A few months ago, I joined On Deck, an online community for high-achieving entrepreneurs, operators and creatives.
Members include founders with multiple exits, former big tech executives and former C-suite members of high-flying startups like Cameo and Brex — all of whom are working on something new. Community members are encouraged to help each other out via the On Deck Slack channel and to give back to the community by hosting office hours to share their expertise.
Some of the most common questions I’ve seen — both in the Slack channel and through my office hours — have to do with getting media coverage for your company. From finding the right time to seek press to identifying the right story angles, there seemed to be a number of misconceptions about the space.
Let’s dispel the most common ones.
A PR Firm Is Guaranteed to Get You Press
Time and time again, I’ve seen founders post in Slack to ask about PR firm recommendations, assuming that hiring one is a surefire way to get their startups into publications like TechCrunch and The New York Times. In reality, that’s not the case.
After speaking with more than 200 companies, I can confidently say that less than 2 percent are happy with the results a PR firm delivered. Many founders would change PR firms every few months — spending an average of $10,000 to $30,000 a month — and would come away from all these experiences disappointed.
Often, they would tell me that the firms they spoke with “over-promised and under-delivered.” Instead of features in national newspapers and magazines, founders would get placements in much smaller outlets — if they got any media coverage at all, that is.
More often than not, no matter what promises a PR firm may make in their original pitch, there is no guarantee that they will get you any press. We’ll explore why in Myth 2.
PR Firms Automatically Have Strong Media Connections
A common rationale for hiring a PR firm or a publicist is that they have all the right media ties and can easily get you media coverage. This is somewhat true, as currently the media space really is quite dependent on pre-existing relationships. Professional journalists and independent creators usually find stories through people they know and trust.
While some people in the PR industry — typically senior executives who have built relationships over a long period of time — do fall into this bucket, chances are this will not be the person working on your account. More often than not, you will be assigned a very junior person who has few pre-existing relationships, if any. This means that they will end up pitching your story to as many people as possible in order to maximize the possibility of you getting press.
Often, your pitch will find its way to people who are not at all relevant to your space or are not even journalists. I have personally received a number of pitches asking me to cover a specific company, simply because I contribute to Built In.
A Press Release Will Help You Get Coverage
People tend to assume that submitting a press release to a wire distribution service, such as PRNewswire, will help them attract media attention and get stories. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, wire distribution services are a guarantee that nobody sees your press release. Journalists typically don’t read press releases, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll make an exception for yours. The most you can hope for is that your press release is automatically published on the very back of a big publication’s website, where no one will ever find it. There will be no backlinks to your website, which will not help your SEO.
Instead of issuing a press release — which is usually stale and boring — companies are much better off writing a blog post about the announcement they wish to make. From there, they can use social media to promote it or send it directly to relevant people who might be interested in the news.
You Should Only Seek Media Coverage Around Specific Events
Once upon a time, not so long ago, product launches and funding rounds were monumental events that immediately commanded attention. They were newsworthy and generated considerable buzz for companies. This is no longer the case.
In a world where product launches and funding rounds happen nearly all day, every day, these events lose their significance. This means that trying to time your media outreach around these events is setting yourself up for failure. Unless your announcement has a component that is newsworthy (independent of the main event), there is a high probability that you won’t get any press.
However, you can be a part of a broader conversation all year round, whether you have a specific announcement or not. You can do this by sharing your company story, vision and industry insights whenever an opportunity presents itself. Doing this may not get you a stand-alone feature right off the bat, but will make you a part of culturally relevant conversations and generate recurring attention for your brand.
Big Publications Are the Only Ones That Matter
Until very recently, we lived in a world where the only way to share your story with a broader audience was through a small number of local and national media outlets. In 2021, this is no longer the case. The creator economy has given rise to many independent podcasters and newsletter writers who have highly engaged audiences that sometimes rival those of legacy media outlets.
While the latter still retain significant reach, they are not the only ones that matter. In fact, a creator with a smaller but engaged audience that is directly related to your space may generate a lot of targeted attention for your company or product. Furthermore, a smaller creator will usually be able to offer you a stand-alone interview in audio or written format, while a national media outlet will not do the same unless there is already a significant amount of buzz around you or your company.
To get the best results, you should combine the two: Start with smaller, targeted creators to generate momentum through stand-alone pieces, while contributing your insights to broader trend pieces by national media outlets. It will pay off.