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.

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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

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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

 

3 Ways to Stink at PR And How To Improve

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Some people just stink at PR for example by offering boring spokespersons. As background, PR stands for “public relations” which typically means getting press coverage. It’s coming up with messages and then passing those on to the press. If you went to PR school like me you learn that what PR really means is changing someone’s mind about something. But the modern definition is media relations.

Great PR is about knowing journalists’ wants, needs and deadlines and actually doing what they ask. It’s so simple: learn what they want and give it to them. For example the IDG media will tell you they value CIO/chief information officer viewpoints on timely trends as well as customer case studies that are interesting and relevant. Henry Norr, formerly with the San Francisco Chronicle said something that stuck with me: “Your client is the media. It’s not the company that pays you. Make the media happy and you will do well in PR.”

Back to not giving reporters what they want. How many times have I seen a PR manager or director try to put a triangular peg into a round hole? The journalist wants a story: they want to discuss a problem and a solution relating to something timely. They want eyeballs on their story. Make sure what you pitch them falls within their beat. If they need to interview a venture capitalist by 4 pm about hot collaboration startups then by golly, get them that exact thing or keep quiet.

What is too common is bad PR people announce a third generation me-too beta product via long press release just to get some news out. It fills up journalists’ inboxes. It gets ignored. It makes it far less likely that they will open an email from that PR person again.

I watch some people crash and burn in their PR jobs by never innovating on what the marketing lead wants which is typically product advertising and churning out press release after press release of garbage.

What are the three main problems contributing to bad PR, and how can you avoid them?

1) Spokespersons cannot tell a story. I have 30 years of PR experience and a boat load of awards for results mostly from IBM. I can lead a horse to water but brothers and sisters, I cannot make them drink. If you are insisting on a boring spokesperson who cannot story-tell or your only key message is boring, you will not get a story. I repeat. An interview does not mean a story. A spokesperson can easily kill a story. I’m very good at securing interviews. If you blow it, I can’t save you. How to fix it: do better media training or use a different spokesperson. When I was working with a large company often I’d “hand pick” my own spokesperson even if they were the non obvious choice. Once in a while the obvious choice was the best one though. (I love when that happens. There was a sales VP in a software division who could story-tell like Burl Ives. He was my favorite.)

2) A boring press release. Issuing a news release with boring non-news will get you blacklisted by some writers. They will open one blah press release and probably ignore your next email. Another route to take: If you need to get something out there so your company gets attention, try a feature press release instead of saying you are on your fourth product version, or “Here’s our beta product.”  Make it an interesting story: tie to something happening in the world that is conversation-worthy. Test the story on a family member. Teens will give you candid advice. I can make a commodity technology product interesting by discussing something interesting related to it. The writer then has a real headline and angle. Did you really expect them to write a story saying, “So and so company announces a second generation beta product with no new technology that is not shipping yet”? If they wrote the truth you’d probably be pretty angry. Unfortunately those types of details are often hidden in press releases. The writer finds this out in an interview and then they drop the idea of doing a story.

3) Re-announcing something. Years ago as a consultant I was asked to pitch a story about a new division of a large Asian company opening  up in the Silicon Valley. I placed a nice story within 30 minutes which made everyone happy. However, I found out a little while later that this was the second time they announced this exact news. Now I did  place that story, a win, but the reporter took my word for it and filed fast. After she found out it had been issued previously she was a bit put off. No one else filed a story. Now I know to do an internet search for that news before I pitch it. If I see an old press release on the same news, I change up the way I talk about it. Perhaps it’s a news pitch, “A look at where this new division is six months later.” The way to prevent this: search the news online before taking someone’s word for it that it is news. If  it’s not change your pitch strategy and tactic.

 

 

So if you aren’t getting press coverage, ask yourself, am I giving journalists what they really want? And review your press release schedule and choice of spokesmen. Tell an interesting story or discuss a trend. Pick the non obvious person to tell it if necessary.

Making a simple change might save your PR program and your job.

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Michelle McIntyre gets attention for companies mostly in the technology space through creative press relations and content marketing. An IBM vet, she’s a micro-influencer on Twitter in the area of future of work and recipient of more than 10 awards for outstanding results. Follow her @FromMichelle

Thou Shalt Follow These 10 PR Commandments

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A commandment is defined as a divine rule. If you want to be a devout public relations professional, follow these 10 PR commandments in 2020.

