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How To Get Media Coverage For Your Startup: A Complete Guide

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on March 22, 2012 93 Comments

The following is a guest post by Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, a smarter way to post on Social Media. [Note: I'm an angel investor in Buffer and love what they're doing]

The Complete Guide to Getting Press Coverage For Your Startup

Whoa, this guide was long, long, long overdue. Over the past few months, a lot of people reached out for help on how to best get press for their startup. I could help them with a quick email response, but it never felt quite appropriate.

So from now on, just a link to this guide will hopefully be useful.

Over the past 6-9 months, I am extremely thankful for the amazing stories lots of great writers from news and tech sites have written about Buffer.breaking news

To put it into perspective:

Mashable featured us 6 times, TechCrunch twice, over 10 articles in The Next Web, plenty of write-ups from ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, LifeHacker, VentureBeat, Inc. Magazine and others. In total, there were over 40 stories by these notable sites written about us, each one based on the tips in this guide.

It is up to you to judge how good or bad the above outcome is and there are others who have done better of course. And one of the things I still fail on, is getting covered by mainstream media, such as CNN, Forbes,and FastCompany and co.

Yet, I wanted to share my experience with you on what we have achieved with Buffer and spill all the knowledge I have for getting covered. Literally everything, down to the tiniest detail.

First off, I don't want to fool you and need to emphasize the nature of our product, Buffer. It is a tool for Social Media, making you more efficient and productive. It is a consumer product, helpful to anyone using Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

That's pretty helpful if you want to get featured by tech sites. So, please bear in mind, that any results below, are biased towards and tied to the nature of Buffer. It might not make any difference to your approach, but just in case.

Secondly, don't be overwhelmed with the info below. A lot of these things took me a long time to figure out. Trying to follow all these points right away, might leave you frustrated and with too much to do at once. I would suggest:

  • read one section,
  • do it,
  • get back to the guide at a later time to do the next step.

I believe, getting your startup covered, is one of the most important things you can do to get your product out there. It can help with and did so for us with a lot of things, such as new signups, getting investment, partnerships and biz dev deals.

Especially if you are a first time entrepreneur, who can't rely on a huge personal network, that helps you get the word out, press can be an amazing way of doing it.

All set? Let's get started:

1) Have your own startup blog, learn to tell stories

Yes, I can't stress this first point enough. Especially as it seems quite unclear at first. A lot of the success I have had with getting covered comes down to us having a very active blog.

I have written before about why your startup needs a blog. This point is different to anything mentioned there. That's great right? On top of all the good things that happen through having a blog, it also plays a major role when getting covered. Here is why:

If you learn to blog, you will learn to become a better writer. You will understand why one headline gets shared more than others. You will understand, why one piece of content attracts more readers than others. You will understand that no one wants to hear about your product, unless it provides a focused insight on which problem it will solve for your readers.

So once you run your own startup blog, 2 things will happen:

 

a) Once you submit stories to tech writers, you will be on the exact same level with them. You will understand their struggle. See, a writer doesn't care about your product. But they care about providing value for their readers. Once you understand that, the door to getting loads of write-ups is wide open. You will be a writer suggesting a great story, not the marketing guy trying to get his startup featured.

b) Being a blogger and knowing how to write, will give you an immense pull. You can provide your own coverage on your own blog. Let me give you an example. Recently we added Buffer for LinkedIn. The write-up on our own blog, got well over 500 shares, brought more sign-ups than the tech coverage we reached out for AND without any further emails triggered 4 more write-ups from notable blogs, just because it was getting shared so wildly.

So the first step to getting coverage for your startup is to build an active blog, that teaches you about writing and telling stories.

2) How to get to know writers via Twitter and Facebook

Mashable doesn't cover you a writer does!

Here is one of the biggest mistakes I made at the start. I thought if I had something news-worthy, I would pitch that Mashable site or that TechCrunch blog with a story. Not surprisingly, we never got any write-ups from it.

Then I realized something, it's not the news-outlets that write about you, it's individual writers that do. Sounds stupid and obvious right? Yet, it changed my approach completely.

So, in order for your startup to get covered, you need to know those writers and you need to know LOTS of them.

The first thing I did is follow them all on Twitter and subscribe to their Facebook updates. Here is a list of the about pages from Mashable, TechCrunch, and ReadWriteWeb (these are just examples, make a much bigger list, than just those 3). Go ahead and find the most suitable writers covering the industry your startup is in.

Now that you follow them and are subscribed, become interested in what they do. I don't mean to make this a big task, do it very casually and make it a habit. Browse your Twitter and Facebook stream and you will come across them.

The best part? Those writers are all great people. It's a lot of fun to read their stories and hang out on Twitter and Facebook with them.

Answer some questions if they ask, reply to Tweets and Facebook posts, retweet their stuff, comment on what they write about. Do it, because you are interested and they write about your industry. One more time:

Become genuinely interested and understand what they like.

