Startup PR Basics: How to Handle Press Releases, Media Lists, Pitch Emails, and Follow Ups

September 15, 2014

12:00 pm

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Right now, startup PR is pretty much a lose-lose situation for entrepreneurs and journalists.

You entrepreneurs send out pitches you’re unsure about, get ignored, follow up, and get ignored again. You probably start to get frustrated at us journalists: why should we be the gatekeepers? Who are we to say that the idea you’re so passionate about isn’t interesting?

On our side, our inboxes get overloaded with dozens or hundreds of emails a day. Many of them are poorly written, too long, or accidentally addressed to our competitors (oops!). 

What would make this a win-win? Simple: fewer, better, targeted pitches in our inboxes, which would be more likely to garner a response and an article.

Pr.co would love to see startup PR move in this direction, and their service for entrepreneurs helps do just that. Pr.co lets you create nice-looking press releases with photos and in multiple languages, send personalized emails to journalists sorted by industry or topic, and track your open and click-through rates. In addition, Pr.co has a simple tool to build a press page that includes your contact info, press releases, press kit, and clippings. The service costs $30/month or $300/year for startups.

We sat down with CEO Dennis van der Vliet to talk about some of his recommendations for startup PR, from press releases and media lists to email pitches and follow-ups.

Press release

First of all, your press release should be about some newsworthy event in your company. As a journalist, for example, I’m tired of getting press releases about little feature updates or changes in personnel. “There is no point in giving a press release if you bought a new plant for your office,” says van der Vliet.

Inside the press release, he recommends putting all the relevant info a journalist might need to cover you, including links to pictures and videos and your contact info. Weave your news into a hook or angle, some kind of story that goes beyond the actual facts of the situation. For example, you might be “a startup that Amazon should acquire,” a better version of Feedly, or a photo sharing app that prevents annoying oversharing.

Van der Vliet has even seen startups write five different press releases with different angles, and target them at different journalists. You might use one angle for local media (“Local resident pursues his dream…”) and a different one for tech media (“The newest app for sharing GIFs…”).

Media list

Pr.co’s guide to building your press list goes into detail on this topic, but van der Vliet emphasizes that you don’t need to be sending more than 100 emails. “There’s no way more than 100 journalists are going to be interested in your story,” he says. Instead, try 50-75: that’s about the number of people you can research and get familiar with so your pitch isn’t too generic. Pr.co found that open and click-through rates decrease the more emails you send.

But how do you find those 50-75 reporters? Take the 10 publications you want to get featured on and search their site for keywords related to your industry. (If they don’t have search, use Google: “nfc site:tech.co” brings up articles mentioning NFC on Tech Cocktail.) Once you find the relevant articles, start following the writers on Twitter and make sure they’re still covering similar topics. Then add them to your media list. You can do the same thing starting with a Google Alert, van der Vliet says: pick your keywords, then get a list of articles from across the web by writers who might be interested in you, too.

Another way to connect with journalists is to help them out first: subscribe to Help a Reporter Out (HARO), where journalists submit queries about articles they’re working on. I did a series on what entrepreneurs eat for breakfast and lunch, and got hundreds of responses. Depending on the plan you select, HARO lets you pick topics or even specific keywords that you want to answer queries about. Once you’ve helped the reporter, you can go back a few months later to pitch them.

Also, says van der Vliet, don’t forget to add local newspapers to your media list, as well as your family, friends, advisors, and investors. A tweet from someone influential in your network could be as helpful as a news article.

Pitch email

Among Pr.co users, van der Vliet has seen two different approaches: some entrepreneurs paste their whole press release into the email, while others send a short email summarizing the news with a link to their press page.

Which option is better? As a journalist, I personally prefer to receive the latter type of pitch. But van der Vliet doesn’t recommend one or the other: it depends on your story and your audience, he says. Either way, you should aim for a 35-40% open rate and a 15% click-through rate.

Follow up

Van der Vliet’s recommendation for whether to follow up? “See it like dating: if a guy or girl doesn’t respond to your text messages, are you going to be stalking them at home or are you going to back off?”

The first factors to look at are open and click-through rates. An open or a click could indicate some interest, but an unopened email doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested. Not all email providers allow you to track opens, and someone who didn’t open an email may just have missed it. In the end, van der Vliet says, it’s up to you to do your research on the journalist and ask yourself the tough question: is this something they’d actually be curious about, or is it just wishful thinking on your part? The idea that consumes and energizes you might leave them indifferent. If that’s the case, skip the follow-up. 

Yes, we journalists can be cruel sometimes. But so can you entrepreneurs, who send us three follow-ups, tweet at us, and try to track down our phone number. Let’s get on the same page and we’ll all be happier.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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