Startups face an entirely different set of marketing challenges than big brands and established companies. Risk-taking entrepreneurs have no problem putting their savings on the line, working around the clock, and pitching hard-nosed venture capitalists. But slogging through that first year without seeing their company name in print? Relying on social media and grassroots promotional techniques? No marketing budget? That would scare most of us.
It’s no wonder I was recently approached by several healthcare startups who wanted to be introduced to my journalist contacts. These founders are lucky enough to be part of a prestigious program, mentored by CEOs and venture capitalists who, from to time introduce them to potential investors. It’s only natural to expect journalist contacts as well.
But a list of press contacts is hard to come by and hard won. Sharing them with fledgling company founders who want their stories spread across the media landscape may yield more risks than rewards when reaching out to a harried journalist. Here’s why…
1. It’s our intellectual property
Relationships with the press are what give PR professionals their value. We’ve worked from the ground up, established a history of story pitches, on behalf of clients, that helped journalists meet the needs of their audiences. We’ve earned their trust and good will. There’s never a guarantee they’ll run with our company news or story proposals but our contacts will likely give us “a hearing.”
2. I want to respect (and protect) my contacts
Journalists today are bombarded with pitches. The Internet has made it easy for anyone to find an editor’s email address, copy and paste a press release into an email, and hit send. This could end up wasting a journalist’s precious time that is already compressed by the latest job requirements: tweeting, blogging, and moderating comments, in addition to reporting and writing stories.
Founders not necessarily trained in marketing may start blindly pitching a PR pro’s contacts and erode the trust we’ve worked so hard to build. And it may not produce the intended outcome, which leads me to my final reason…
3. It’s in the founders’ best interests
With a list of journalists in hand, the almost irresistible temptation is to start pitching en mass. It makes sense: they need to start generating buzz yesterday to attract investors and partners in the early stages, and they’re busy. No matter how exciting their story is—a medical Smartphone app that removes the need for an annual checkup, or a pioneering heath IT product—without some knowledge of media relations they may not achieve the desired outcome, at best. Worst case scenario: a negative reaction from the journalist that ends up being tweeted to thousands of followers.
Mostly importantly, given the time it takes to get responses from journalists, in view of the pressure to crank out 4 to 6 stories a day, news media consolidation, news staff layoffs, exponential increase in digital news platforms, social media and the endless appetite for fresh content, startups could be inventing their next products! The amount of sheer persistence to reach reporters will only take away from getting products to market.
So where does that leave startups? Are they condemned to build a PR presence from nothing? Get a team of interns to run a marketing campaign? Not quite. While marketing strategies are as varied and unique as the products and services they’re selling, startups can minimize risk, streamline their PR campaigns, and get journalists to pay attention.
How to Pitch From Scratch: A Crash Course for Startups
1. Develop your story
Develop your key news and human interest stories. That means identifying not only what the stories are, but what makes them stories at all. In other words, articulating the problem you’re trying to solve with your solution; crafting the hook, plot, conflict, characters, point of view, and newsworthy features that make journalists take note.
2. Find relevant contacts
Find out which journalists already cover topics in your field, and who reach your target audiences. Follow them; retweet their tweets, comment on their articles. Find journalists who reach investors, physicians, patients, or all three? If you do the research first, you can put more energy where it counts.
3. Write a thought leadership piece
Research magazines in your industry and propose an article that describes the problem with your product as the implicit solution.
4. Think long-term
You don’t need quick hits. You need a sustained PR campaign that is relevant to your business goals. Each story we craft and pitch will tie in to the long-haul growth of your business and market. I can help you strategize a PR campaign now that will become a launching point for the next one.