In the same way that you wouldn't talk to kindergarten kids about macroeconomics, you wouldn't talk to London School of Economics students about coloring books. Crafting your content to your audience is key. Get it wrong and you will be met with blank faces. Definitely not the response you were looking for.
Clarifying your target audience and making your content suitable for them are essential steps to media outreach. Before you decide what you want to say, the first step should always be to ask yourself: “Who do I want to speak to?”
Far too often companies begin PR campaigns with their "heads in the clouds,'' starstruck by big names like Techcrunch and New York Times. They are determined to get their news or article in the biggest most well-known publication possible. Now, this is not to belittle the importance of the aforementioned publications. If you are a tech startup, then TC is the Holy Grail. If you are a children’s clothing company then it’s not really relevant.
So how can startups create effective content which is suited to their target audience and avoid time-consuming misguided campaigns?
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1. Be clear about your goals.
One of the first steps in any PR campaign should be to clearly outline your company’s media goals and then create a strategy which has the best chance of fulfilling them.
There are many reasons for reaching out to the media. Some companies just want straight up media coverage and to showcase their company or product to a general audience, some want to attract investors, and some want to target a specific market to advertise a new product.
The most common PR aims are:
- Building customer awareness
- Building investor awareness
- Improving your brand image
- Growing your company/brand
The first step after you have highlighted your media goals, should be to head to the drawing board and decide “What is my announcement?” and “Who do I want to be interested in this?”
Your aims will define your audience, and your audience will define the style of content you create, and the media outlet or publication that you pitch it to.
2. Choose your weapon.
Your media goals will define the type of content which you want to publicize. Leading publications only want to cover newsworthy stories, not stroke egos. So if you don’t have a specific announcement which you feel would be useful to a wider audience, then you should head down the blog or thought leader guest article route.
If you simply want to shout "we are here and we know what we are talking about," then a guest article which develops a topic, adds to wider conversation and gives takeaways to the reader is the way to go.
If you have an interesting product and backstory, but no real announcement you could send out pitches to journalists which offer interviews about your company or your expert opinions on trending topics. For example, if you are a UK-based tech startup predominantly staffed by foreign developers, and are considering moving your company abroad in light of the Brexit announcement, your opinions could well be of interest to a journalist writing a broader story about the situation.
If you want to reach existing customers, and let them know that you are still alive and kicking in-between regular announcements, regular blog, social media and community posts are the way to go. You can always ‘boost’ this type of content through paid social media advertising.
When trying to reach the ears of investors, the type of content you should create really depends on what stage your project is at. After an unforeseen period of VC investment which peaked in 2015, the VC ecosystem has become extremely competitive and investors have been more conservative ever since. If you are launching a new product, you could go down the press release route, but VCs are being more protective of the purse strings this year, so it might be best to hold off until you have reached an eye-grabbing milestone, such as one million downloads, or a top-10 rating in the app store.
Another way of catching investors’ eyes is by positioning yourself as a real leader in your industry, by writing non-promotional articles which discuss current trends in your field, and making educated predictions for the future based on real data. For companies in their early stages, this type of contribution will put power behind your name, and if you write an article which is truly advancing the conversation and making comments which make people’s heads turn then they will be sure to click on your name to find out a little more about you.
3. Choose your channel.
So you have decided who you want to speak to, and what you want to say. Now it’s time to choose the correct loudspeaker which will amplify your message and reach the audience you are aiming for.
While it’s admirable that people want to "shoot for the moon," bigger is not always better in the media world.
Leading publications: If you are advertising your crowdfunding campaign for a Jacuzzi hot-air balloon with embedded beer cooler, you need to bear your target market in mind. While leading publications like Techcrunch and Venturebeat do occasionally cover "weird and wonderful" stories, the average Techcrunch reader is unlikely to really donate to your campaign, even though your story might raise a smile and gain your homepage some clicks.
On the other hand, if you were to target medium range, less "highbrow" publications which have a readership of 18-30 males and college kids such as bro bible, The lad bible, Maxim, Upworthy or Cool hunting, you would probably see your contributions page spike.
