As an early stage startup, having great media relations is important. Talking to media and getting some PR coverage can help startups introduce new products or services to the general public, gain more exposure to potential customers and partners, and enhance their overall brand image.
However, talking to media isn’t easy -- without some sort of PR strategy and planning, press coverage can lead to misunderstandings or missed opportunities. This is why we invited 4 awesome journalists to come share some best practices when it comes to talking to press and getting some media coverage.
-Hope Ngo, previously Segment Producer at Bloomberg
-David Green, International Editor of The News Lens
-Samson Ellis, Bloomberg Taipei Bureau Chief
-Edward White, Reporter for the Financial Times
From their stories and experiences working with startups, we’ve extrapolated 4 key takeaways for startups wanting to improve their relationships with media.
1. Having and maintaining personal relationships with journalists is vital!
Journalists are normal people too! Just like any business relationship, it is important to first develop some rapport. Identify journalists that cover topics related to your startup and go out and meet them. Invite them to have a coffee or beer and just get to know them on a personal level. More importantly, keep relationships with various journalists current -- make sure you are on the top of their mind when something comes up. By doing so, you will be the first they contact when there is breaking news. Samson Ellis of Bloomberg encourages startup founders to “be creative. Do dinners. Do karaoke. Organize a hike. Do something fun. Stay on the journalists’ radar!”
How do you stay on top of their mind? According to Hope Ngo, do something out of the box and different. She recalls and shares one of her most memorable interviews. It was the time where she had to wake up at 5am to conduct an overseas interview (due to time difference). Her interviewee immediately sent over a Starbucks Gift Card as a courtesy because she had to wake up so early. Even after several years, this act of kindness left a lasting impact on Hope.
However, David Green from The News Lens reminds startups that “journalists are NOT your friend.” Their allegiance is to their audience and readership....so do not expect them to write a glowing positive review of your company just because you got an interview.
2. Think from the perspective of the media and its audience...NOT for your personal benefit.
A reporter’s job is not to tell your company’s story; rather, their responsibility and priority is to give their readers the full story, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. With this knowledge in mind, it is important that your PR team comes up with high-caliber stories that not only promotes your brand, but also presents all sides of the story.
Come up with a narrative and think through all the possible directions and angles the journalist can take the story -- combat possible negative headlines by presenting all the facts and incorporating other voices into the narrative, such as customers, competitors, partners, or industry experts.
3. How to actually get some media coverage as a startup?
Edward from the Financial Times suggests that startups think more about how their narratives can fit into a larger overall trend. Journalists are much more likely to write about your startup if it is a part of something that is trending. For example, recently in Asia there has been a recent media trend covering dating apps. If your startup somehow fits into this trend, you can reach out to the journalists you already have relationships with and provide some insight.
On a similar note, David Green echoed this sentiment by recommending startups not only think of trends but also think about the LARGER story (or ecosystem). Is there some sort of bigger story at play? How does your startup fit into that narrative?
Finally, humanize your story and narrative. Overall, people enjoy reading and learning about other people -- the adversities they face and how they overcome them. You should tell your story through character and present your company through its people.
4. What should you NEVER do when interacting with reporters?
- Understand what is both on and off the record -- make it clear for the reporter what can and cannot be printed. You cannot go back and change something you said in an interview, so it’s best to be prepared and know what you want to speak about beforehand.
- If there is bad news, don’t hide from the journalist. Be ready for a journalist to call you up and ask difficult questions. Have a statement ready that sets your company’s principles and what you’re trying to achieve.
- Most journalists are generalists, so avoid speaking in jargon
As a final takeaway, Hope suggests that before you go into any media interview or develop any PR strategies, you need to first identify WHY do you want media coverage and think about the REASONS behind wanting coverage. To quote famous rapper Eminem, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”
Interested in joining similar events such as our monthly CEO day? Check out our entirely free membership program for startups and get access a network of mentors, investors, international media contacts, and other resources.