Investing in PR for startups can be more complex than it seems. While the right public relations strategy is crucial to generating awareness for your brand and building credibility, it’s often difficult to attract press coverage as a smaller company with a limited budget.
Sometimes, you’ll need to work a little harder to convince journalists and publications that you deserve their promotion. You might need to work with a PR consultant to craft the perfect pitch or even spend more time searching for specific journalists – but the results are well worth the effort.
A good PR strategy doesn’t just elevate brand awareness and help you reach wider audiences; it also has the potential to increase conversion rates significantly. PR coverage validates your business in the eyes of consumers, increasing the chance they’ll buy your products. In fact, some studies show that PR can increase conversion rates by 50 times more than standard ads.
Wondering how you can get started? Here’s your complete guide to mastering public relations for startups.
What is PR for Startups?
Public relations for startups is similar to PR for any company, organization, or celebrity. A public relations strategy focuses on leveraging earned media (coverage from other publications, journalists, and companies) to shape how people see your brand.
While PR is similar to marketing in that it increases awareness of your company, products, or services and helps to drive sales, it’s not exactly the same. Marketing and advertising is all about promoting or selling a specific product or solution. PR is about “selling” your business to your customers by influencing how they perceive you.
A public relations strategy literally determines how you build relationships with the “public,” whether that public includes customers, stakeholders, employees, or investors. Companies use PR to generate excitement about new product launches, but they also use it to strengthen their reputation or “brand equity” by sharing their achievements and accomplishments.
PR can also help to preserve your reputation. For instance, when major companies are involved in a scandal, they work with PR experts to share messages that repair their relationships with customers.
The main difference between public relations and PR for startups is that startups can face more challenges in building an effective PR strategy than an established brand. Most startups don’t have the budget to pay for promotion by a major publication, and they don’t have the existing reputation or relationships with journalists that would help them earn coverage instantly.
Plus, since most startups are relatively unknown to begin with, they have to work harder to convey the right message to their target audience.
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Why Is Public Relations for Startups Important?
So, why would startups want to put extra time and effort into a PR strategy? The simple answer is that earned media pays off. Public relations for startups is more effective at earning trust than virtually any other promotional method, from paid ads to organic content. In fact, 92% of customers trust earned media more than traditional ads.
Earning this trust is particularly crucial for startups who haven’t got the legacy, history, or background of their established peers. While you can spend a lot of time using digital marketing to tell customers about your products and services directly, they’ll trust the opinions of established figures, such as thought leaders and journalists, and a lot more.
At the same time, investing in a public relations strategy:
- Increases visibility: Your startup might not have a lot of website visitors or social media followers straight away. By promoting your brand on other channels where your customers already look for information and news, you boost your reach and traffic potential. More traffic and visibility also means more opportunities for sales.
- Improves credibility: Any company can claim its new product or solution is exciting, but the message is a lot more impactful when it comes from a well-known influencer or outlet. This is particularly true when the publication you work with is already known for sharing news about other respected companies in your niche.
- Reduces marketing costs: Although you need to work a little harder to get attention from journalists and publications, earned media is often a lot cheaper than a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. You can save a lot of money on things like paying for influencer promotion or building multi-step social media campaigns.
How to Tailor PR Strategies for Startup Needs
PR for startups requires a slightly different strategic approach to public relations for most companies. Since you’ll have less of a budget to work with, you’ll need to ensure you’re making the most of your resources. Here are some steps to tailor your strategy to suit startup needs.
Step 1: Identify Your Audience and Objectives
Before you even start looking for people to work with on your public relations strategy, you need to identify two crucial things: your goals and your audience. It’s often helpful to start by identifying your audience.
The more you know about the people you want to reach with your public relations messages, the more likely it is you’ll be able to choose “relevant” stories to share that resonate with their specific interests and goals. Ask yourself what your audience would appreciate learning about you.
Next, think about your specific goals or what you want to achieve with your PR campaign. In other words, what would a “successful” strategy accomplish for you? Potential goals include:
- Reshaping or improving your company’s reputation.
- Drawing attention to a product launch or new feature.
