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Build the Right Media Relations Strategy for Your Startup

PR – nearly every startup wants it. But getting good PR in a competitive market where the gatekeepers are understaffed and pressed for resources is a tough proposition. In today’s climate, the winners focus time and attention on developing real strategies and architecting robust PR programs.

At HPA Corporate Sponsor 3Points Communications, Principal Drew Mauck

Drew Mauck, Principal of 3Points Communications.

focuses on delivering higher credibility and visibility to his clients by understanding their respective cultures, products, brand experiences, and vision for the future. After years of leveraging PR strategies to drive business value for both startups and more established companies alike, Drew and his team have developed an easy-to-understand, replicable framework for managing successful PR programs. 

What is PR?

At its core, PR is the practice of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships on behalf of your company, whether those relationships are internal, external, with the media, or with your clients and customers. While there are many functions within PR, narrowly, a solid PR program is made up of media relations, social media, and content creation.

While these combined functions can and do drive sales, they are more often the first touchpoint that helps customers form opinions and relationships with a business. “PR is the softening up in the sales process. Usually PR is used to create trust and likeability so sales can convert a customer.”

Build Your Own PR Program

Whether you work with a PR agency, in-house talent, or alone, building a PR program is within reach so long as you develop a clear strategy, follow predetermined steps, and stay consistent throughout the process. Since content creation and social media are often layered into a media relations campaign, we will focus on developing a PR program around media coverage.

Plan Ahead

“As a rule of thumb, three months before you’re either going to close funding or take a product to market is the least amount of time you want to give for a proper public relations program. If you rush the media relations’ process you risk leaving a lot of coverage on the table.”

Reporters are inundated with press releases, pitches, and stories on a regular basis, and with smaller newsrooms and fewer staffers, there simply isn’t enough time to cover everything and everyone. Planning ahead allows you to hone your messages and set your goals. It also allows you to thoroughly follow the next steps.

Create a Target Outreach List

Identifying your target market is as important in PR as it is in developing your overall organization. At the beginning of your program, you should identify the publications and reporters that would find your company relevant, newsworthy, and appropriate for their audiences.

Once you have identified the local, industry and trade, and in some cases, national or global publications that would best help you achieve your PR objectives, determine which reporters there have the most influence and care the most about what you are building. Then, consider how you can help them.

To keep this process manageable, especially if you’re going at it alone or working with a small internal team, Drew recommends your target outreach list consist of between five and seven reporters, and focus on those in your own region.

We like prioritizing local relationships and getting a base of coverage, and then working our way across the country in different media markets from there. If you can’t do your own backyard then you really shouldn’t be trying to do other markets.”

Build Relationships

With your target outreach list in tow, “it’s good to reach out and say, ‘because I appreciate the work you do in this industry, I would like to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about what we do [to] see if there’s a way that we can help you in your day-to-day coverage.’” This is not a pitch, but an offer to be a helpful resource to reporters.

It’s important to make yourself available as an expert or a point of reference even when you’re not actively promoting a campaign. This creates more opportunities to develop relationships with reporters, which increases your chances of gaining coverage when you are aiming for coverage of your own. Furthermore, appreciating that journalists have a difficult job and offering to help is a way of promoting the transparency and credibility they provide for your particular industry.

Promote Yourself

When you do land that full feature, you should have the right infrastructure in place to promote your coverage to the people that matter most to your business. Social media is critical to reach your target audiences. Having some basic tracking tools in place also becomes very important.

Implement a tool like Airtable to track your PR coverage and reception so you have a full history of your coverage over time and a sense of which reporters covered you and why. Make sure you’re taking relevant stories from your tracker and sending them to key stakeholders across your customer, investor, partner, and community bases through plain-text emails and email newsletters. Use a CRM system like Base or ProsperWorks to track how those outreach campaigns perform.

Finally, always remember to recognize the reporters who covered you. Your social media team should consider tagging reporters, and your trackers should make note of which reporters best captured your core messages. Send a quick, thoughtful thank you to the reporters who shared your story with a reminder that you’re available to help whenever they need expertise, connections, or industry-related insights.

Keep the Conversation Going

Even when you don’t have a major product launch or fundraising announcement to promote, you should still work with the media to promote your brand and support their news coverage.

One way to stay relevant when you don’t have a newsworthy milestone to share is to “identify what data you can semi-regularly offer up that would help potential buyers of your product believe that you understand your space.”

Disseminating data, insider insights, and proprietary information to reporters develops trust, keeps you top of mind, and can serve as the foundation for successful social media and thought leadership campaigns. To use your unique knowledge effectively, however, you should take a thoughtful approach to sharing it.

“You really should think about putting together what we would call a corporate messaging playbook. It’s a living, evolving document,” and it contains everything from your stances on controversial topics to data you can leverage in future stories. 

Bring in PR Experts

Managing PR, especially when you are fighting through an ever-growing list of responsibilities throughout your organization, can often be too much to handle alone. That’s why bringing in PR experts can be worthwhile. However, picking the right partner is critical to your mutual success, which is why you should understand clearly what you need to deliver to each.

1. What They Need to Do

While every company’s objectives and potential for earning media coverage will differ, it’s important to pick a partner who establishes benchmarks early in the relationship. They should be able to quickly understand the competitive landscape in your industry, your current website traffic performance, your sales projections and targets, and your overall marketing strategy.

While quantifying how many unique placements you will get on a regular basis is a challenge, your PR team should have a tracking system to show you where the work is going and what placements you have earned. Ultimately, “if a company does not deliver media relations coverage, you’ve probably not spent your money in the best way.”

You also always want to find out who your account lead is. “CEOs and principals can be great salesmen, and they can be great tacticians, but many times they’re not actually going to be working on your account. You need to know who is going to be representing you from a day-to-day perspective.”

Your group should also not be afraid to tell you when you’re wrong, when you need to take a chance, when you missed out on an opportunity, or how you can accelerate your growth with a rearrangement of resources. Don’t hire the team that always says “yes” – hire the one that wants your business to succeed as much as you do.

Finally, pick a firm that does its own PR well. Ask:

  • Do they do what they advise clients to do?
  • Do they have good PR?
  • If you do a Google search on them, what comes up?
  • What do their LinkedIn pages look like?
  • Is the firm’s social media presence vibrant and do they have a thoughtful blog?

If the answers to these questions are not positive, then the firm is not a fit.

What You Need to Do

Just because you have hired an agency does not mean you’re off the hook when it comes to PR. This is a team sport, and one that requires the visionary to play an integral role. To be a good partner to your PR team, you should:

  • Consume news, flag reporters, and save stories you like
  • Devote time to thinking through and collecting data you can share with journalists
  • Communicate openly with your team and be responsive to requests for feedback
  • Let the agency into your office and include its members in your culture

“We don’t think there needs to be a big bifurcation between agency and client. We preach immersion. If a CEO is able to create an emotional bond with the account rep, she or he is going to see some badass results.”