18 Public Relations Tactics That Will Make You a Startup Rockstar

Posted by Wendy Marx

10 Public Relations Tactics That Will Make You a Startup Rockstar-3


(Editor's Note: This popular post has been updated with new content to get you rockin' even more.)

Startups face bit of a pickle when it comes to public relations tactics. They need attention in order to grow their audience and increase brand awareness. But how can they become known when they're up against larger, more established businesses?

It's a David and Goliath story. But if you want to be the victorious David of the story, it's going to take some work.

The Goliaths of the world -- mega-corporations with the name and checkbook to match -- often effortlessly receive an elite level of media attention. On the flip side, the Davids of the business world -- entrepreneurial startups with tight budgets and no name recognition -- struggle to compete for media attention, and often fall through the cracks.

So how does a startup break through the noise and grab a journalist’s full attention? Just like David with no more than five small stones and an unassuming slingshot, you use your own unique set of tactics.

Tactics like PR storytelling and using a PR agency for startups can help.

Don't Go It Alone

When budgeting for their startup PR, many entrepreneurs mistakenly view PR professional and a PR agency for startups as a frivolous expense. They assume, "It can't be that hard. We can do it ourselves."

First a word of caution. PR has its own cadence. Unless a startup has its story and product or service securely buttoned up, its founders shouldn't take that PR road alone.

Why do we caution you against this?

Because we've seen it go south all too quickly. The worst thing you can do is go out prematurely and receive negative press. It's like getting gum on your shoes. Once it sticks, it's tough to get off. For a long time, your startup will be saddled with negative images.

Once you're ready, that's another story. Then you want to get out the microphone to tell your story. And a boutique PR firm or a PR agency for startups can help you get there without breaking the bank.

PR Tactics Are A Powerful Ally For Any Startup

The statistics are in, and everything points to PR as a positive boon to businesses small and large alike. 

In one study, 75% of respondents planned to increase public relations spending over the next five years. Another study showed that PR creates conversion rates 10-50 percent higher than traditional advertising.

A study from Nielsen inPower also showed that earned media -- which is just another way of saying PR -- is more effective than branded content at all stages of a buyer's journey.

Just think of some of the most famous startup brands that are now in the big leagues. Uber, Airbnb, and Dropbox are startups that are now each worth 10 million dollars or more! We've all caught the buzz about them. And that's no accident. Each of these companies hasleveraged powerful PR tactics to get where they are today. 

The evidence is clear. PR offers something that traditional advertising just doesn't have. If you want to take your startup from anonymity to industry heavyweight, you need to invest in public relations for startups.

But where should you start? The following are 18 must-know tactics that will make you unbeatable against your Goliath business competitors.

18 Public Relations Tactics That Will Rock Your Startup

1. Identify Your Goals/Define Your Message

Goals will get your PR on the right track while a lack of goals will ensure your PR goes nowhere. Goals might include:

  • Increase qualified website visitors
  • Attract new customers
  • Build brand awareness
  • Establish thought leadership

Once you have clearly outlined your goals, build a coherent and accessible message. What do you want people to remember about your business? Why should anyone care? What's your key selling point that makes what you're doing a shoe-in for prospects? . 

2. Choose a Newsworthy Subject

With the competition among startups and larger businesses for media coverage, it can seem daunting to get noticed. How can you stand out? With a knockout message that sets you apart.

Choose topics that are considered newsworthy to your audience. This could be your startup launch, or the launch of a new product or service. Other newsworthy topics to consider incude:

  • Executive hire
  • New funding
  • New location
  • Company milestone

Since you are a startup, it will be difficult to compete with other larger companies -- imagine your release going out as the same time as an announcement from Apple! So don’t try. Choose release times that won’t get you steamrolled.

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3. Implement PR Storytelling

Storytelling has the power to connect you to your audience on an emotional level. And emotion can be a powerful force. You can use this emotional connection to engage a journalist.

Storytelling begins even before you choose your pitch topic. Choose a subject that lends itselt to an engaging story. Think about it from the point of view of a journalist -- what would his or her audience want to read?

Once you have your topic in mind, create an outline. Writing an outline allows you to see whether your points will capture a reporter or blogger's interest. Anticipate questions and holes within your pitch -- then fill the holes.