- Attracting the attention of new employees.
- Finding investors or stakeholders.
- Increasing the visibility of your startup.
- Showcasing your authority by sharing awards and achievements.
As an example, Subway wanted to refresh its image in the eyes of its target audience. It knew customers were getting bored of its old-fashioned ads and wanted to connect with a younger generation of consumers. With that in mind, it created a PR campaign that introduced a new “Eat Fresh Refresh” tagline and appearances from well-known celebrities.
Step 2: Perfect Your Simple Pitch
Once you know your target audience and the goals of your campaign, the next step is figuring out how to “pitch” your story to potential journalists and publications. While it might be tempting to write highly comprehensive emails or messages for each journalist you connect with, this often isn’t the best idea for two reasons. First, most journalists receive dozens of emails every day, and they’re far more likely to ignore or overlook emails that are too long and complex.
Secondly, as a startup, there’s a good chance you’ll need to send messages to a wide selection of publications before you get a response. A lot of journalists will simply ignore messages from unknown brands. You don’t want to waste hours crafting emails, even if you’re using AI to help.
To keep things simple, focus on the three “P’s” of PR storytelling in your message:
- Product: What is the product or service you want to talk about? How does it fit into the industry landscape, what’s its unique selling proposition, and why is it valuable?
- Purpose: Why is your story important? What will make customers want to read about it? Are you solving a specific problem or doing something particularly significant in your niche?
- Passion: How are you going to convey this message to your PR partner and wider audience? Using an enthusiastic (but not overly promotional) tone can help generate excitement.
Try to refine all of that information down into a few basic sentences, and remember to try to personalize each pitch you send a little. For instance, you could say something like, “I think this story would be relevant to your audience because they were interested in [similar story] on your site.”
Step 3: Learn to Think Like a Journalist
Often, the trickiest part of mastering PR for startups is actually getting journalists and news publications to pay attention to you. Every journalist wants to be the first to cover the latest news from leading brands like Google or Meta. However, few are interested in sharing content about companies their readers may never have heard about.
The best way to boost your chances of getting a response is to think like a journalist. In other words, consider what will make your story interesting to the company or person you’re pitching it to. Focus on things like:
- Timeliness: Journalists and news publications want to share fresh, new content. They want cutting-edge information that no one has heard before.
- Relevance: Think about how your story aligns with the other content your journalist produces. What kind of topics do they most like to cover? For instance, 32% of the top-performing press releases in one study covered new releases.
- Novelty: Think about how you can offer your journalist something unique to share. What makes your story particularly interesting or novel? For example, are you producing a product that’s the first of its kind or launching a guerilla marketing campaign?
It’s also worth thinking about the extra media you can add to your pitch to make it more interesting. Quotes from your stakeholders are great, but images and videos in a press release can lead to up to 6 times more engagement from readers and publications alike.
For instance, Dove got plenty of earned media for its #TheSelfieTalk campaign because it looked at a complex topic from a different angle, using an emotional video.
Step 5: Target Publications and Journalists Carefully
As mentioned above, as a startup, you may have to reach out to a wider number of journalists and publications to get a response. However, that doesn’t mean you should send hundreds of emails to every publication you can find. It’s still important to ensure you’re focusing your attention, time, and budget on publications that are relevant to your business and target audience.
If you’re promoting your new technology product, for instance, don’t just reach out to the 100 top YouTube influencers and tech news websites you can find. Do your research to discover which publications your target audience is actually interested in.
You can use tools like “BuzzSumo” to find out which publications are publishing content related to the story you want to tell. Then, you can access SEO research tools, like Ahrefs, to find out how much traffic and attention those pieces are getting on different sites.
Consider using technology to your advantage, too. There are plenty of PR directories out there that can help you find relevant websites to publish on, such as JustReachOut, Cision, PressFarm, and PressFriendly. You can even look for PR outlets relevant to your niche, such as “CyberWire” instead of “Newswire” for technology.
Step 6: Form Relationships with Journalists and Publications
While cold pitching to publications and journalists can work, it’s much easier to get rapid coverage for your latest news stories and releases if you already have a relationship with a network of experts. Building a rapport with industry influencers and thought leaders before you ask them to cover your news stories can mean they’ll be more likely to oblige, too.
