Lessons Learned About the Press and Startups

I think the press is something founders should leverage but work with it with their eye's open. This post is a few lessons about things I've learned the hard way about the press.

  • Press isn't a repeatable customer acquisition strategy. When we started Codeup, we could get on the news any we wanted. After a spell, the outlets got tired of us, and press mentions get rarer when you aren't the exciting new thing.
  • Seed-stage startups should do their own PR. There are multiple opinions on this. I had one friend who bet much of his whole net-worth on a big New York PR firm. They got him a mention in the Wall Street Journal, and he never looked back. The point? I know thousands of start-ups. This is the only one where PR made a big difference. I prefer founders either avoid the press entirely or do their own PR.
  • Reporters don't do as much reporting these days. I'm sad to say it, but the vast majority of journalists are expected to crank out tons of content. One outlet I know requires their tech reporter to do 4-5 stories per day. That makes producing quality content near impossible in most conventional publications.
  • Don't make news unless it is good news. A few weeks ago, a CEO asked how to position a press release about the company raising prices. My response, "Why are you doing a release about bad news?" I think of what story I want to see. If my news isn't good, I keep it to myself.
  • Talking to reporters is your choice. At some point, every company will be asked to speak on a negative story. It is the company's choice to decide to be quoted or involved. If a story is beneficial for their aims, founders should talk. If not, there's nothing wrong with politely declining to be interviewed.
  • Learn your reporters. Some get things right. Some work with you. Some get things wrong. I know reporters that get so much wrong that keep everything in elementary school terms to minimize chances articles have factual errors. One national writer has a hit-rate less than 50%. So, I assume the opposite of his articles is true.
  • Numbers matter. Reporters don't have time these days to dig in and determine which stories are real and which are junk. I advise startups to almost always match their releases with transactions like fundraisings or big deals, which have dollar amounts and are more likely to get coverage.
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