Are you a startup? How to run a successful PR campaign without burning a hole in your pocket

Managing media and getting a startup's story out can be tricky. Learn from a Silicon Valley PR hand Brittany Hodill how this can be done in some quick easy steps.

Startups typically have extremely limited marketing budgets, if one at all. With sweeping ad campaigns and engagement events out of the question, a targeted public relations strategy is an effective and economical way to not only build business credibility, but increase brand awareness.

But unlike traditional paid advertising where the client controls 100% of the message, PR comes with no creative guarantees. The media covering your business has most, if not all, of the storyboard control. Adequately understanding the nuances of PR is paramount to achieving a successful media campaign and the positive brand image that comes with it.

Since hiring a publicist or PR agency isn’t always in the cards, here are the nine keys to running a successful public relations campaign on your own.

Develop your story

Early on, media is generally more interested in the people behind the company than details of the product. Even if the product is game-changing, it’s vital to have a compelling story about the men and women behind the scenes. Who are the founders? How did the company come to be and what is the overall vision?

Before approaching the media, identify what makes the startup unique and iron-out the key messages you want to see in an article.

Determine what is newsworthy

The launch of the company, investment rounds, big name partnerships, interesting data trends and major product iterations are newsworthy. Incremental app updates, hiring, and new offices are not.

Packaging several smaller news items together, particularly when paired with a timely hook, is a great way to show progress and give media a reason to pay attention.

Do some homework

Nothing annoys journalists more than a pitch that is totally off-base. Read a reporter’s most recent stories before making contact and tailor the pitch to them specifically.

Do they write more about people or companies? News or trends? Is there a specific column or section they own?

Approaching a journalist without doing some baseline research is like walking into an exam without studying; everything could go fine, but it probably won’t.  

Write an engaging pitch

Write and then rewrite. Less is more. Address who, what, when and why in a few short sentences and don’t be longwinded.

Emphasise why readers will care—what problem is being solved? End with a specific call to action and offer the reporter more details if they’re interested.

Note: Brittany finished up her assignment with Creative HQ in New Zealand this week. She is off to do some travelling over the next four month

Follow up

Journalists are inundated with dozens and dozens of email pitches a week, which means many are simply lost in the shuffle.

Submit a pitch, wait 2-3 days and follow up. Make the follow up short and clear. If the news is breaking, pick up the phone for a live conversation. After 2-3 attempts, find another reporter and move on.

Practice, practice and practice

Journalists hear everything, and anything said in an interview, or pitch, could end up in a story. Take adequate time to practice fielding all sorts of questions. While no one wants to sound scripted, it’s a better alternative to sounding unprepared.

Do a dry-run of an interview with a colleague. Practice how to answer sensitive and hard questions ahead of time so there are no surprises come interview time.  

Say Thank You

After the story runs, send a personal and genuine note of thanks to the writer.

The journalist undoubtedly took time and energy to craft an interesting story from scratch, let them know the work is appreciated. A sincere compliment can go a long way.

Make it a two-way relationship

Don’t just contact media when something is needed; be a resource. Provide reporters with an inside line to trends, data and people making noise in the industry they cover. Offer to connect them with other resources or interesting story ideas.

Remember that journalists are human too

In addition to deadlines and demands from editors, journalists have their own lives outside of work.

Offer to buy them a coffee – they usual don’t have time for lunch – to meet for some valuable face-time.

Learn about their life outside the newsroom; the better this relationship becomes, the better off your company is in good and, maybe more importantly, bad times.

Brittany finished up with Creative HQ this week. She is off travelling around beautiful New Zealand over the next few months.