Your pitch will be ten times better once you email them. You will be able to relate personally and they will have seen your face before. When they see your name in their inbox, they are much more likely to at least open that email.

So the second step is to start connecting with those writers on Social Networks.

3) Do your best to avoid the Alexias and Sarah Lacys

So, we have added this great functionality to our product. And there is that woman Alexia, who writes about startups. What a great match, let's get in touch!

Oh boy, was I naive, when I started out. Later I understood that it is not enough to just submit a news tip and realized I had to reach out to writers themselves.

Armed with lots of courage through this newly gained knowledge, I would email Alexia, Ben Parr, Sarah Lacy and MG Siegler, with my fantastic story for them.

And yet still, no response. Here is the thing:

These writers are the busiest of them all and most exposed to pitches all day long. They get literally hammered with hundreds of them every day. The chance that they will pick up your story is very slim. Do yourself a favor do not reach out to them.

Instead, be laser -focused on writers, that cover your industry. And look for people, that are young and new and don't get hundreds of emails every day.

This is very easy, just go to the front page and browse through the latest stories. You will easily and quickly find the right person, after you have seen 3-4 stories from them over the past few days.

So as the third step, avoid to reaching out to the most prestigious writers. Narrow your focus and find the rising stars. as much as you can.

3) Crafting that email pitch for reporters an example that got us on Mashable

With anything you do in life, expect to have a 25% success rate. ~ Auren Hoffman, CEO Rapleaf

We have come a long way by now. You know it is all about your story, not your product. You know you need to build personal relationships with writers and you know you need to reach out to younger writers, who actually write about stuff related to your product.

If you have come that far, you have probably already increased your success rate of getting featured by a large multiple. The road to getting covered is still a tough one.

So lets work on that pitch. That's what will likely actual part that will determine, whether a story about your startup goes live or not.

Here is an email that got us written up by Mashable:

———————————————————-

Hi Sam,

Really loved your post yesterday on how the fan managed to get a job with the team, this is priceless and amazing example of how passion can help us succeed!

We have some big news for you. With the new release of Twitter.com, we have just released a way to post retweets via Buffer right from Twitter.com at a better time. It works seamlessly via installing our browser extension. You will have now, next to "reply" "retweet" and "favorite" a new option to "Buffer".

I believe this will allow anyone to spend very little time, glancing over their Twitter stream and retweeting everything they find interesting - yet without ever flooding their followers with too many Tweets in a row. It should be a great way to Tweet interesting content at the best times, well spaced out over the day straight by using Twitter.com. A bonus tip here is to use this in connection with Twitter lists, where most people have a lot of great content aggregated, but a hard time sharing from there.

You are the only newssource I have approached with this, do you think this could be an interesting story for you and your readers?

Best,

Leo

——————————————————-

Let's go through it paragraph by paragraph:

Really loved your post yesterday on how the fan managed to get a job with the team, this is priceless and amazing example of how passion can help us succeed!

The opening is not at all about myself or anything related to our startup. I have been following this writer for a few weeks. I really love his posts and Tweets, I still follow him and enjoy reading his posts today. So I thought of opening with a note to one of the posts I enjoyed the most.

We have some big news for you. With the new release of Twitter.com, we have just released a way to post retweets via Buffer right from Twitter.com at a better time. It works seamlessly via installing our browser extension. You will have now, next to "reply" "retweet" and "favorite" a new option to "Buffer".

Now, the first paragraph is about your product. What has changed, how does it work. I found making this very descriptive can help a lot. There is no talk about how it will change the world (yet), just what it does. Concise and easy to understand.

I believe this will allow anyone to spend very little time, glancing over their Twitter stream and retweeting everything they find interesting - yet without ever flooding their followers with too many Tweets in a row. It should be a great way to Tweet interesting content at the best times, well spaced out over the day straight by using Twitter.com. A bonus tip here is to use this in connection with Twitter lists, where most people have a lot of great content aggregated, but a hard time sharing from there.

This part is only about the value for the reader. Why would anyone care? Which use cases are there? How can this be interesting for a reader? Think of this part as the one, where a writer can scan his brain for headlines and imagine a story about this written up.

You are the only newssource I have approached with this.

Do you think this could be an interesting story for you and your readers?

The last part is as important as everything else. Be sure to always give the story away as an exclusive. Then, ask one clear question, that the writer can respond to.

Triggering a thanks for thinking of us, but I will pass on this story. Can be as important as getting a yes. You will be able to either move on or work with that writer on the story.

A lot of my pitches get declined or no response still, it's completely normal. Make that your expectation. Never expect that writers don't like you or are annoyed by you. It's not true. They are just super busy. Move on, fire off the next pitch and learn.

