Start Ups: Why Your Public Relations Initiatives Are Falling Flat

10 Quick Strategies to Help You Fix That

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Photo by @Karatara

I get asked to all the time to write a company or product launch press release, pitch the media, and get placement in top-tier publications. I most often see tech start-up CEOs say: “I am looking for a PR professional who can get us in TechCrunch”.

Umm… Yyyeeaa…Get in line.

It seems today’s startups and entrepreneurs have a complete misconception about public relations, what it is and how and how it works.

Many don’t understand what PR even means. They think it’s just about getting their name in the media and BOOM! They’re famous.

But it’s way more than that.

Getting your name in the media equals credibility. It means visibility. It means growing your audience, and ultimately, it means sales, which means revenue!

And who doesn’t want a little more of that??

So, how do start-ups and entrepreneurs leverage this little hidden treasure?

In the old days, you could just pitch a reporter. He or she may ask for briefing, and your story was placed. They checked the wire services and were easily accessible.

My, how things have changed!

You can’t just ‘spray and pray’ and hope to get product placement in a top-tier publication. Not that that tactic really worked in the first place, but with social media and other news and information distribution mediums, getting a story placed has become far more challenging — especially for product placement.

Even the most seasoned public relations professionals with great relationships are challenged with getting earned media for clients these days.

Why is that?

PR today encompasses more than just pitching and relationships. Sure, those are important components, but there is so much more to it than that.

New and unknown start-ups need to have a clear focus and strategy. They need to home-in on their goals and have a clear understanding of what PR actually means for their company, product, or services.

And, they need to have realistic goals and expectations. If you are a start-up with one new product, it’s highly unlikely you are going to get placement in the likes of TechCrunch or USA Today.

Even with long-standing relationships with both of these outlets, and PR pros get turned down quite frequently on a start-up pitch — even with the offer of an exclusive! (That tactic used to be a no-brainer).


You are one among many without a proven track record. The reporter likely doesn’t see where there’s traction or what’s in it for his or her audience. And, they have already received 500 pitches just like yours that day.

Even if you have the coolest, most innovative sounding product that can be described with all the right ‘disruptive’ buzzwords; even with a well-written, well-placed pitch, start-ups need to have and do more to get media attention.

One important factor is your social media following and engagement. Unless you have a solid social media following and active follower engagement, you won’t know how your audience thinks and feels about your product or service. Neither will the media, nor will there be any sign of audience interest. Remember: the press is writing for them, not for you.

Also, brands need to show the market impact of a new product or service, or how it could create a dramatic shift in a particular mass behavior (think how Tinder completely changed online dating).

Without this, it’ll be crickets from the media.

So, as a start-up or entrepreneur, what can you do about this little conundrum? Here are some ideas:

1. Accept and embrace the slow build. Get some traction and don’t expect major media hits right out of the gate — especially if you are a regional brick and mortar, and your product is not available nationally or isn’t sold online.

2. Build your social media presence and audience engagement.

3. Try doing some ‘pay for play’ at first with a few key media buys.

4. Have a good event strategy — trade shows, press events, launch events, etc.

5. Try social media ad buys to get a clear picture of your audience.

6. Do a survey and pitch those results.

7. SEO — how do you rank in a Google search?

8. Diversify media channels- Podcasts, videos, etc.

9. Consider sponsorships at market-appropriate events.

10. Develop an integrated marketing strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, good relationships with your target media are still a key component to having a successful PR campaign. If you are a newbie in the market place, just like with any relationship, you need to cultivate those media relationships for your brand and establish trust.

Your PR consultant already has (or at least should have) those relationships, but the media now a-days wants to know YOU. Find ways to create direct engagement by putting yourself (yes, you the CEO) out there.

Patience is a virtue. Keep in mind that any given reporter, especially those at top-tier publications, receives hundreds of pitch emails and calls daily. There is a lot of noise.

And, do your homework. Make sure you are reaching out to the right reporter who covers your product category or market.

Timing is essential too. If you pitched your product, and a major national disaster or news story breaks at the same time, fuggedaboutit. And, don’t forget about seasonal opportunities or keeping up with trends.

Coverage tends to come from your network, people you meet at events, and mutually-beneficial partnerships. It is less of a numbers game and more about curation.

The most important thing when it comes to launching a new company and product is patience. A successful PR campaign is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build rapport, relationships, traction and social credibility.

Set your expectations accordingly and build a strategy that revolves around sustainability and the long-haul, not just a few one-off media hits.

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