"Do it. Or you've lost my respect forever."
Sean Hammons, lead developer at Clicky.com wanted more coverage for his startup. He created a new user translation tool, making his app available to non-English speakers. He felt he deserved more coverage, that it was something long overdue.
He decided it was a good idea to threaten Michael Arrington -- co-founder of TechCrunch.
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He accused them of being biased, then he demanded that TechCrunch prove that they weren't... By giving him some much needed press.
So Michael made Clicky the drama story of the week.
Bad press hurt Clicky's momentum.
Hammons knew better. Sure he had an off day, but Michael Arrington wasn't going to just let him off the hook.
He made a rookie mistake and he paid for it -- just like most start-up founders.
You heard right.
Most startups make the same rookie mistakes when they're approaching journalists. Most of the time they're ignored. Once in a while though, they get lucky.
They get smeared.
"Well, that sucks. How am I supposed to get the PR I desperately need for my startup?"
Simple, you use these five, tiny, easy-to-follow PR hacks.
1. Stalk them on Instagram.
Follow them on Instagram, then stalk them. Don't approach them or reach out just yet. And whatever you do, don't be creepy. Your goal is to collect personal details so you can make an introduction.You're not looking for their life story. You're looking for rapport hooks.
A rapport hook is any topic, interest or detail that fascinates the person you're approaching. Maybe they're into fly fishing, they met Tony Hawk, or they're tea aficionados. Make a quick note of it so you can use it later.
"Ugh, that's sleazy."
It's a natural reaction when you haven't been explicitly invited. Here's why it's not sleazy.
If a journalist feels that's creepy all they have to do is set their permissions to private. Doing that sends a clear signal -- they find that particular strategy creepy.
2. Give them the exclusive.
Most startups act like hobos. Their founders beg and grovel for coverage. The vast majority of them are ignored. The few that actually get press, are quickly forgotten.
They didn't give publishers a reason to care. Publishers are under a lot of pressure to perform. To create stories that generate clicks and ad revenue.
How do I know? You're going to create a story. Something fascinating that (a) appeals to journalists (b) generates the clicks they're looking for which (c) sends a flood of people rushing to download your app.
Here's how you do it.
You're create something that hits one of these triggers. Do it right and publishers can't help but pay attention.
- Alarm. Getting a parking ticket sucks. Fixed, an app that fights parking tickets for you, hires "ticket heroes," volunteers who leave a report card on top of your ticket, showing you how to beat it.
- Passion. Dollar Shave Club exploded after a launch video advertising their service went viral. Fast forward to 2016 and they've sold to Unilever for $1 billion dollars.
- Mystique. "Your data should belong to the NSA." These ads appeared all over the place, with no contact info of any kind. Almost immediately people everywhere started talking about it, leading them right to... BitTorrent's website.
- Prestige. Amstel wants you to drink more beer. So, what do they do? They train you to drink theirs. They make a deal with passersby. Just rest for three minutes in front of their beer machine and you'll get a free beer. And what's the first thing you're gonna do when you get a free beer? Brag to your friends.
- Rebellion. Tinder wanted more downloads so they used local models and sorority girls as bait. They pitched sororities in person; all the girls at the meeting would install the app. Then, right after that, they'd pitch to the brother fraternity. The guys opened the app and saw it was filled with cute girls they knew. Tinder started with 5,000 users and came back with more than 15,000.
See the difference? When you tell a fascinating story, people pay attention.
Publishers have the audience, you've got the story.
Make your story fascinating and they'll jump at the chance to send you a flood of traffic. Give them the exclusive to your story and they'll fight for the chance to get it.
3. Use the stalker's greeting.
Remember how we suggested that you stalk journalists (without being creepy)? Now's the time to use the details you've gathered via Instagram or their social media profiles.
Let's pretend for minute.
Say the journalist you're targeting is a huge fan of the Dave Matthews Band. They've met the band members several times at various meet and greets. You might say they're obsessed. You want attention for your app.
So, you work in a subtle, but ultra relevant reference to the band. It could be some obscure trivia, could be a song title, could be something only committed fans would know...
Work it into your pitch.
This attracts immediate attention and it accomplishes two things.
- You're thoughtful. The journalist realizes you took the time to get to know them. If their settings are public that's usually a flattering thing.
- Gets you past their filters. Our psychological defenses go up whenever someone we don't know asks for something.
Once you're in you'll want to get your pitch just right. That means you'll have to...
4. Embed juicy details with GIFS.
Journalists at large publications receive 80 to 100 pitches per day, which doesn't include the hundreds of emails that are sent to general inboxes and forwarded to them.
- Your demo video? They're not gonna watch it.
- Long winded emails? Deleted or saved for later (never).
GIFs cut through the noise.
Create a GIF showcasing the best parts of your app. It works because it saves them time. It works for you because it gets them to look at your app now.
5. Personalize your pitches.
The more personal your pitch the better. Founders typically blast the same generic pitch to hundreds of journalists.
Guess what? They know.
Being pitched an introduction to a startup I've covered 4 times in last 8 months. Good to see a PR agency earning its retainer.— Steve O'Hear (@sohear) August 12, 2016
99 percent of these pitches are deleted.
Make your pitches personal, specific to the journalist or publisher you're pitching and your response rates shoot way up.
How do you do that?
- Don't be cute. Spell things out in your subject line in plain English.
- Stay away from jargon. Jargon takes more brain power to process. You're making journalists work harder. Not good.
- Be ultra relevant. Don't pitch tech to a health and wellness journalist.
- Show you care. Refer to journalists by name, make subtle references to their interests, mention their work etc.
What if these hacks don't work for every startup? What if they don't work for you?
These PR hacks will work for you because they're not focused on you. They're focused on the journalists you're targeting. These hacks give them what they need. The way they need it.
Related: How Social Media Can Help With PR
You make their lives easier -- all without the threats or insults.
Most app developers beg for a story. Startups grovel and whine for coverage. But you don't. You're in-the-know.
You give journalists what they need, the way they need it. When you consistently serve them you give journalists the things they need to write their next big story.