Lessons learned in getting press

This post originally appeared on Greenhorn Connect here: https://greenhornconnect.com/blog/lessons-learned

I’ve been very fortunate over the past few months to get some really awesome press coverage for myself and Greenhorn Connect.  I also worked at a startup where the CEO was extremely adept at garnering press as well. From these combined experiences, I’ve learned a bit about getting press. I’d like to share some of those lessons here and hope you’ll leave any lessons you have in the comments.

Lessons learned in getting press

1) Press comes in waves

When I joined oneforty in April 2010, Laura was making waves as she helped cool the Twitter developer community that was upset by the acquisition of Tweetie, the first of many ecosystem upsetting acquisitions. The coverage around the meeting Laura helped organize for the major apps and Twitter led to a ton of additional stories across the blogosphere and press. As I stood amazed at the press coverage, Laura told me the wise words, “Press comes in waves.”

Now that I’ve seen it first hand, it makes complete sense. My part in the Scott Kirsner Sunday Globe article on keeping young talent in Boston led to Boston Magazine deciding to cover me as a Person of Interest.  Curt Nickish, who wrote the Boston Magazine article was then able to spin the piece into a second entry, this time with a slightly edgier tone and a wider audience in Fast Company.  I expect this is the end of it, but who knows.

From talking to friends with PR experience, I’ve learned that you can also try to intentionally create waves.  By strategically pitching different journalists different aspects of your story at varied times, you can create a similar wave of stories about you and your business.  Do this a few times and the relationships you develop will allow you to make serious waves around big news for your business.

2) Everyone has an angle

In many ways the two stories I had were the same story, just told very differently.  It speaks to the different audiences of Boston Magazine and Fast Company; the former is affluent New Englanders, while the latter is a widely distributed, national publication focused on business with a slight edge. To affluent New Englanders, the story is interesting because I’m a young guy making it in Boston. To the wider population of Fast Company, the story became more about the rise to “power” the article implied I have over our community (Obviously no one has “power” over our community, certainly not me).

On the flip side, you can use this to your advantage when trying to be written about by doing your homework. Research the journalist and pitch the story in a way that you believe would be most compelling to them. You can also check sites like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) for opportunities.

3) Control how you’re perceived

If you’ve been following the TechStars TV drama, you’ll notice that what was pitched as a documentary has actually been a by the book reality TV show complete with jocks, overconfident teams and many perceived winners and losers. Hacker News was ablaze the other day over a blog post by Melanie of ToVieFor.  The companies on the show are lucky, as according to Jason Baptiste, TechStars fought hard to tone down the reality-tv bent of the show.

When they called me for the photoshoot for the Fast Company article, they suggested they photograph me wearing a crown and handing out crowns to other people walking by. I rejected this idea flatly, as I think that image combined with their original proposed headline, “King Maker” would have made me look pretty silly at best and a total ego maniac at worst.  Fortunately, I was able to get them to go with a more conservative photo as you see me shaking hands in the article.  If I hadn’t spoken up, no one else would have for me and I’d be the one looking like a fool.

Don’t be afraid to be proactive. In the future, I plan to request the right to read the article before print when it’s more than a simple news story .  If you get major press coverage, what is written can be a the first impression of you to many people.  Press is cool, but you want to make sure it’s something you and your friends/coworkers/staff/family can be proud of.

4) The truth always wins out

If you only knew Jason Baptiste from TechStarsTV, you’d think he’s a cocky, overconfident startup kid.  If you’ve ever read his blog, asked a question of him on Formspring or met him in person, you’ll know he’s a very down to earth, smart guy that really cares about building a great company and helping others when he can…and happens to have a flair for theatrics in presentations.

If you think you have a communication crisis, lean on your friends in PR; they’ll know what to do. People appreciate honesty and transparency. Just look at how Grasshopper handled their Chargify issues or how Theo Epstein made the most of an ugly Red Sox breakup.

5) Journalism is about relationships

Many in Boston were in awe at how easy Laura made it look to get major press for oneforty on a regular basis.  The answer was not that we had a killer PR firm (we had none). It was that Laura built relationships with tons of journalists. During those trips to the Valley Laura periodically took especially early in the days of oneforty, she wasn’t just raising money; she was also building relationships with the tech press out there. Not surprisingly, the same person she was having beers, coffee or meals with were then more likely to write about her.

When I met with Curt for the Boston Magazine article, we ended up meeting much longer than expected and having a conversation that went well beyond an interview and allowed me to learn a bit about Curt as well.  I believe it was this reporte and the mutual respect we developed that Sunday afternoon that contributed to his motivation to try to get wider publication of my story in Fast Company.

Like so many things in startup life, I feel like I’m just learning the tip of the iceberg of what I need to know and master.  If you’ve learned any lessons in PR and media, please share them for all of us to learn!

3 thoughts on “Lessons learned in getting press

  1. Another ‘working-with-journalists tip’, (as with any networking), would be to make a point of trying to help these folks out, whether it’s feeding them with great stories to cover (not necessarily about your own company) or pointing people toward the journalist’s articles when you’re blogging/tweeting, – indeed just offering to help them out in any aspect of their lives. Good karma comes back to you!

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