Alan Weinkrantz is telling me how he was invited to the Palestinian territories to coach startups – and I can hear a sense of awe in his voice at how globalized the startup world is.
He has been consulting in PR for 30 years, which means he was born in a time when things weren’t so connected. Now, stories break on Twitter and journalists have inboxes flooded with pitches – and yours probably isn’t on top.
So I caught up with Weinkrantz, who splits his time between San Antonio and Tel Aviv, to hear some concrete, simple tips on getting media attention.
Tech Cocktail: You presented to TechStars Cloud recently. Why did you call your presentation “Above the Code”?
Alan Weinkrantz: I call it “Above the Code” because my observation, especially with these startups, is that they’re mostly focused on the functionality, usability, and just getting the code right – which is certainly an important aspect. But what I’m trying to do is – early in the development process, even though you’re way too early to even think about getting media – putting it into the development process and putting it into the context of your business. It increases your chances of getting lucky.
Tech Cocktail: If you could distill your advice to a few actionable steps, what are the top things startups should do?
Weinkrantz: 1. Identify 10-15 journalists, bloggers, thought leaders, analysts that … need to know about [what you’re working on] – not yet, but identify your candidates. And start reading their content, just as an exercise. Put someone in charge of following [a journalist] and understanding their editorial fabric and what they write about, and hear and listen to their voice. [See How to Identify a Targeted Journalist/Blogger/Analyst Who Might Cover You.]
2. The other is, there’s always a section called About. Rather than About, I would have Our Story – some companies do this. What’s your heart and soul? Why are you doing this? Where’s the humanity in what you do? Where’s the personality quirks? … You want to be real, but where’s your passion above and beyond what you do?
I would profile your partners and interview them as journalists; I’d get a video camera out and spend time just engaging with your team. You don’t have to put this stuff on the web, but I find if you interview each other and pretend you’re journalists, all of the sudden your reason for being changes. … I’ve done this with a couple clients, and it really does work.
3. Be prepared, like a Boy Scout. I have a company I was helping in Israel. When I met with them, I said, “Have you had any experience with the media?” He said, “Yeah, you know, CNN did a piece on us.” I go, “What?! How did that happen?” He said, “A writer from CNN was looking for content about pricing strategies for Amazon and I’ve been writing a lot of that on my blog. He said we had the best content, we looked to be the most authoritative, he interviewed me, and we were on CNN.”
So you need to be prepared because journalists are looking for trends or content. I always say, “God forbid somebody finds you.” His technology is probably no better than the other 5 or 6 companies that do exactly what he did, but he was on CNN and the other 5 weren’t. Being prepared means having an articulate story that you can share without the technical gobbledygook that explains in English what you do and the benefit you provide.
Tech Cocktail: What are some of the mistakes companies make often?
Weinkrantz: I have many. [Laughs.]
1. Blindly spamming journalists.
2. Not studying what journalists write about.
3. [Sending an angry email if they wrote about your space and left you out.]
4. Not honoring what I call the “principle of the receiving end.” Sometimes a journalist is just too busy, on that day they’re not interested, or on that day you just didn’t get on their radar. It doesn’t mean you’re not interesting; wait a month and come back with something else. Don’t get discouraged.
Tech Cocktail: Any other lessons for startups?
Weinkrantz: Humility. The thing that you’re able to do today, you should treat with reverence. Because in generations before that I’ve worked in, the barriers to entry were so high. Sometimes your youth can make you in a hurry. If you do strike a chord, you should take this as almost a blessing or a gift from somewhere. If you don’t break through, you need to persevere; if you need to pivot, do so with humility and grace.
There’s this transformational thing that I’m seeing going on in the world – I see it almost like a consciousness movement with startups. This really struck me on Friday before I went to SXSW. I went to Rackspace headquarters, where the StartupBuses from around the country landed – watching them all get off the bus and walking to Rackspace headquarters and being cheered, almost like the Pope had landed. And you could go up to Dave McClure, you could go up to Guy Kawasaki, you could walk up to Robert Scoble, and you’re treated like you’re a rockstar because you’ve made this journey. This is a time of privilege to live in this era, and the fact that you’re doing this #1 is commended, but #2: treat this as hallowed ground that you’re walking on.
Be humble, appreciate what you’re going through, make the most of it.