Small startups crave attention to get noticed by potential customers and investors, but miss doing simple things to get on a journalist’s schedule
I have been writing for Geektime for over a year. Before I came here, I would not have said I knew the first thing about startups. Even living in Israel, it was never more than a talking point for me. But being a quick study and a fast learner is what got me my job here.
I was able to see a press release, dig up more information about a company, quickly learn and get a strong basic understanding of how their technology worked, then profile them while writing up what often tended to be a rather boring funding announcement.
I still do that, but with the growth in startups around the world, my colleagues and I have to be picky about which rounds we cover in a tight schedule and with a small team. The reasons we choose to cover one story and not another, sometimes a seed round over a Series A, vary.
There are ways you can help us make the decision to write about your company, however. Believe it or not, you can win even if you are not developing the most original idea and even if you have not raised a lot of money or even if you do not have a prominent investor.
Here are five things you can do when you consider reaching out to the press and want to get coverage. Some of these things are easy. Some of these things take more work. But they will get you coverage, and likely not just from Geektime. There are clearly other ways to get our attention as well, but let’s start with these tips.
1. Tell us more about your founders’ and leaders’ personal backgrounds
Readers relate to people first and foremost. That being said, they can get a better picture of a story if they get a description of the story’s main subject. Just like those exhaustive descriptions in novels about main characters’ hair color, clothing styles and sometimes their accents, readers are drawn in by founders’ personal backgrounds. That includes backgrounds that aren’t the same as the reader, but might be unique.
This will help a company stand out from the rest of the competition, especially if you live in a hotbed of startups like Silicon Valley, London, or Tel Aviv.
Mention your alma mater, where you grew up, if you have a particular heritage, what your hobbies are, and the like.
Consider this previous profile we did of Randi Zuckerberg back in 2013 when she was touring the Israeli startup scene:
The tour was designed to bring 20 Jewish Silicon Valley tech leaders, who have yet to have had (or yet to recently) the privilege of visiting their spiritual and ancestral homeland…
Randi herself has visited Israel on two prior occasions, but she admits that her view from the perspective of being a wife, mother and entrepreneur is a far different one from when she was just a college co-ed on a Birthright tour several years ago. “A lot has changed,” she says, “It’s amazing.”
Some of these things, mainly hobbies, are not typical fodder for press releases, but they are professional hobbies you can include in your announcements. The main idea here is not only to give us things we can convey to the reader, but more information about you that make us as journalists say, “Oh yeah, this is someone I can write something interesting about.”
2. Where are you located? What are your markets?
“People [Kosovars] are ambitious, hardworking, young (the youngest age in Europe), willing to take the extra mile.”
Those words were uttered by Mergim Cahani, the CEO of Albanian-language search engine Gjirafa, which is headquartered in Pristina, Kosovo, to Geektime back in February.
People want to read about startups relevant to them. A startup’s location, similar to the company’s founders, is a part of the startup’s identity. It make a tremendous statement when a company says that it is located in Oakland, California instead of “Silicon Valley” or “the Bay Area.” Despite the prestige of being in the hottest technology hubs, showing that you provide a unique taste of innovation in an off-the-beat-in-track city is an advantage when you want to stand out (literally) from the crowd.
This can also apply in some of the bigger hubs. Despite the marathon of stories about companies from Palo Alto, San Mateo, or Mountain View, it gives incentive to local readers who want to know what is going on just around the corner. If your startup is successful and it happens to be located in Oklahoma, that’s even more interesting.
If you are in another major tech country like Israel or the United Kingdom, highlighting that you are located in Jerusalem or Edinburgh rather than the main startup cities of Tel Aviv and London really does set you apart. It also gives us a chance to include information about cities that don’t get a lot attention for being startup hubs.
Also, where are you expanding?
