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How to Get Press for Your Startup

HowToGetPressForYourStartup

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We’ve been asked by a number of people about our approach to getting press coverage for Spark’s Kickstarter campaign. Is it interesting, or just a bad attempt at alliteration, to say we crowdsourced our crowdfunding press strategy?

Seriously, though, before we launched, I spent a lot of time scouring the Internet for insights from entrepreneurs, publicity experts, and journalists, and asked a few friends in the industry for their words of wisdom. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the resources and how-to’s I found online. With this post, I wanted to add another resource and share some of the advice we received and lessons we learned.

First, two caveats:

  1. While I would love to say our strategy and hard work is responsible for all of it, what really made our coverage happen was our product and story. We launched at a time when the Internet of things was a hot topic, particularly in the tech world. We also have a pretty amazing “inspiration” story and charismatic founder.
  2. I’m making some major assumptions about what worked. In truth, we don’t know the actual reason a reporter chose to write about us or why we captured their attention. But we can infer a few things.

Guiding Principle: Story

At the very start of putting together our press strategy, we sat down and tried to identify the different stories that could be written about or include Spark and the Spark Socket. We talked about what aspects of the company and product people were most interested in when they first learned about Spark. What did they want to learn more about?

Our advice would be to look at stories on sites you’ll be targeting for ideas and ask yourself whether you fit into some of the themes of those articles. Are you part of a growing trend? Are there certain features of your product that are particularly compelling? Are you a retro take on a modern industry? Did a unique experience inspire you? Are you offering something new in a certain community?

Put some time into this process and don’t stop at just one idea. True, we never directly used some of the ideas that came out of this exercise, but it definitely helped us when it was time to write pitches, make them relevant, and talk about Spark in interviews.

Thinking through story ideas also helped us be able to capitalize on introductions and personal press connections. While these connections are great and definitely important to getting press, make sure to realize that personal connections only get you so far – you need the right story at the right time to get further than an introduction.

Getting Ready…

As our campaign approached, we made lists of blogs and sites that we thought our potential backers would read. I also reached out to friends who we thought would like Spark and asked what sites they visited on a daily basis. Additionally, we looked at the different stories we had come up with and tried to identify sites where each story would fit.

We took that list, checked to make sure we weren’t missing any similar sites, and then started searching for the right writer to contact. I looked for journalists who had written articles on similar technology, startups, or Kickstarter. We found writers whose articles we had enjoyed reading recently. We read through articles and bios to try and identify the right contacts, and also got recommendations and intros from other startups and partners.

Yes, I’m extolling the virtues of preparation but, truth be told, I did more of the above during the campaign than in advance. If I could go back, I would have had a clearer vision of my end goals and all of those target email addresses and pitch angles organized prior to our launch. It would have saved time and effort during the campaign.

One last note on prep – before your campaign, pull together a few high-resolution photos that you can easily distribute should they be requested, whether through a dedicated press site or just via email. I’d recommend having at least three: a crisp product-only shot, a photo of the product in use, and a photo of your founder or team.

During the Campaign…

As CEO Zach Suppala mentioned in his excellent postmortem post – about why not reaching our Kickstarter goal was still useful – once the campaign launched, we sent out a lot of emails.

Or should I say what felt like a lot of emails. That’s because we used our research to personally address and tailor every email to catch the eye of the specific journalist we were contacting. It’s certainly tempting (particularly if you don’t love writing) to put together one blanket email and send it out to a mass list of people. However, the time and pain of writing all those emails was absolutely worth it.

Why did we wait until launching to contact most press? We wanted to give the reporter something real to look at and allow them to include a live link in their article. We sent a few emails out beforehand, but we had a much better success rate with those sent when our campaign was live. It sounds great to drum up buzz before you launch, but you’ll want the bulk of it when readers can immediately click on a link to go support you on Kickstarter.

That being said, the first few days of our campaign were rather quiet, press-wise. While I believe in making the majority of pitches once your project is live, it may help to identify ideal targets that you really push for in the weeks leading up to your launch.

It doesn’t hurt to send out some “reach” emails (e.g., New York Times), but make the best use of your time. Concentrate on the ideal outlets for your news first – and then, time permitting, go for those reaches. When you do, make sure you’re contacting a specific journalist who covers stories like the one you’re pitching. If your campaign is a success or you have a major announcement to make, be sure to include that in your email and offer it as an exclusive.

You can also react to the type of response you’re getting. Haven’t heard anything back from a single person with more than 50 readers? Take a look at the pitches you’re sending and think about how you can improve them, or realize that you may be going after the wrong outlets.*

Hopefully, I’ve provided a few useful takeaways. There are a few aspects to our approach I haven’t covered – how timing changed our press approach, challenges with directing web traffic, what we did with social media, and why I think it’s absolutely worth paying for experienced PR as you grow – but those will be saved for another day.

*Take this with a grain of salt – while one could say we did fairly well gaining coverage, we also completely struck out with plenty of outlets, too. Don’t expect anywhere close to a 100 percent success rate. 

Stephanie is the VP of business development for Spark Devices, a connected device startup in Minneapolis. She joined Spark after finishing her MBA at the University of Cambridge. Prior to that, she spent several years in the entertainment industry in the sales of films to international markets before leaving to write and design a coffee table photography book. She did her undergraduate studies at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. 

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