Technology & Innovation

Startup PR: Top Strategies for Public Relations Success

Yaron Ginsberg

February 26th, 2021

Startup PR Guide - Public Relations for Startups

Major global brands can get into the news pretty much whenever they want, but earlier-stage startups need to be much scrappier and more resourceful to get the kind of press attention they’re looking for. How should you approach startup PR in order to maximize your ROI, get in front of the right audiences and accomplish your startup’s business goals? Here are some of our tech PR strategies to help startups succeed.

Startup PR Strategies

Focus on Impact

One of the most powerful ways for startups to land press coverage is by pointing to the tangible benefits or outcomes of their product, service or solution. If your technology has been deployed in the real world, even through a pilot, and you can point to results that show impact—e.g., cost savings and enhanced efficiency for end users—you’re in good shape. Widespread adoption of a new technology or a truly transformative industry application of your solution is far more effective in piquing reporters’ interest than a simple announcement of a new product launch. A prime example is when The Wall Street Journal covered our client Dendra Systems, an ecosystem restoration drone startup , which showcased the unique impact of their technology in helping revive ecosystems degraded by land use.

Maximize Key Moments

Never miss a big moment to tell your story. Always seek to capitalize on milestones such as major funding rounds or new executive hires. A sizable funding round is a powerful proof point that goes a long way toward validating your technology, and reporters will often pay attention, especially (and perhaps this goes without saying) if the number is big. This is important because public attention also helps to signal to the market, future investors and board members that you are building traction. Take a look at these recent examples of our startup clients Cove.tool and Versatile landing top-tier coverage for funding, and check out our blog on how to maximize funding announcements for more insights! 

Also, if you’ve just hired an industry superstar with name recognition, that’s an opportunity to not only formally announce their hire, but to show that your company is attracting the best and the brightest. Some business publications and industry outlets—like The Business Journals (e.g., New York Business Journal) and Crain’s New York Business—have special sections dedicated to executive hires, so it’s usually worth engaging them to ensure your hiring news gets highlighted.

Leverage Major Customers and Partners

If you’ve got a major customer or significant new partnership—like when we helped Arcadia announce a partnership with Audi to incentivize electric vehicle adoption—you should make the most out of the opportunity to associate your brand with theirs in the public eye—assuming they’re willing to be publicly identified. That not only makes it more likely for reporters who typically cover those major brands to pay attention to you, it also serves as further external validation showing that you’re the real deal.

However, partnership and customer announcements may not garner you the top-tier press attention you want without concrete results that you can tie them to. For example, the sample headline “Cool New Startup A Partners with Major Industry Leader B,” might help you get on reporters’ radars, but they may not actually cover the news unless it’s linked to truly impactful results of considerable value to end users.

Now, you won’t have tangible, concrete results right off the bat. When you do have them, though, take advantage of the opportunity to develop an in-depth case study that showcases those results and answers the key question: what has the partnership accomplished and how are its results uniquely transformative?

So when you do establish a new big-name partnership or gain a major new customer, it can still be valuable to announce it as an “FYI” to relevant reporters, as well as for SEO purposes. You should, however, anticipate limited coverage at first, and then be ready to make a follow-up announcement that leverages the case study once you have results.

Offer Reporters the Chance to Test Your Product

Are you launching an exciting new consumer device or B2B product? If so, let reporters test-drive it for a few days. When reporters can get their hands on your product to test it out for themselves, it goes a long way toward gaining their interest and getting the kind of detailed story or review article you really want out there. Reading a story written from a subjective first-person perspective that raves about your product instantly makes it more compelling than any simple press release or product spec sheet ever could. Just make sure you test-drive it yourself a couple times beforehand to make sure the reporter doesn’t run into any unexpected issues!

Thought Leadership 

You’re not always going to have big news to tell, and that’s OK! No company news doesn’t mean you don’t get to be in the news. In fact, the stretches between major company milestones are exactly the right times to elevate your thought leadership. You might be thinking, “What is thought leadership?”—well, thankfully, we’ve got a blog on just that. In short, thought leadership consists of insights on industry trends and predictions that your company’s leaders can offer reporters in the form of expert commentary. 

Professionals with startup PR expertise help promote your thought leadership both proactively, by conceptualizing creative pitches that hook a reporter’s interest by highlighting an executive’s expertise and tying it to an industry or societal trend, and reactively, through what’s known in the PR world as “newsjacking”—reacting to news that has recently broken to inject our clients into the story. Thought leadership can also take the form of an op-ed written under an executive’s byline that showcases their perspectives and highlights their depth of knowledge in a particular area.

It’s worth noting that the coverage you get through thought leadership won’t necessarily turn into coverage of your company or product, but it will highlight your executives in the news, showing that they—and by association, your company—are leaders in their space. Often, the article or op-ed will also link back to your site. One great thought leadership example is when our client David Klein, CEO of CommonBond, shared expert advice with Business Insider on whether borrowers would benefit from refinancing student loans in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic; the article conveyed Klein’s expertise on a highly relevant and important issue, directed attention towards CommonBond, and linked back to the company website.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Finally, it’s important to recognize that media engagement is not a short-term play. It requires sustained outreach to engender a steady drumbeat of momentum. If you’re a relatively new startup, or at least new to PR, start by targeting media that is more within reach, such as industry trade publications or second-tier outlets, to create a foundation of public mindshare that will provide the validation you need to earn attention from higher-tier publications.

Aside from when you have a major newsworthy moment, like a funding round or an impactful technology deployment in partnership with a major brand partner, your startup PR efforts should focus on engaging the media through sustained outreach with relevant insights. Keep in mind that reporters may not show interest the first or second time you reach out to them, but they may eventually if you persist with relevant pitches.

While the ultimate goal might be to have your messaging emblazoned in the headlines of TechCrunch or Wired, the flashy feature usually only comes after months—or even years—of sustained engagement and coverage in trade and second-tier media. So if after continued outreach you’re not yet getting the top-tier coverage you’re looking for, don’t lose hope—persist, be patient and play the long game.

The value of finding the right PR partner to help your startup along this road cannot be overstated. A truly effective strategic communications partner isn’t (just) there to help you write up the occasional press release, but to help you create a long-term plan to position your brand narrative the way you want it told and to continuously engage the press on your behalf to build momentum that will yield dividends in media attention over time.