Why do some startups struggle to get PR when others seem to attract it effortlessly?

Because they don’t follow a process when they’re looking for press. This is exactly the opposite of what you should do.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to get free press for your startup.  Thankfully, it’s not rocket science.  But it will take some legwork. Here is my interview with Tim Sae Koo, CEO of Tint. 

“The worst thing to happen is no one writes about you.  At the end of the day, you want people to CARE.”

 – Tim Sae Koo, founder of Tint

Tim is a 22-year-old first time founder and CEO.  He joined StartEngine’s program while still enrolled at USC.   After graduating from StartEngine, his company, Tint, raised money from Bill Gross.   Their mission is to help brands create deeper engagement with their users, which they do by offering a SAAS solution meant to replace the static and rarely updated corporate blog.  Since acquiring funding they’ve reached profitability in only 3 months.

Glancing at their AngelList profile, Tint has been covered at least 43 times in various press since March 17th, most notably in TechCrunch.   Based on volume alone I’d say Tim’s ability to get covered is proven.

Understanding how the media works

Always remember the cardinal rule: Journalists’ main goal is to attract more readers.  Interesting stories have a better chance accomplishing that goal.

Tim told me over Skype, “Journalists don’t print a story unless it’s compelling for their readers.  You always need an angle.”

That’s why Tim used a ‘David vs Goliath’ narrative to get a recent press mention on an SEO and Social Media Blog.

Goliath is their competitor, Rebelmouse. Rebelmouse has $2.5M in funding from a strong group investors – they employ over 30 engineers.   In comparison, Tim’s team raised about $370,000 and has a team of 2 engineers.   Both companies are offering a similar product, and on top of that, there are a few other competitors in the same space.

This story is compelling because now it’s not just about one startup, there’s a greater narrative going on.  Can David slay Goliath?


Earlier, I mentioned that Tim has a process to get articles like this.  Before we discuss that, let’s lay some groundwork by answering two questions.

This is the hard part.  After you figure out the answers to these, the process is relatively straightforward.

#1:  Why do you want PR?  

Don’t skip this step because it will determine your strategy for every subsequent step.

There are two common motivations:

-Social proof.

Social proof is an outside, impartial source which gives you more legitimacy.  This helps you to overcome customer’s objections to buying, piqué investors’ interest, and attract talent to your team.  The end goal is to become instantly credible to a new site visitor.  My favorite example of a ‘social proof page’ is http://vooza.com/welcome.

-More traffic.

You’ve determined what metrics matter to you, and you’re looking to move the needle in the right direction.   The ‘TechCrunch bump’ would accomplish this (though it’s unclear whether effects are short term or long term).

#2: What’s your angle?

In other words, why would a journalist want to print your story?

This is completely unique to your company.   I was talking with TruBrain, one of the companies we incubate, about it the day this article was posted.

The truth is that most of your initial ideas won’t feel ‘right’.  You need to dig through them all to find the gems.  The answer isn’t always clear and you’ll need to experiment.

That said, there’s one sure bet, and it’s conflict.

At an early age, I learned from James Bond villain Elliot Carver that everyone loves a conflict in the media.  One current example in LA tech is the PandoDaily vs Beachmint controversy.

The Six Step Process

 If you’ve made it this far, you’re in luck.  This stage of the process is simplest and most formulaic.   Listed below are the steps Tim took to get his Rebelmouse vs. Tint story that we talked about above published.  He kindly published two additional articles on Tint’s blog that will help you with this process, and they’re linked below.

  1. Research your company’s competition.

  2. After determining who is your most established competitor, search for press that mentions them.

  3. When you find an article which features them, find out the author

    1. If necessary, follow a link back to their homepage or main site

  4. Find out the email of the journalist in question

  5. Send them well thought-out, short, cold email pitching your story – have an angle.

  6. Communicate promptly with the journalist and wait for your story to be published

I think the step most people will get hung up on is cold emailing.  You want to avoid a wall of text, which will usually get ignored.  You want to personalize the email as much as you can.  Always think – how can you add value and stand out from the crowd?

Some more tips from Tim on getting press:

  1. Never send a message to the generic contact form, like contact@techcrunch.com.   Always contact individual journalists.  It’s most effective to either get or guess their personal email.

  2. Do initial legwork to find out which journalists are the best match for your story.   Read their editorials and find out more about them – this can’t be done in a hurry.  Referring to specific pieces they’ve written or understanding their viewpoints sets you apart from other people ‘pitching stories.’

  3. Understand when the best times to reach out are.   Tint had the best success by reaching out later in the day, around 5PM or 6PM.   This works because during the day, journalists have meetings and deadlines, and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.   But if you message them after-hours, they’ll be more likely to have time to dedicate to your email.

  4. If they don’t reply, they’re probably not interested.   But still you should tactfully follow up in a couple days.

  5. Approach journalists by building relationships.  This is important because good press can lead to unintended positive outcomes, like a recruiting or fundraising advantage.

The Bottom Line

Refer back to the lead quote of this article – at the end of the day, you want people to care.

Even if you don’t constantly want or need press, it helps to establish some kind of framework for how you’d go about approaching journalists when the time is right.

I think Tint has the right approach to this problem, and the results speak for themselves.  They’ve gotten 43+ press mentions since founding, despite multiple similar competitors in the space, many which are much better staffed and funded.

For more inspiration on how to ‘work the media’ you should check out Ryan Holiday’s work.  He’s internet famous for  using controversial tactics to get press for his clients such as Tucker Max and American Apparel.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! What is your strategy for getting press?

This article originally appeared on StartEngine.com

This is a guest blog post by John Conkle, who currently is Program Director at StartEngine, LA’s largest tech accelerator. You can read more of his blog posts and listen to his podcasts about tech startups on StartEngine.com.  
“Currently I run the program at StartEngine, LA’s largest tech accelerator.  We help new Entrepreneurs become successful and have graduated 50 teams since 2011.  You can read my blog posts and listen to my podcasts about tech startups on StartEngine.com.   
I went to college in the Bay Area for 4 years, and after graduating travelled to countries like Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, and the Philippines with just a backpack.  I enjoy electronic music, talking loudly on the phone, and LA sunshine.  Visit my personal blog at jnconkle.com.”