4. Think Like a Journalist

The goals of your PR and those of a journalist are going to be very different. While you may want media attention to gain brand awareness, journalists are focused on their audience -- if your story doesn't interest their audience, it's a waste of time for them.

How can you align your interests with that of journalists? Make your story newsworthy. There a few ways you can do this. First, make it timely -- think of what's going on in your industry or in current events in general, and mold your story to fit that. Second, make it relevant -- do your research to see what the journalist has been writing about lately, and make it compatible with his or her work. And third, make it different -- come at your story from a fresh angle that will make it stand out from other stories

5. Don’t Take Shortcuts

There are no shortcuts when it comes to PR startup work. You are a new company, with a relatively unknown team. Getting press attention as a startup requires persistence and creativity.

Don’t take the easy route of blasting emails to every journalist whose contact information you can fine. Do your research, and approach every pitch with intelligence and strategy.

On that note...

6. Get to Know Your Audience

Journalists get upwards of 100 pitches a day -- especially if they work somewhere like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal. This means they don’t mess around. If something is off about your pitch -- you send a batch email or your story doesn’t apply to their beat -- it will be deleted in a nano second.

Do thorough research before you pitch. Ensure your pitch fits into reporters' beats. Read their past stories and get a feel for what interests them. Mention these within your pitch if appropriate -- the fact that you did your research and appreciate the work they've done can differentiate you from competing pitches.

Right from the beginning, provide context to the journalist. Why did you choose him or her specifically? Why is the pitch important to the writer's audience? What stories of theirs have received more likes and comments on social media, and how does your story compare?

If you send your pitch to several journalists or bloggers, take the time to tailor it to each one. This will take time and effort on your part -- but both will pay off in a big way when your story is picked up. 

7. Be Considerate

As we mentioned, , journalists are busier than ever, and need you to get to the point quickly. Avoid long-winded introductions that may lose your reader. Be specific about the who, what, when, where, and how of the pitch. Why is it important to the journalist to consider your pitch? Why is it pertinent now and wasn't 6 months ago?

Avoid bland language -- you want to connect with the journalist and stir them to action with a colorful pitch that stands out.

Remember, this process isn’t about you. Your role is to help the journalist -- so seek ways to genuinely provide value. What stories do they want? What is their beat? What makes your pitch advantageous to them?


Click Here to Get the Number One Process to Go from Anonymity to Industry Icon


8. Form Relationships -- Not One-Night Stands

Journalists are not just an ace to keep in your back pocket and pull out only when you need to win. As with any relationship, those with journalists should be give-and-take. 

Start forming relationships with journalists in your industry before you need them. There are a few ways to do this. First, interact with them on social media and other groups. Become part of the discussion on these groups and contribute to the conversation in a way that is both helpful and unobtrusive. 

You could also have a mutual friend introduce you or attend the same industry events that they attend. 

If you do have the opportunity to interact with a journalist, don't promote your brand. Instead, stick to topics that showcase your knowledge and expertise. In essence, let them see you as a person, not just as a brand pushing its own interests.

Keep in mind that these relationships take time to cultivate. Be willing to put in an on-going effort to get the results you want.

9. Stay Fresh

Many times you can compensate for your company’s lack of size with ingenuity -- a regular David-and-Goliath maneuver.

Offer a fresh perspective on your story. Look for alternatives that will give you a leg up on competing stories. This is your opportunity to think out of the box, and appeal to journalists and bloggers in a different way than usual.

One way to offer a fresh perspective is to do your own research study. That provides original data no one else has and may pique a journalist's interest. Helpful hint: When you're creating your survey, think about what will appeal to a journalist, not only the survey respondent or your company. Try to ask questions that will get contrarian responses -- something no one would assume would be the case.

10. Make Your Subject Line Clickable

Your subject line, or headline, is the first thing journalists will see, and it may make the difference between your note being read or trashed. 

What makes a good subject line? 

  • Make it short and sweet -- 70 characters or fewer is the sweet spot for subject lines.
  • Use action words -- Motivate your audience with a verbs that inspire action.
  • Make it Stand Out -- Make it unique and different from the run-of-the-mill subject lines.
  • Be human -- Skip the hype and stick to simpe, everyday language.

Play around for a while to find the right subject line for your pitch. And don't be afraid to test it. If possible, wait until your pitch is written to help you choose a subject line that's engaging and on point. 