Once you’ve found writers and experts you want to cover your stories, don’t reach out to them straight away. Follow them on social media first, “like” their posts, and comment on their links. Share insights into what you thought about their latest stories, and share their content with others.
Following journalists on social media can also be helpful for another reason. Many will share on their social accounts when they’re looking for sources to discuss trending topics. This can give you another way to get your Startup’s name out there.
When you reach out to your journalists, make sure you:
- Personalize each message: Don’t just send the same generic pitch to everyone. Call your journalist by their name, reference their recent articles, and help them understand why you think they would be the perfect person to cover your story.
- Get the timing and cadence right: Around 53% of PR professionals say they get the best results when they send messages on a Tuesday, so consider timing carefully. Additionally, make sure you don’t bombard your journalist with too many messages at once.
- Experiment: When you do follow up, experiment with how you position your pitch, the subject line you use in your email, and other elements to see whether changes in your approach have an impact on your chances of results.
Finally, after your journalist covers your story, thank them for their help, and ask them whether they’d be comfortable with you getting in touch when you have more information to share.
Step 7: Experiment with Different Ways to Get Coverage
When it comes to mastering PR for startups, most companies spend a lot of time thinking about how they’re going to send pitches to journalists and publications. While pitching is still the best way to actually get another company to share your news, there are other ways you can boost your visibility.
For instance, one option is to approach a high-quality industry expert and ask them whether you can write a guest blog for their site or write a case study rather than asking the journalist to do the work for you. This will still give you an opportunity to earn backlinks and traffic to your website, boost your credibility, and unlock chances for rapid growth.
Another option is to try “reverse pitching.” This is a PR strategy that flips the process by allowing journalists to look for you rather than asking you to hunt them down. Platforms like HARO and SourceBottle enable journalists to submit requests for sources and information from all kinds of companies, including startups.
You could also try combining your PR strategy with newsjacking. Rather than just approaching a journalist with a story about your business, pay attention to the current trending topics people are talking about in your industry and look for a way to link them to your story.
For instance, if everyone is talking about AI in your industry, you could craft a press release that talks about your new AI tool and links it to studies about increasing AI adoption.
Step 8: Do Your Part to Increase Visibility
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to mastering PR for startups is they leave the journalist or publication they work with to do everything for them. While it’s your partner’s responsibility to write or edit your press release and share it on their website, you can do some of the work, too.
Start by including as much valuable content in your pitch as possible to make it more interesting to potential readers. Ensure you include images and videos where possible, graphs and charts if you can, and quotes from crucial members of staff. Ensure you follow the guidelines shared by your PR partner, however, as they may have specific rules for how to structure your content.
Once your piece is published, make sure you share it as often as possible. Post a link on your social media channels and on your website. Include links to the coverage in your newsletters, or ask your influencer partners and other marketing experts to help you get the word out.
Not only will this boost your chances of extra visibility, but it can also show your PR partners that you’re worth working with again in the future.
Master PR for Startups
PR for startups can be challenging, particularly when you have a limited budget and very little experience connecting with journalists. However, if you put in the effort, the results can be incredible, from increased visibility to a better brand reputation.
The steps above should help you to tailor your PR strategy to your startup’s needs. However, if you need extra assistance, consider reaching out to Growth Collective. We can match you with a PR consultant or expert who can take your PR strategy to the next level.
Do Startups need PR?
PR for startups can be a powerful addition to your marketing strategy. It’s a great way to build brand awareness and recognition, increase your reach to your target audience, and protect your reputation. It could even earn you more sales and revenue in the long term.
What types of companies need PR?
Public relations strategies are important for any company or venture that wants to create and maintain a positive reputation with its target audience. Companies of all sizes, from startups to major organizations, regularly invest in public relations.
How to do PR for a startup?
PR for a startup can include everything from writing and sharing press releases to writing article pitches for journalists and arranging interviews or sharing quotes with publications. The key to success is finding unique ways to drive attention to your business.