Last week was Fetchnotes’ big “press unveiling.” We lifted our PR embargoes on midnight on Monday and were covered in 11 different publications (The Wall Street Journal, AllThingsD, ReadWriteWeb, MakeUseOf, Benzinga,LAUNCH, TechCocktail, TechZulu, GrowDetroit, Engine021 and the Tropo blog). The results were exceedingly positive — we went from 318 users on October 30 to almost 1,127 as of the time I’m writing this. Subtracting people already in the system, our waiting list is now over 1,000.
Some friends and colleagues of mine have been asking for tips on how we accomplished what we did, so here are my 6 lessons of the past few weeks of PR Mania.
1) Reach out to everyone.
Especially for student founders, there’s a fear that “they’re too big for me.” Quash that fear. You’re awesome. If you’re doing something interesting and valuable — and you shouldn’t be doing a startup if you’re not — then you’re plenty important.
This has been touched on in more detail by other bloggers, but make sure you are obsessive about how you target writers. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent finding the right person to email. I tried to look for people who a) wrote about other note-taking apps b) wrote about other personal productivity apps or c) generally wrote about more “beta-stage” startups.
Can’t find their contact information? You’re not trying hard enough. If it’s not on their author page, you can often just Google for their personal page, where they often list an email address. If that doesn’t work, try Twitter. I didn’t use that channel, but I’ve heard it works.
Another underutilized strategy is using Help A Reporter Out. This is an email newsletter in which reporters put out “queries” for what they’re looking for, and you can respond as a source. I use this a ton, and it’s a great way to get on smaller blogs or be used for quotes in other stories. Every little bit helps, and it creates a ton of back-links to your website when you do this consistently. Sometimes you can get lucky and find large outlets looking for stories on here too. WARNING: If you sign up for HARO, get ready for a ton of email.
2) Follow up, follow up, follow up.
This should be obvious, but most people assume that if they don’t respond they’re not interested. This is simplynot true. Reporters/bloggers, especially at bigger outlets, get 100s if not 1000s of emails per day and it’s a 50-50 chance whether or not they even read your first pitch. Out of all the outlets mentioned above, only four required less than two attempts. My rule is wait one week between follow ups if you’re more than a month out from your target coverage date, 5 days if it’s 2-4 weeks away, and every three days if it’s less than 2 weeks away. It might be annoying, but it makes things happen.
This is also where a background in sales or business development was really helpful. I did the latter (and a bit of the former) for Benzinga for a year, and if I learned anything from that experience it’s that people are slow to respond and nothing is dead until they say it is. Also, don’t throw out your follow up lists or your boss will NOT be happy.
3) You must always be available immediately. No exceptions.
As an early-stage entrepreneur, you’re used to working on your own schedule. But reporters have deadlines. And they’re not the same “we’re going to launch in July but let’s be real it’s not happening until October” deadlines that we startup founders tend to deal with. 1PM is 1PM. Busy? Having a personal crisis? Just happen to be away from your phone? Well, too bad, that reporter who is going to make or break your company needs screenshots. So you better find a way to get them what they need, even if it means begging one of your employees to do it for you.
On Friday I had to bolt out of a scholarship luncheon to re-record an interview that was due in 30 minutes. I was also giving a speech within an hour on the opposite campus but I was more than willing to be late to my speech to get in that outlet. The reporter this happened with couldn’t have been nicer about the situation, but it is your job to make their job as easy as possible, no matter what your schedule looks like. Besides, it made a great story!
4) Don’t be too focused on “D-Day.”
I thought that by saying we were lifting our press embargoes at midnight on October 31, that this meant every article we had planned was coming out at that time. Not true. Only two even got posted by noon that day; the rest came throughout the week, culminating with AllThingsD and the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.
The reason I expected a “D-Day” is because 1) I overvalued how important our story was and 2) I figured reporters would not want to publish something on us after we’d already been covered. I was extremely strict about not giving exclusives on our story for this reason. At the end of the day, however, if they legitimately want to write about you, it won’t be because they’re first. It’s because you have an interesting story that they want to tell, and usually it’s a different perspective from any other outlet.
5) Always include three differentiators and an offer.
In every pitch email I write to press, I always wrap it up with three concise ways Fetchnotes is different than anything on the market. I learned this technique from being on the other end of PR at Benzinga when I hosted Zing Talk. It made my job a lot easier when people wrote emails with skim value. Those long treatises about how you’re going to change the world are just not going to be read.
Additionally, always give them something. In our case, it was beta invites. This gives their readers a tangible benefit if they cover you, so you’re a lot more likely to catch their interest. And after the article is up, always offer to be a source in the future and introduce them to other interesting startups. It builds good will, whether they use you or not.
6) Be yourself.
Don’t try to act like you’re a big-shot CEO just because you’re talking to a big-time media outlet. You’re not. You’ll just make a fool of yourself and put a “fake” taste in their mouth. Rather than trying to hide the fact that I was a college junior, I wore it on my sleeve. One reporter even complimented me on my “college entrepreneur attire.” Instead of acting like everything was exactly perfect from the start, I swapped hiring horror stories and built a rapport with another. I was real to them and they were real to me. It paid off.
At the end of the day, just make sure you’re doing something people care about. If you nail that, the rest falls into place.