Getting Press for Your Startup — Michael Seibel | YC 

Michael Seibel Y Combinator   CEO , on  press  strategies for  startups
The best  press  advice I ever got was from Mike Arrington and M.G. Siegler while they were speaking at an SV Angel  CEO  conference. They said: 

Treat  PR  like biz dev. 

Once I heard that, everything clicked. Before then I’d wasted mental energy thinking there were special rules for talking to the  press  and getting great stories for my company. I needed cool and catchy subject lines for my emails. I should have a list of a hundred reporters that I blast with new story  ideas . I should write  press  releases. Needless to say most of these efforts ended in failure. Sound familiar? 
Treating  PR  like business development means developing  relationships  with reporters as people, getting introduced through warm connections instead of cold emails, and creating a fair value exchange. Here’s the process I advise  YC  companies to follow when they’re ready for  press

Step One: Generate  News

Many founders  pitch  reporters profiles and stories about their company that could be written today, next week, or next month. Everyone wants a “profile piece” on their  startup  but most of the  time  those stories aren’t valuable to reporters. What makes a valuable story is  news

What is  News

News  is timely. It makes more sense to talk about it today rather than tomorrow.  News  attracts attention now and that’s what reporters want.  News  for most  startups  can be broken up into these 4 categories: 

1.  Product  Launches and Features 

These are things coming out today. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, today. Think  Instagram  Stories or  Facebook  Timeline. Typically you are looking for user facing features. In my last company, Socialcam, we would reach out to the  press  when we released  video  filters, the ability to add soundtracks to videos, or user profiles. 

2. Product/Sales Milestones 

This could be hitting a million users, $100k MRR, or maybe a million guests per night. It’s important for this number to be as big as possible (relative to your size of  startup ) and I’d recommend you sandbag this number - i.e. wait until you’re 25% past the milestone to announce - so that you’re that much closer to announcing the next milestone. 

3. Significant BD Deals or Customers 

Did you just get a team at  Airbnb  or Instacart to start using your  product  or service? Did you partner with GM to build a network of  self-driving cars ? If you have their permission you should consider announcing it. 
For better or worse,  fundraising  is conflated with traction/success so it is a topic people want to read about. If you have raised an angel round or series A/B/etc. most reporters will consider this  news  and potential employees will notice it, too. 
Note : Many of the examples I’ve used might seem a little aggressive for an  early stage   startup . My goal is not to discourage you but to provide examples that will be generally understood. If you have any new  product , milestone, deal, or  investment  round you should  strongly  consider pitching it. 
Step Two: Make Your Own  Press  Contacts 
Reporters want to talk to CEOs and co-founders--not  PR  people. As an  early stage   startup  founder you should be building reporter  relationships  and making pitches. Your success rate will go up and you will actually spend less  time  and  money  on  PR . Take it from me--we spent over $100,000 on  PR  agencies and  PR  people as an  early stage   startup  before we figured this out. 
 

How Do I Make  Press  Contacts? 

Don’t spray and pray. It’s stupid. 
The best method to meet a  tech  reporter is by having the  CEO  or a co-founder get a warm intro. If you’re a  YC  founder, the  YC  founder network is super helpful for these. The reporter you want to meet has definitely written about someone you know. Have them intro you. Proper etiquette is to ask your friend for an intro to only one reporter. If you aren’t a  YC  founder, make friends with other  startups  and reach out to your  startup community  for warm intros. 
Here’s what should be in your intro. The reporter should be able to read it and reply in thirty seconds. 
A request for a twenty minute call. Be courteous. You don’t need to meet in person. 
When you get the reporter on the phone, be ready with three to five reasons why your  news  and your company is important. Make them clear and then, at the end of your call, offer your notes and any relevant collateral (screenshots, graphs, logos, pictures, etc). This will provide you with an opportunity to be courteous and provide reporters with the  language  you prefer. 
 

Step Three:  Pitch  Those Contacts an Exclusive 

Almost all  startups  should be offering their story as an exclusive to one  tech  reporter at a  time . Your target audience 
investors, potential employees, motivated customers, early adopters - exist in high concentration in just a few  tech  outlets. Getting blanket coverage across a bunch of  tech  blogs is often not worth the struggle and can piss people off when embargoes are broken. 
 

Step Four: Share  News  at a Consistent Cadence 

There is a  philosophy  in the  PR  world that the number of  press  mentions per story is an important metric. This causes them to put all the best  news  in one story, infrequently, and try to get the most reporters to write about it at once. For  startups  I actually think this isn’t the best strategy. 
For me, the benefits of  PR  are hard to measure but they do exist. It’s like  funding  basic research in  science , you can’t predict the advances but they do happen when you invest consistently over  time
To see real  startup   PR  results you’re better off getting one story every month or every other month versus one huge story every year. To do that, don’t combine all of your  news  into one story, spread it out across multiple stories. Also when you are looking at your stats or sitting in  product  meetings with your team, keep an eye out for potential  news  that you can  pitch . I tell  YC   startups  to maintain a queue of 3-5 pieces of  news  that you will want to announce in the coming 6 months. It takes the pressure off you if one of those pieces of  news  doesn’t get picked up, and it helps you keep a regular cadence of positive  news  about your company in the  press
 

Other Things to Keep in Mind 

Just like BD, don’t expect to get every meeting and story. When a reporter says “no”, ask yourself why. Were you really giving them  news  and doing all the other things right? If you’re doing all those things well, you should have a 25-50% success rate. 
After six to twelve months of keeping up a good cadence and sharing real  news , you should be relatively friendly with two to five reporters. In other words, they’ve written about your company enough that you’ve probably met them in person and certainly they’ll reply to most of your emails. 
Later on in your startup’s  life  there will hopefully become a point when  press  organically pays attention to your company and wants to proactively write about what you are doing––  Dropbox  and  Airbnb  are great examples. At this point, oftentimes it is strategic to start creating distance between the CEO/Founders and the  press . This is when  PR  people can be very helpful. They create a buffer that allows you to be more strategic about what you announce, when, and to whom. 
Lastly, remember that doing  PR  is a very small part of being a good  CEO  /Founder. Make sure you aren’t dedicating more than 5% of your  time  to  press  and don’t expect  PR  to create observable miracles (tons of users, customers,  investment  offers, etc). Most of the benefit I’ve received from  PR  only became obvious weeks or months after a story was posted. 
Thanks to  Kat Manalac  and Craig Cannon for contributing to this  article
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