your lists, issue your news and then introduce yourself.

And if you don’t have time, hire a PR consultant or agency to help.

###

*SEO is search engine optimization. When people search for what solution you provide you want your company name to come up high in the search. According to a January 24, 2018 blog post by Dorothy Crenshaw @dorocren “7 Reasons Why PR Matters,” “Established publications that link to a brand will boost search listings due to the sheer power of their digital domains.”

This PR tips article was written by Silicon Valley PR Consultant and President of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC Michelle McIntyre. She’s an IBM PR vet and was recognized as #3 top PR pro to follow on Twitter in November of 2018 (Ragan.com). @FromMichelle Business2community syndicates her PR blog.  The two images used for this story were purchased from Shutterstock.