5 Tips for Building a PR Media List to Get Press for Your Startup

By Kathryn Hawkins. Content Marketing PR
Magazine rack
   Credit:  Phil Roeder via Flickr  License: CC BY 2.0

Build a list of journalists, bloggers, influencers, and media contacts to pitch to generate press coverage for your startup.

So you’re getting some traction for your startup. You’ve just landed a new round of funding, or hired a top CMO, or launched an innovative new product. You hire a firm to write and issue a press release on PRNewswire or another mass-distribution service. You eagerly count down the minutes until the release goes live, then wait for the emails and calls to start rolling in from curious journalists.

Then… Tumbleweeds.

Though it’s true all the big guys (Google, Apple, Amazon, et al) still use press releases to announce earnings reports, product launches, and other big news, it works for them because the press is chomping at the bit to report on them. If you’re a fledgling startup, it’s not nearly so easy.

So while it doesn’t necessarily hurt to send a press release out as a starting point to cover your bases, it’s very rarely going to earn any significant media attention for your brand.

Instead, if you want to generate press for your brand, it’s crucial to build a solid, carefully curated media list that includes journalists, bloggers, and influencers who you know will be interested in what you’re doing. If the pitch resonates with them, they’ll likely share the story with their own audiences and you’ll be on your way to widespread media attention.

Here are some tips for building your media contact list:

Focus on personal connections first.

It helps if you, or the agency you’re working with, has past connections with a particular journalist or influencer. At Eucalypt, we often find ourselves going back to editors we’ve worked with in the past—though we’re careful to only make contact when we know our client is truly relevant to their publication, as we don’t want to burn bridges by pitching too frequently.

Focus on finding industry-specific influencers within your network—if you can identify key influencers who are second-degree connections on LinkedIn, you could even ask your friend or colleague for an introduction. While it can be effective, this approach should be used in moderation and only in situations where your public relations campaign is directly related to that person’s work. Focus on adding value, and your efforts will be rewarded.

Use a tool to build a carefully-curated media database quickly.

While public relations platforms like Cision have lists of thousands of media outlets that you can batch-blast with your press release or email pitch, we don’t recommend that strategy. Often, the email addresses are outdated, or ones that the journalists don’t check frequently. And because the focus is on reaching as many people as possible, few of them are going to be relevant to your public relations campaign. Instead, use a tool like PressRush, which lets you search by keyword for journalists who cover the exact topics you focus on. The tool provides you with context on each journalist such as their outlet, title, social media handles, and most recent stories. You can use this data to build a highly targeted pitch for each journalist that demonstrates that you’re familiar with their work and coverage areas.

Identify social media influencers in your space

Don’t stop with traditional media and bloggers. Use a tool like Upfluence, FollowerWonk, or Buzzsumo to identify active and popular social media influencers on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms who frequently share content that’s relevant to your industry. Depending on your product or service, you might consider offering them a sample of your product in hopes that they’ll share it with their own followers. Know your audience: A lot of influencer marketing is more applicable for B2C audiences than B2B, so make sure you’re targeting the right platforms.

Find relevant journalists from Help a Reporter Out (HARO)

We’ve previously written about the benefits of scouting HARO regularly for inbound public relations opportunities, and that’s without a doubt, one of the most successful strategies for finding relevant journalists who are looking to write about your subject area right now. However, you can also use it as a research tool, searching through older HARO requests in your inbox to see what journalists have requested in the past to identify people who regularly write on topics in your field. You can add them to your media contact list and reach out with a personalized intro that references their earlier work and searches.

How to write messages that generate responses

So once you have your contact list, what do you do with it?

Don’t destroy the benefit of all your hard work to build a highly relevant, curated media list by sending out a generic press release or long-winded, generic pitch.

Instead, use the first couple of lines of your email to reference each journalist’s past work and focus areas, and share why your news is relevant to their work. From there, explain your pitch in just a few lines, with links to additional information that they can explore if they’re interested in learning more. Don’t overload them; just give them a quick head’s up and the tools to research independently.

(Yes, this is more work than sending a generic PR blast, but this is how you build relationships with journalists instead of simply annoying them.)

It can be helpful to tie your media pitch to breaking news or seasonal trends that you know they’re likely to be writing about—i.e., if tax season is coming up, what hidden deductions can your CPA firm share with their readers?

You can use an email marketing tool like Mailshake to create segmented public relations campaigns that will send automated follow-ups based on the contact’s actions. For instance, if a journalist doesn’t open your initial email, you can set a follow-up to go out several days later that includes the same message. If your contact opens the message but doesn’t reply, you can schedule a follow-up message that includes additional information about the project.

You’ll also find that some journalists and influencers prefer to be contacted over social media instead of email. Pay attention to how frequently they respond to followers on social platforms, and consider using this as a primary or backup communication method. In this case, you won’t have space to write much, so keep the pitch short with a link to a webpage that shares more details about your work.

Generating reputable, relevant media coverage will help your brand build credibility and a strong reputation in your industry, and can also help with boosting your SEO keyword rankings. So be thoughtful and strategic when making a press announcement, and you’ll be able to build strong and authentic relationships that will help your brand grow for years to come.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than 16 years.

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