One more thing on this. As you grow, your bargaining power grows too. You can add deadlines to when this will go live on your own blog/emailed out. If you start out, just try lots of different pitches. It is a great way to learn what works and what doesn't.

Oh and here is the end result of that pitch as a post: Buffer App Lets Users Schedule Shares Directly From Twitter

4) The art and timing of sending that pitch off and getting in touch with reporters

You have crafted your pitch, and are ready to hit that send button. Hold off for just a little bit.

You are facing tough competition. Not only from other startups, but also from plenty of PR firms, who want stories written up for their clients. The one great advantage you have, is that you can add that extra bit of personality.

Here is what I normally do:

Before I send that pitch off, I would send a Tweet to the writer saying: "could I drop you a quick line on an exclusive story?" I've found that Twitter is a much quicker medium and triggers answers much faster. So once, I get a reply, I can hit send and it will be much easier for the writer to recognize my name and at least look over the email.

You can do the same thing by sending a Tweet after you have emailed. Mentioning them with a simple "Just sent a quick email over on an exclusive story, I hope you will be able to take a look." It again gives you a differentiating element.

Your messages often get ruled out as a mass email, so you need to take that extra step and add personality to your approach. I have had great results doing this.

Play around with this. I have also tried sending no Tweet and it worked. It is really up to you judging based on the situation. If one thing doesn't work, try the next one.

In any case, be sure to make it personal, from writer to writer, not from startup to Mashable.

Timing of your email and Tweets

Timing is also a very important aspect for getting you covered. The best days for traffic for getting coverage of your story I have learnt are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Monday is way too fast to get you written up, the inboxes of reporters are full it's just not a great day.

If you launched something, what I would do is, get that email over to reporters in the morning, before 10am.

Make sure you check with time zones. Most reporters live in either SF or New York. 10am PST can be a very poor timing for an EST reporter. They will see it early afternoon, when they have most stories for the day already on their to do list.

At the same time, I learnt that, whilst Fridays aren't as good for traffic, the news is slower. So your chances of getting covered on that day can be higher. With a recent story about Buffer on Mashable, I took advantage of this. I followed up on a story I had pitched earlier in the week. Since it was extremely busy, I wouldn't get a response, yet a quick follow up email on Friday would receive an immediate response.

Play around with timing and the approach through Social Media, in either way, focus on getting your pitch out before noon.

5) A story about your startup is written and published now what?

Yes, yes, yes! You finally managed to get your story written up. A great tech blog picked it up, and wrote about your latest feature. Especially if it is your first time and you are only slightly similar to me, you are jumping around in your room, opening that bottle of champagne.

Yet, now is the time to show up, roll up your sleeves and make the most of your success. It is something that a lot of people forget, yet, the results of doing the following 7 steps can be immense:

 

  • Monitor the comments on the post, be lightning fast in responding to feedback and support if readers ask for it.
  • Write a comment yourself. Be grateful, thank the writer for the story, and highlight something you liked.
  • Share the story, again, by emphasizing the writer. Mention their Twitter handle when you Tweet. Mention their G+ name when you post.
  • Monitor the Facebook posting from the blog on your story. Do the same thing as with the comments, reply to them, jump in and offer your support.
  • Monitor the Twitter stream, thank people for retweets of the story, pick up responses and conversations. Again, jump in, be grateful for feedback and offer support.
  • Send a follow up email to the writer, thanking them for the story and truly appreciating their work.

One big point here, if you get hammered in the comments, don't try to defend yourself. Instead, be appreciative, say thanks and look into the problems. Make yourself vulnerable, it's amazing how this works to build a community of raving fans. I have seen this go bad a few times with other startups and it just ends in a pointless, opinionated argument.

So really, why are you doing all that? The answer is very simple: To get more press in the future. Remember, this is not a one-off event, you want to get featured many, many, many times.

If you go that extra mile, by really showing how grateful you are, appreciating the writer's work, chances are you will be remembered and make it have it a lot easier next time you want a story written up.

For our first Mashable story, we did exactly that. Check out the example here:

HOW TO: Space Out Your Tweets Without Being Online All Day

When I sent a follow up email that day, I received a reply mentioning how great it was that we were in the comments and how well the story sat with their readers, and that I should please keep them posted on any new features we release.

You bet I did!

6) Four completely different types of stories you can pitch

The goal when getting covered by the press, as I have briefly touched on above is to get covered again and again and again. In order to achieve that, you need to have a few different types of pitches up your sleeves.

Here is a list of 4 very distinct ideas you can use for pitches alongside some examples that got written up for each of them.

Big disaster happened your product is there to help pitch

This is something very powerful and also difficult to detect. It demands quite a bit of creativity from your end and again, the mindset of a writer. If you are not convinced to have a blog by now, head back to chapter 1 and check it out again.