Looking at your product or service, and assessing who is interested in it, or more importantly who actually uses and buys it, should be the first step. Also, be realistic, if you have had no previous coverage, are on your first campaign and have no funding to speak of, then regardless of how cool your idea is, it is unlikely to go on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Remember that different publications cover different types of stories, which will be of interest to their readership. Often a quick look at the title of the publication should be enough. Techcrunch, unsurprisingly tech. Entrepreneur, unsurprisingly content of interest to entrepreneurs. Business insider…
Of course not all publications wear their readerships on their sleeves, but a quick browse of articles on their webpage should reveal all.
Industry specific publications: When trying to reach investors, sell industry specific items, or raise your profile within your peers, it is often best to aim for industry specific publications. While getting covered on the Oil & Gas Journal, or Offshore might not seem like such an achievement to the person sitting next to you on the bus, these publications offer a direct channel to the people who are really interested in what you have to say -- assuming you work a field connected to oil and gas.
While these publications might not be common household names, they have high readerships and allow for use of technical language and data-heavy reporting which would not fly in more general publications. Finally, you can talk about energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry (EDS) and electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) without the listener’s head exploding.
Social Media/Linkedin: It is extremely important to differentiate between ‘real news’ and "company news." While you moving offices to a swanky open plan glass palace in Palo Alto is 100 percent interesting for your employees, customers and industry contacts, it is unlikely to get picked up by a leading publication.
Save yourself the time pitching "inwards facing" news stories to the press -- unless it is a local newspaper or radio station -- and focus on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, and your own community pages.
Blogs: Many people often view blogs as "a poor man’s publication." The fact that they are normally run by individuals often brings about the assumption that they are of low quality or don’t have many readers. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In 2012, author Michael Ellsberg coined the phrase "The Tim Ferriss Effect", referring to the influence a blog post on Ferriss' site had on the sales of his book. Ellsberg found that his post on Ferriss' blog led to more sales than a feature in the New York Times and a three-minute slot on CNN.
Getting on Ferriss’s blog is by no means easy, but there are hundreds of respected tech blogs which offer access to large readerships of interested and engaged readers. According to Quantcast, Gizmodo has more than 19.9 million unique U.S. visitors, Lifehacker has 12 million U.S. visitors and Zdnet has more than 1.4 million unique visitors from the U.S. alone.
Don’t forget that Mike Arrington started Techcrunch as a blog back in 2005, and look at it now.
Podcasts: Podcasts offer a channel to a different crowd than with leading publications. Recent studies show that more than half of podcast listeners in the U.S. are between 12 to 34 years old. While millennials might not be engaged by reading the WSJ on their commute home from work, while in the gym, or on a break from work, it appears that they are very much engaged by listening to podcasts. Overall, an estimated 46 million Americans over the age of 12 now listen to podcasts on a monthly basis which accounts for 17 percent of the 12+ U.S. population.
While many companies use podcasts to fill the voids in between media campaigns, they are also a great way to get your name out there as an expert, and share news about your company. There are many great tech podcasts out there, but a quick browse on the iTunes store will reveal hundreds of weird and wonderful topics to cater for any niche. While writing blogs and guest posts requires creating,or contributing content of value to a journalist, podcasts should take up less of your time, but can be equally as valuable.
The media world has evolved well past print publications. Nowadays, there are a huge range of channels to reach potential consumers, it’s a matter of working out who you want to reach, and what you want to tell them. Different demographics are naturally going to be drawn to different media channels. If you want to reach over 60’s in the Miami glade region, it may be best to stick to local TV or radio, if you want to reach Millennial developers why not try Geekwire or Reddit.
Don’t fall into the trap being blinded by the lights of leading publications. Instead take the time at the start of your campaign to assess which channel can really lead you to the people you need to speak to. Always, remember the end goal of media outreach is to reach a wider audience, not just to collect logos to proudly post on your webpage.