SafetyCheck is an Australian startup that raised $23 million in October. Besides their ability to scale to have five offices in three countries, they are unique in that they started in Townsville, Queensland and chose to keep an office open there. Two of those offices happen to be in Manchester, England and Kansas City, Missouri, not typical stops for an international startup. They also happen to have six language offerings, including the seldom-covered Catalan.
3. Clearly, concisely, redundantly explain your technology
We don’t want to have to ask for white papers. Make. it. simple. We have read about thousands of companies and written about hundreds of them.
Sometimes we drop a story in the middle of our research in favor of something else, but decide not to return to the previous article to finish it. Why? Because the bulk of that research is spent understanding what a startup is doing. While we relish in the opportunity to learn about new technologies and get an in-depth understanding of it, most of our articles are only 300-800 words long and readers’ attention spans are short.
Our readers also will want a precise and short explanation of a complicated but important technology. If we feel it will reflect poorly on our writing quality, we will drop a story. We will drop it.
As simply as possible, explain what you are doing. If it is very complicated, explain it a second time in a different way. Some writers and readers will better understand one explanation better than another. If both are clear, then we have an even better comprehension of what you are doing, making it easier to tell readers how cool your startup’s work is.
4. Drop the jargon
My colleagues and I have lost count of how many times we have wanted to defenestrate someone for sending us a borderline-unreadable press release.
This relates heavily to the previous tip, but in this case it interferes with some more basic understanding of what you do. Even if we have not figured out yet how to most quickly and concisely explain your technology, we should always be able to list your services.
Without referencing the press release itself, this line sums up the problem:
“Our platform and delivery expertise provides an end-to-end solution and helps reduce complexity for customers.”
I literally just ripped this from a press release published hours ago about a company I have never heard of and found by searching “end-to-end solution” in Google News.
An end-to-end solution, as our technology-savvy readers know, refers to being able to offer every major service in a given industry or around a particular kind of product. However, if we are not experts in your particular industry and do not write about it 24/7, we will be hard-pressed to give a good list of what those services include.
You are the experts, so you have to explain it.
But there are other words that are common and just as problematic: “platform,” “delivery,” and “reduce complexity” (do not let the irony of that last two-word phrase be lost on you).
These are generic terms, but they are technobabble and do not really explain how or what your particular platform (device, software program, app, marketplace, form, etc.) actually “delivers” (files an insurance claim, sends a command, runs analytics, forwards medical records, refreshes a feed, remotely controls a drone, etc.).
If you want to “reduce complexity” for us, you could explain what your technology eliminates from the process to make it more efficient, incorporates into the process to make it more comprehensive, or how much time is saved from using your product or service.
5. Take a photo and draw a picture
One of these is easier than the other. Both help.
Just like my first tip for you on this list, send us pictures of your founders and employees. Team photos are awesome, no matter how generic. They typically show off your office, might include t-shirts with your brand, and associate a smiling team with your company. Readers can always see a startup is real with a cool photo.
Also provide pictures of the founders and company leaders who you gave background for. Writers may sometimes choose to write about the same thing from different angles (more personally, or more about the company itself), so give us options on photos to illustrate your company.
Draw us a picture of your technology though. Also send us photos of your hardware if you are a device company, or a shot of monitors and mobiles with your software platform open. For app companies, this might be the best way to add some spice to your story.
Again, visualization can do what words sometimes cannot. These screenshots might also help you win customers if they feel it is a simpler platform than the one they are currently using.
Obviously, if you are a cyber security company or dealing with more sensitive information about your proprietary technology, you don’t want to illustrate certain things. This is where personal and team photos make all the difference. They provide qualitative, original, genuine visualizations of what your company is.
Include these things in your press releases.
Of course, this is just to grab our attention. We want to talk to you. We want to be on the phone with you and meet you for coffee. We want to have a natural conversation that leads to quotes that make for better articles. You want those things, too. You need those things, too.
This list could be longer, but it’s a great and simple start to catch our eyes and get us to lend you our ears. If you want to win the attention game, learn to sell yourselves and not just your news.