Thou shalt spell check PR materials. Let pitch notes, press releases, client reports, blog stories, speeches, video scripts and so on sit overnight. Proofread it again in the morning or have someone else look at it. Sometimes editors will share an error-filled pitch or press release over social media to showcase poor communication that they have received.

Thou shalt keep thy PR message brief. Pitches more than 250 words might be hard for a top tier writer to comprehend. Some writers receive 400+ email pitches a day. Get to your point concisely.

Thou shalt surprise thy journalist. When you write a press release, ask yourself, did you include something new, interesting or surprising? Did you explain how it would improve someone’s life or improve a business process?

Thou shalt have a PR coverage goal. When you set out to garner attention for a company, concept or product, set a success bar. How much attention is considered successful? For example, your goal could be one feature print story, two TV news spots and five million impressions.  A tool like Meltwater could help.

Thou shalt not annoy an editor with too much follow up. Too many follow up messages might get you blacklisted by a writer. Use logic when following up. Instead of asking, did you receive the pitch note, ask something else like, are you back from holiday? Or, how was the trade show?

Thou shalt not abuse a mobile phone number. When a writer gives you their mobile phone number, don’t call it unless the situation is urgent. Typically people now can receive an email or direct social media message pretty quickly.

Thou shalt read a recent story by the writer before pitching. Read a recent story by the journalist before reaching out. If you don’t see any stories published in the past couple of years, they may not be worth your time. Maybe they took a job in PR, which is common these days. The exception is someone who edits but doesn’t have bylines. But lately it seems that editors publish as well.

Thou shalt not pitch via public Twitter profile. Journalists like scoops. They are not likely to discuss a solid story idea over their Twitter account for the competition to see. Some read direct messages but to send them a message they have to be following you. So it helps to have a quality Twitter profile and messages.

Thou shalt listen to what the writer wants. If a writer wants to only talk to customers and not the CEO, don’t keep offering interviews with the CEO.

Thou shalt say, “no” and add “try this instead.” When the lead marketing executive demands that you issue a press release on a drab, me-too, follow-on product, don’t be a yes man or woman. Offer a better idea like production of a video featuring a happy customer of the first product. Or write a pitch featuring a happy customer and success story: offer the customer as an interview source to a favorite writer. Mention the new product briefly as an aside.

Save the in-depth new product description for direct communications with customers and prospects and/or the right social media channels.

Boy praying photo:  Shutterstock

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Michelle McIntyre, an award-winning IBM vet and blogger is the president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a tech PR consulting firm in the Silicon Valley. McIntyre has served on several  nonprofit boards and was named VLAB Volunteer of the Year in 2017 for her marketing and blogging efforts. @FromMichelle on Twitter

 

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10 Timely PR Tips To Not Ignore Right Now

[This story by Michelle McIntyre originated in the Huffington Post.]

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Wow, it is hard to get press coverage these days. However, the results I’ve secured for my tech clients have been decent. How did I do it? I’ve had to constantly think hard, be creative and stay on top of things minute by minute to make stories happen.

Strategic outreach resulted in fairly recent stories in Business Insider, Bloomberg, FITNESS, Teen Vogue, TIME, Wired, Network World, Baseline Magazine and a few deep industry outlets like EBNOnline, EdTechDigest and Manufacturing Business Technology.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when doing press outreach in the second half of 2017. These guidelines help me daily.

 

1. Know when the journalist’s big conference or vacation is happening. Are they mostly looking for stories related to a conference they are attending? Conference-related news will be more likely get noticed at that time. I usually see vacation plans on Instagram and trade show comments on Twitter. An interview during your CEO’s West Coast press tour won’t likely be set up during a journalist’s honeymoon in Greece.

 

2. Don’t try to target too many media outlets at once. The best pitch is written for one reporter. Keep in mind that journalists like scoops. Some news campaigns will involve outreach to more people but if it’s not major news, be careful. Tom Foremski of ZDNet and Silicon Valley Watcher infamously says he doesn’t like press releases because they are “anti-scoop.”

 

3. Check the most recent contributed article guidelines before submitting an article. For example, TechCrunch published a story in early 2017 saying it’s now invite-only for new contributed writers. There are three ways to pitch Forbes: send a story to the editor; pitch an already successful blogger as a regular contributor; or pay a sponsorship fee for a monthly spot in “Community Voices.” How did I become a Huffington Post blogger? They invite people sometimes. I signed up during the last window. I also had a lot of blogging experience before signing up. I was syndicated by Business2Community before asking to be a Huffington Post blogger.

