Basic PR Tips for Consumer Tech Startups

This is going to be (hopefully) a straight-forward post about tips for consumer tech startups on dealing with the press effectively. I am by no means anywhere close to an expert on this subject. I am not a PR professional. I am not a journalist. But, I have helped numerous Silicon Valley startups figure out how to play the game effectively. It is a messed up system, so there are no perfect solutions, and what I’ll write here has been written before, so I hope to convey it with more context.

I should give due credit to Mr. Michael Dias, whom I met under funny circumstances. A few months ago, I received a message through my site from a PR firm that shall be nameless. They wondered if I should be on their master press list. Like an idiot, I replied and said not to put me on the list, which she did, and which resulted in getting over 100 emails per day. For those that don’t know, these companies constantly mine and curate press lists in key vertical areas and sell those lists to people like Dias. When Dias wrote to me, I wrote back and said, as politely as I could, that I can’t help him and that he shouldn’t have my email. Lucky for me, Dias turned out to be a terrific fellow and we ended up having a nice email and phone dialogue about this issue.

Here are some of the points we discussed, which I think are important for startup CEOs and PR pros to mull over:

  1. Define Context – When PR folks or companies reach out to journalists or bloggers, they should take the time to set the context for their email. That means doing a bit of research in order to personalize and add warmth/empathy to the initial note. Of course, that doesn’t scale well, so people end up “blasting” releases with the hopes that some lazy writer will pick it up in order to meet a quota that he/she is under. The result is bad content and it’s not in the best interest of any party. Instead, it’s better to create press lists, prioritize them, and start getting in touch with outlets to find like-minded people to work with in the future. The more relevant context you can surface, the better chance you have at getting a warm reception from a cold email. The emails should also be short — long emails look like spam.
  2. PR Retainers – Most PR firms that work with startups either charge a monthly retainer (with a minimum), ask for equity, and/or some blend. I’ve seen every arrangement. The problem is that startups without tons of funding don’t realize that no matter how great their PR firm is, stories are not guaranteed. Therefore, there is sometime a tendency to try to strike deals that place incentives on getting copy, but that puts the PR folks on edge because they aren’t in control of what gets published. I’ve seen PR folk work on a story for months only to have it evaporate for no reason. It’s certainly frustrating, which is why I believe its best for young companies to build and develop these relationships in-house. If the company can’t do it, hire someone who can or learn.
  3. Exclusives vs. Embargoes – This is a tired topic, so briefly, I go for exclusives and working with a writer closely for a longer, in-depth piece. Embargoes are nice but you must be comfortable with the risk of losing control.
  4. Buying Lists Do Not Translate Into Contacts – Meaning, if someone offers you a list, big or small, you may have the contacts but you’ll likely not have any context. See #1.
  5. Relationships – The best approach is to build relationships with writers. They learn whom to trust over time. They will also look to certain people for information, other story ideas, etc. The more creative one can be, the more likely you’ll be able to develop these connections.