Let me give you 2 examples of this:

When CoTweet, a popular Social Media tool shut down their free version recently, I thought that a lot of people must be annoyed by this. So, I realized, they will definitely be looking for a replacement.

I reached out to Mashable and suggested them a story to them on this, titled CoTweet Gone: Here Are 7 Great Alternatives. I didn't even have to ask whether they could include Buffer.

When Summify, popular news aggregation tool was scooped up by Twitter and announced it would close its services, News.me did the exact same thing. They reached out to news sites and said they are a great replacement for Summify. There were lots of posts written up about them.

Again, the key for me was to always think about how you can provide value for readers, not how you can get your startup covered. If you do that, you will have a great amount of new opportunities to get features about your startup written up.

Awesome data - pitch

News sites love, love, love data. Especially if it is in some way related to the biggest Social Networking sites. Why do they love data so much? Because it spreads like wildfire on Social Media and is a very interesting insight for readers.

Let me give you an example of how we got over 5 stories written up about one data set we collected:

We looked at 1 million Tweets that were sent through Buffer and realized, we are adding a lot of value for users. Basically, we could show, that if you start using Buffer, you will get 200% more clicks on Tweets, double the number of retweets and an increase in your Klout score by 3.5 points.

This was absolute gold and the news sites loved it. How could any site not want to write about a tool that increases clicks on your links by 200%? We could use that data on many occasions even in future write-ups, when the study was no longer the focal point.

Dig up some interesting stats from your users and find out, what might be an invaluable insight for readers. It will again open up lots of great opportunities for sites to write about.

Brand new features to make users awesome - pitch

This is the most well known pitch startups use these days. You have a new feature added to your product and think it's worthy of getting covered.

The point I want to focus on with new features pitches is to keep it to 1 feature only. I have made the mistake plenty of times in the past, that I would send a pitch saying: We have added this feature and this feature and also this and this and that.

If you remember the email pitch in chapter 3 you will find, that I have only focused on one single aspect. Just that one thing, nothing else. And in fact, it was a tiny thing. Yet, by working out exactly how it will be helpful for readers, I could give a very compelling pitch.

Try and do the same, only pitch one iteration or addition of your product. Not 10. It will make your pitch a lot clearer and easier to understand. Writers have a very short attention span, and if they need to figure out how they can add up all your different new iterations in a story, they will be a lot more likely to just move on to the next pitch that sits there in their inbox.

And it will also give you an opportunity to pitch lots of different stories, as you are adding different features.

Hit big milestone - pitch

The last type of pitch that has worked well for us is the Milestones pitch. This is a great one, not only for signups, but also for branding. People will see you are still around, you have grown, you are worthwhile to get a proper first or second look.

I learnt that this is also a great one for news sites, as they get a unique insight into your startups background, that no one else has access to, like for example a feature.

In our case, we had an early story once 1,000 000 Tweets were sent out using Buffer. The key here is to pick a big number. Oftentimes, signups won't be the one. It can be any number that shows great usage of your app and makes readers curious to check you out and writers curious to cover you.

With this type of pitch, it is particularly up to you to show why the mentioned figure is relevant. Klout for example, made a big deal out of the fact that they had 100 million users scored with their algorithm. It didn't mean that they had 100 million users, yet sure enough but it helped them to trigger a huge amount of press around their milestone.

7) How to make getting covered a habit, not an accident

Whoa, we have gone a long way. I tried to go into every detail I could think of to help you get your startup written up. And yet, I have one last point, that I think might be as important as every other one mentioned here.

You don't want your startup being featured once, twice or three times. You want it to show up in the news in a cycle. Every 2 to 3 weeks, you should pop up again. With a cool new feature, with some interesting data, a big new milestone, you name it.

If you make this your goal, everything you do, will be much more focused on the long run. And I learnt, I will be able to motivate myself a lot better for things that wouldn't make sense as a one-off.

The relationships are easier to build. Writing your blog is easier to do. Being grateful once you get one story is much easier to focus on.

Everything mentioned in this guide, should set you up for making it easy to get into this cycle of constant coverage and news mentions. Of course, the development of your startup needs to clearly follow that path.

Given that you have launched with a true MVP in Lean Startup fashion, and are iterating like a madman, you shouldn't run into any troubles to come up with a new story ever two to three weeks.

If you do, work with your team and push yourself to release more stuff, more frequently.

Work on different stories as mentioned in the previous chapter, and set yourself a schedule for reaching out for write-ups. If 2-3 weeks is too tight at the beginning, make it once a month, but have it as a consistent and recurring point on your to do list.

Are you ready to rumble? Get yourself out there and get that startup covered. By following the steps from this guide, I have no doubt you will manage to do so.

If you still have any questions, just let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email leo@bufferapp.com.

What do you think? How have your PR efforts gone? Had any big hits you'd like to brag about? If so, please share in the comments and teach us a few things.