 

4. Beware of hiring SEO experts saying they know PR. I read a dozen PR trends stories to find new inspiration for this article; sadly two thirds were by search experts trying to look like PR people. The other third were real press relations experts. One of my favorite PR bloggers is Lou Hoffman. He’s an experienced PR guy who has a decent amount of knowledge about search engine optimization and content marketing. He’s not an SEO person claiming to know PR. A skilled PR person needs to know journalism. If they know about search too, that’s a plus. But many search experts don’t have a clue about journalism.

5. Make sure the spokesperson’s title is appropriate for the outlet or opportunity. There are many top B2B “IT” writers who like to interview CIOs or CEOs but no one else. So don’t pitch them a case study and interview with a controller or market analyst. Here’s a specific example. IDG Contributor Network is accepting bloggers right now; they don’t like writers who do product development or work directly with customers. They prefer CIOs, IT managers, and people who recommend technology. Folks who work at analyst firms or standards bodies would are okay.

 

6. Skip the “unpitchables.” There is a Forbes contributor named Louis Columbus who writes quality stories about analytics and enterprise software trends but is likely unpitchable. Why? His bio says he works for Ingram Cloud. Why would someone from Ingram Cloud accept an interview with most companies they are not targeting from a business standpoint? Note that a “light” note introducing the blogger to a client is not a bad thing in this case. But don’t expect much in return.

 

7. Write like a journalist. Is the pitch falling on deaf ears? Did you leave a message and send a follow up email? Have you not heard back? Did you know that many popular tech writers receive 400 emails per day? Make sure there is something interesting or surprising in the pitch. Continue to improve …

 

For the rest of the tips and the full story please visit Huffington Post at this link.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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This article was written by Michelle McIntyre, founder of MMC PR, executive member of TEDxSanJoseCA, VLAB 2017 Volunteer of the Year, IBM PR vet, and award-winning Silicon Valley technology publicist. Join 5,800 others and follow her on Twitter @FromMichelle

Guy Kawasaki says Entrepreneurs Make these Top 10 Mistakes

ImageGuy Kawasaki spoke at The Startup Conference this week. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

By Michelle McIntyre

Investor, TED Speaker, startup expert, former Apple evangelist and author of nine books, Guy Kawasaki gave a talk called “The Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make” at The Startup Conference in Redwood City, Calif., Wednesday. He is currently chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool.

Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

As a PR and business strategy consultant to many startups, nothing he said shocked or amazed me but his side comments and answers to audience were very funny. He has always had a way of giving business advice in an entertaining and highly digestible fashion.

Here is his list of 10 top entrepreneur mistakes:

Mistake 1 Multiply big numbers by one percent to calculate market size.

Solution: Entrepreneurs should calculate from the bottom up and have realistic expectations.

Mistake 2 Scale too fast.

Solution: “Eat what you kill.”

Mistake 3 Form partnerships, or just focus too much on them.

Solution: Focus on sales. Kawasaki says, “Sales ‘fixes’ everything!”

Mistake 4 Focus on the pitch.

Solution: Focus on the prototype. Code writing software is more important than Microsoft PowerPoint.

Mistake 5 Use too many slides.

Solution: Use the 10-20-30 rule. It is 10 slides or less, 20 minutes in length and no smaller than 30 point type. I agree with this. In fact, I tell clients no more than six slides.

Mistake 6 Make serial progress.

Solution: make “parallel progress.” Startups need to multitask and be flexible instead of deciding that everything must be done in an exact order.

Mistake 7 Try to retain control. It’s a mistake to think that if you own 51% of the company, you can call all of the shots. Most decisions voted on in the board room are decided ahead of time.

Solution: Instead of focusing on how much of pie you have, focus on “making a bigger pie.”

Mistake 8 Use patents for defensibility.

Solution: Use success. He cautioned against mentioning patents more than once in a pitch.

Mistake 9 Hire in your own image.

Solution: Hire to complement. If you are a male founder, look for a female to round out the management team. Diversity is good for business.

Mistake 10 Befriend your investors.

Solution: Simply exceed expectations.

ImageEnchantment is one of nine books by Guy Kawasaki. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

My key takeaway was that early stage startups need to make their top two priorities developing a quality product and building the user base. Nothing else is as important.

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Michelle McIntyre, @FromMichelle, is a PR consultant for tech startups, an IBM vet, on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA and director with Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators.