Does Your Startup Suck at Publicity? [Media Lessons]

TypewriterIf you are a startup and haven’t seen much success with publicity, you are doing something really wrong.

For startups, there hasn’t been a better time to score some free press. All four top English business dailies in the country now have a dedicated space to cover startups. Top general dailies have deputed reporters to look for the next Google in garages. Television channels are going bombastic with their startup coverage.

Old journalists tell me that sometime around the dot com boom, a similar situation prevailed but it wasn’t as big as the one we are seeing now. Mint, a business daily run by The Hindustan Times, has hired a dedicated reporter to cover the beat.

The Economic Times, has had a team covering startups for a while. The paper dedicates a full page to startup coverage. The Business Standard has what it calls a Startup Corner and the Business Line has a section called Emerging Entrepreneurs. The Times of India in Bangalore has a reporter in Bangalore specifically covering startups.

Even foreign publications like the Wall Street Journal are now interested in Indian startups. Platforms like ours were born to give visibility to startups. Sometimes, you don’t even need to appeal to the startup team in these papers if you have a great story to tell.

But here is the problem: On one hand you have journalists looking for the next billion dollar startup and on the other, you have startups looking for some media attention. But the two meet very rarely. Sometimes the journalists aren’t looking in the right places and most of the times, startups aren’t meeting the right people or telling the right stories.

So what are these things you need to get right before you go to press?

1. Have a great story to tell: It can be simple but should appeal to the reader. Think like the journalist in front of you. The ground rule is that when a dog bites a man its not news but when a man bites a dog, its news. Its just a matter of giving a nice reader friendly spin to your pitch deck. Make it interesting with anecdotes, parallels from the Silicon Valley or even clever observations about your customers and the way they behave. There a few things the media loves: woman entrepreneur, dropout, rags to riches, villages to Silicon Valley are a few.

2. Know your industry very well: Journalists know a lot but are not experts. So they might ask simple questions that you might have overlooked. And they are trained to ask tough questions. If you come across as someone who doesn’t know a few things about the industry, you have blown your chances already.

3. Know your differentiation very well: When asked about competing services, you need to be very clear about what differentiates you from others. I can do it better, faster etc doesn’t fly but can be used in case you don’t really have any differentiation to talk about.

4. Find a journalist who is sympathetic towards startups: Trust me, there are many. Ask them to help you meet other journalists and pitch your story. Engage with them on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. Write to them about their stories if you have a view.

5. Make a media list and publications you want to target. Collect information about the writers/ journalists and harvest emails, phone numbers etc. Keep this database for future. Remember not to spam and make sure you send personalised emails.

6. Go for events where journalists go: Events are a great place to meet some journalists. Start building a relationship and try meeting after the event or so. Every once in a while, share some information that you might think is of interest to the journalist. Unpluggd, which is coming up this Saturday will be a good place to start.

7. Write, Blog, Comment: Write guest posts, blogs and comment on stories on your industry. Make a point or provoke instead of commenting for the sake of commenting.

8. Plan your outreach: Have a plan. Outreach is most effective when there is a call to action. Say around a product launch or a feature enhancement. The buzz helps you get discovered and sell more. For instance, if you are only in Bangalore, there is no point exhausting your coverage in Delhi.