Surviving Startup PR: Hacks You Need to Know Today

Surviving Startup PR: Hacks You Need to Know Today


Are you noticing that your PR kind of stinks lately? Have you stopped to think, maybe it’s because you’re doing it wrong?

The reality is, startup PR can be HARD! It’s a jungle out there and it’s worth knowing how to navigate said jungle before sprinting through it à la Lord of the Flies, trying desperately to get to the conch. Because guess what! There are a heck of a lot of other startups with their eyes on that conch.

So how do you outrun the others? What’s the key to staying alive?

Start by knowing a shortcut or two.

Ask First, Pitch Second

For years, I was guilty of the most sinful PR habits. Cold pitches, mass emails, copy + paste. I  soon realized, that a personal touch can go a long way, as can the infamous hook. But even the greatest hook and the shortest, tightest, most personal email can lead to crickets.

Being the ever-polite Canadian, I tried a new strategy: ask permission first. I noticed that if I reached out to even the most A-list journalists, a month or two in advance to introduce myself, explain what I’m working on and what’s coming up, they always (ok, 90% of the time) replied to my email. And they were usually grateful.

So how do you replicate this method? A month or two before your launch or milestone announcement, identify the journalists you want to cover you. Send them a short email, introducing yourself, subtly mention what your startup does, and hint that you have exciting news to come. Ask if they would be open to hearing more when the time comes. Pick their brains on how they like to be pitched. Every journalist is different and what works for one, may not work for the other. Know what method each prefers is valuable knowledge to have.

Get Professional

Are you on LinkedIn? If not, you should be. I’m also going to suggest you take it even one step further by getting yourself a Business Plus account. Here’s why. While studies show only 15% of PR pros pitch via LinkedIn, 35% of journalists actually prefer LinkedIn as their method to receive pitches.

While I would never suggest cold pitching via LinkedIn, it can be super helpful on a number of occasions when you’re trying to get in touch with a journalist. For starters, there are some journalists who are really great at keeping their email address next to impossible to find. With a Business Plus account, you can send an InMail to someone you are not connected with, resulting in the perfect chance to send them a quick note (I choose Expertise Request as my reason for outreach) and let them know you would like to get in touch. Ask what’s the best way to speak further.

Be warned. This is not the time to pitch them, unless they specifically request you do so via that communication channel, which is sometimes the case. Other times, they will share their email with you. In my experience, reserving your InMail credits (they are limited monthly) for those journalists that are the most difficult to reach, read: haven’t seen inbox zero in years, tends to pay off. I’ve been able to connect with some of the most sought after journalists this way. Oh, and if they don’t respond? You get your credit back.

Stalk the Socially Acceptable Way

We’ve talked about Rapportive before but it’s worth mentioning a second time around if you’re tackling PR for the first time. A quick to install plugin, Rapportive shows you the corresponding social accounts linked to an email address. Handy if you’re reaching out to someone you already know but aren’t following socially. Super handy if you’re trying to track down an email address and want validation that you’ve identified the right one.

With a little guesswork, you can easily find anyone’s email address: journalists, founders, CEOs or celebrities. If you know the typical format a company uses for their email, process of elimination will often lead you to the email you’re after, with very little dirty work.

Fish Where the Fish Swim

One of my favorite startup PR tools to use is HARO or Help a Reporter for those not already privy to it. Sign up to HARO (it’s free!) and receive three daily emails (Morning, Afternoon, Evening) with queries for different industries. These queries, are writers and journalists looking for data, quotes, insight, and influencers to comment or weigh in on industry trends they’re covering.  In other words, it’s a sort of reverse-pitching.

Now, HARO can seem overwhelming at first, especially if your inbox is a scary place but their daily emails are designed and organized in a way that makes it a quick skim, so don’t shy away. Not only have I been able to score some great opportunities for clients, from articles on top media outlets to e-books and whitepapers, HARO is a great way to build relationships with journalists. Often times, the journalist’s name will be included, and while you won’t receive their email via HARO, a quick search of their name on Google will typically yield a wealth of information on who they write for and how to get in touch. Plus, it’s a great way to identify new writers and outlets, you may not have otherwise known about.

Leave Your Voice Everywhere

Media coverage can be tricky. One day, you have it and it’s everywhere, and you’re on a high. The next, your time in the limelight is over and another startup is stealing your show. Whether you’re looking to keep up the momentum post-launch, or looking to generate a little early buzz and establish yourself before the launch, start by “leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs” says PR Pro Alan Weinkrantz.

Identify a list of industry blogs where your voice should be heard. Do a regular search for keywords and topics that relate to your product and industry to identify relevant articles. Now, regularly comment on these blogs and articles. Don’t be salesy but do offer real-world examples and insight you’ve encountered on your own journey. Encourage members of your team to do the same. And if it feels right, introduce yourselves to the writers. We’ve built some amazing relationships all by leaving one thoughtful comment on a blog.

Tailor Your Pitch to 140 Characters

Lastly, no matter how talented you are at using Rapportive, there are some people whose emails are just impossible to find. Just your luck, these same people probably don’t have LinkedIn.  When Google has failed you, you may be left with only one last resource for getting in touch: Twitter.

You may be surprised to learn that 42% of journalists prefer to be pitched on Twitter but if you think about it, with only 140 characters to get the job done, it’s an easy way to weed out those who are on target from those who are not. While cold pitching on Twitter is a big no-no, it’s a great way to start a conversation, build a relationship, and take the conversation to DM where one of two things usually happens: 1) an email is exchanged or b) you’re asked to pitch via DM.

If the latter is the case, keep it short, limit yourself to one or two messages, and always offer to send more information via email if they’re open to it. Most importantly, don’t use this more relaxed medium to get lazy. Keep your tweet professional and grammatically correct. Use happy faces sparingly.

Got a startup PR hack that has saved your butt many a time? Have questions about any of the above hacks? I'd love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or send me a note at crystal@onboardly!  

Photo Credit: The mofoJT via Compfight cc

What do you think?


Yes! I definitely agree to this one Crystal! Startup PR is not that easy!

The list that you have presented gives reliable insights to your audience and you give good points on that.

Brilliant post!
I found and “kingged” this on the Internet marketing social site

Crystal. Thank you for such a wonderful post. Insightful and practical and couldn’t have come at a better time for me to have read your tips. Cheers !!