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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.