Hype Can Kill You (and other takeaways from Ryan Lawler’s Publicize webinar)
I don’t remember who was the recipient of my first TechCrunch pitch over five years ago when I decided to embark on this journey into StartupPR. I can tell you, however, who it wasn’t.
It wasn’t Ryan Lawler. I was too terrified to email Ryan Lawler.
When I made the conscience decision that PR would become my life partner - because doesn’t it feel like that sometimes - I did my research before pitching. I knew which reporters were really friendly with PR pros. I clearly identified who was at the top (and virtually impossible to get a peep from) and who was also beginning their career journey at the bottom. Spoiler: newbie journalists were always my favorite.
Of course, I also knew which journalists to avoid; for numerous reasons. On that list, was TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler. Predominantly because I knew of his two Twitter accounts where he either tears your pitches to shreds or sarcastically compliments them: @ryanlawler and @niceryanlawler. Which, @niceryanlawler, is an excellent feed to read if you’re a seasoned PR pro and have an excellent sarcasm radar. It’s a hoot. Seriously.
Now that I’ve got over five years experience in the industry, I see things in an entirely different light. Ryan Lawler isn’t scary, he’s freaking brilliant. And all those major don’ts PR folks do that he would publicly shame? Yup. Guilty, as charged at one point in time in my PR journey.
Recently, I checked out a fantastic webinar with not-so-scary anymore Ryan, put on by the team at Publicize and it only reinforced my belief that Ryan is definitely one of the most genuine tech journalists in the industry.
Here’s 11 of my favorite takeaways - take note!
1. Don’t Call a Journalist. It’s Creepy.
The famous to call a journalist or not to call a journalist is one heavily debated topic in the PR industry. While I have seen some journalists admit that picking up the phone to call them is met with an appreciation for having the guts to do it, I have seen far more warn PR pros and founders alike to simply not do it.
In Ryan’s words, just don’t ever call a reporter you don’t know. Especially if they haven’t given you their number personally. It’s creepy.
2. Build a Village First
One of the most common misconceptions about PR that I hear from startup founders regularly is around the launch. Very innocently, many startups think they can simply launch a product the day after it’s ready and everyone will cover it. The elephant in the room? That’s simply not true. At all.
As Ryan pointed out, a smart startup should have anywhere from several hundred to a thousand active users who are actively testing the product and providing feedback before even considering a media launch. While a journalist can also provide great feedback (skip to takeaway 5 for this one), a fresh off the assembly line product is not necessarily media ready.
3. Living With a Product = Way Better Coverage
Now, are you ready for some good stuff? This takeaway even came as a surprise to yours truly. Journalists love and appreciate getting products 2-3 months before your ready for your media launch so that they can properly live with the product or app and use it over a consistent period of time.
Which totally makes sense!
Ryan mentioned he used one app years ago that helped him lose 20 pounds in the process. When the time came to write about the product on TechCrunch, it was a no brainer. Whenever you have a chance to get your product in a journalist’s hands EARLY - do it. Don’t think twice.
4. Product Review Dude is Your Friend
Scenario: a journalist wrote about drones once in their lifetime, so clearly they must love drones. I must pitch them drones!
Wrong. Plenty of us have made this mistake and many are repeat offenders, but it cannot be stressed how important it is to properly research journalists and their beat before pitching them something, simply because they wrote about it once during a supermoon.
Ryan’s advice: if you’ve got a product, each tech outlet will likely have a product review writer. Find them, contact them, stick with them.
5. Journalists Make Excellent Beta Testers
So I said you must build a village of active users before your media launch. That, we have established. Something I was really surprised to learn is that tech journalists are totally open to being beta testers too. If you’re brave enough.
In some eyes, a journalist should only get their hands on your product when it’s ready for its media attention, but Ryan said when you’ve followed takeaway number 3 and provided a journalist with early access to an app, it can also lead to really great feedback. Think about it. Tech journalists try hundreds of products. They pretty much are the ultimate beta tester.
And if you’re still a little afraid, Ryan assured listeners that very rarely will journalists write scathing reviews.
6. Hype Can and Will Kill You
Here’s the thing about the startup industry. For a long time, people were really crazy about the concept of “Just Ship It.” Build your MVP and get it in the hands of your users. Test and reiterate as you go. Hundreds of Instagram quote cards were created to support this. So it must be true, right?
Here’s the thing. Remember what I said in takeaway one and five? Yeah. It’s CRUCIAL to have active users, a ton of beta testers, and a product that’s really, totally, ready to deliver.
Why? Because a buildup to a huge launch, even if you get tech journalists onboard to cover, can totally ruin you if your product isn’t ready for the spotlight. If you’re going to hype your product, hype responsibly.
7. Scratch the “You Covered Our Competition” Approach
If tech journalists had a list of common sins of PR pros, I’d put money down on this common pitch as being one of them: “You covered our competition, so we thought you might be interested in our product.” I get it. If they enjoyed your competition and you’re better (because aren’t we always better than our competition) then why shouldn’t the journalist that sang their praise know about it?
But now let’s look at it from a journalist’s perspective. “I’ve already written about a product that has created a solution for product X and I don’t want to write about another product solving the same problem.” *mic drop*
8. Founder Stories Trump All
Over the years, I’ve watched a number of trends and fads come and go in StartupPR. I remember the days where a funding announcement was newsworthy, regardless of how small a raise it was. I also remember a time when a Kickstarter launch created a media frenzy.
The reality is, times change and it’s now more important than ever to ensure you have a really compelling announcement or story when you’re pitching tech journalists. A good old and faithful? The founder story. As Ryan shared, writers want to know who the founder is and why they’re solving the problem they’re solving. Why are they doing it the way they’re doing it? What else did they try? What didn’t work and what hypotheses did they have that were wrong.
Lastly, Ryan said sometimes what gets left out of the product is just as important to the story as what’s in the product.
9. Leverage Your Network
We’ve preached and preached that who you know is everything. Build relationships before you need them. Contacts trump all. Turns out, this is also the case when you’re trying to score great tech coverage for your startup.
One of the things that surprised me most from Ryan’s webinar is that he said the most interesting products he’s written about over the years came from investors or other entrepreneurs that he already knew or had covered in the past. Not, in fact, founders or PR pros.
As a PR professional, I’ve happily accepted and worked with referrals to tech journalists from investors and shareholders in the past and the end result is beautiful. Lean on your referral network. It’s not a sign of weakness.
10. Don’t Try to Be All the Things
This one is incredibly important. When pitching journalists or writing your press release, don’t try to be all the things at once. As Ryan explained, often times folks try to sell too many services or product stories in a single pitch. They make bold claims about what their current product can deliver and all the things it will do in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months or more.
The problem here is that when you promise too much or try to be too many things, it can quickly make people question if you’re really able to deliver on everything that you’re planning to do. Focus on your biggest thing. Your biggest feature. Let that be the focus of your story and your pitch. The rest will follow when the time is right.
11. No, Product Hunt Isn’t a News Hook
I’m going to keep this last one short and sweet.
Forget what you may have heard or what your friend that has that startup told you. Just because your product was featured on Product Hunt, doesn’t mean tech journalists are going to cover it. Writers want something new and something different. It may sting, but if your product blew up on Product Hunt, it’s already old news on a tech journalist’s desk. End of story.
Want to check out the webinar for yourself? Catch a recording here.
Did you attend Publicize’s webinar with Ryan Lawler? What was YOUR favorite takeaway or realization? Let us know in the comments below or tweet me @crystalcrichard.