11. Use Bullet Points and White Space

Large blocks of text will overwhelm a journalist -- any reader, for that matter -- and might tempt someone to delete your pitch before reading it fully. Avoid this by breaking up text into bullet points and smaller paragraphs that are easy to digest.

Remember, bullets and white space can be your best friend. 

How to Go From Anonymity to Industry Icon

12. Focus on Facts

In an age where journalists constantly face the threat of fake news allegations, reporters need to stay on top of journalistic game. And this means journalists are particularly wary about taking on stories that don't include hard facts. Well-established facts and figures that can be substantiated are what journalists need.

Help journalists create a story that won't come back to haunt them. Include any facts and figures that will put their mind at ease -- and make your story more appealing to their needs. This could be from a survey you recently did or case studies you've put together. 

13. Avoid Industry Jargon

The last thing you want to do is lose the journalist who receives your pitch. If journalists don’t understand the fundamentals of your pitch, they won’t ask twice. Your pitch will simply be discarded.

Avoid this fate by writing a pitch that anyone would understand. Ask someone outside of the industry (perhaps a family member or friend) to read over your pitch before you send it to anyone. If there is any misunderstandings or wandering attention spans, take your pitch back to the drawing board.

14. Use the Right PR Tools

Want to give your brand a little umph to get it over the initial PR bumps? Tools can make all the difference between fine-tuned startup public relations and a PR front-end collision. 

Here are a few tools that will help you with your PR startup...

PRWeb -- Once you're comfortable with writing to journalists (using the tips mentioned above) PRWeb can help you to create and distribute the perfect press release. This tool can help you to create a press release, make it SEO-friendly, distribute it, and track your results.

Google Alerts -- It's always good practice to keep track of what people are saying about you and your brand. Google Alerts is a free tool that will alert you as soon as you are mentioned anywhere across the web. Just sign up and input any keyword you would like to track. You can even track your competitors' mentions or industry news to keep you in the loop.

BuzzSumo -- In today's fast-paced world, it helps to keep your ear to the ground of what's hot -- both for creating content and pitching to journalists. BuzzSumo keeps you connected to what's hot. And keep tabs on your competitors with the tool's insights feature-- what they publish and how audiences engage with their content -- to see where you stand.

MuckRack -- When you're starting out at zero media contacts (as many startups do) MuckRack can help. With this tool you can find journalists related to your industry and contact them. You can even use their analytics feature to track when people link to your content. -- As we've discussed, emailing journalists and others is important to public relations strategy, but finding the right email addresses isn't always easy. That's where comes in. This handy tool helps you to find or verify virtually any email address that exists, whether you search for a person or an organization. And it's free for up to 100 emails. 

With multiple price points -- and even some that are free -- these tools are a perfect fit for many startups that don't have a huge budget but still want to compete.

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15. Become a Contributor

Get your name and brand out there by lending your industry expertise to other websites. Guest post on another blog that your target audience visits regularly. You might also partner with another industry expert on a podcast, ebook, or webinar -- especially if you team up with a well-known name, it could boost your visibility. 

You might argue, "Why would I want to put my time into boosting another site?" Well, this benefits your brand in ways that content on your site wouldn't be able to. For starters, it's like a nod of approval from another outlet that you know your stuff -- a third party endorsement that often proves more valuable than traditional advertising.

New forms of content and partnerships also help to engage your audience in new ways. It could also attract a new audience that previously didn't know about your brand.

16. Beef Up Your Social Meda

Your social media networks offer incredible opportunities especially to startups on a tight budget. Beef up your social profiles to reflect your brand. Many people will check out your social media profiles before they work with you, so making them informative -- and consistent -- could bring more journalists to your door. 

As soon as you get a press mention, include it in your profile -- and website. This will enhance your credibility.

Social media is also a great place to post any media mentions that you've earned. Share the article where you're mentioned, and don't forget to tag the journalist who wrote it. This will highlight your success and boost your reputation.

17. Measure Your Results

PR analytics tools are like the instruments in an airplane. Without such tools as an altimeter and navigation, a pilot could easily fly too low or misjudge his location. Similarly, paying attention to PR metrics will help ensure that your strategy is on the right course.

If you discover that some part of your strategy isn't working well, count that as an opportunityto tweak it until you're headed in the right direction. Ignoring metrics is akin to flying blind with possibly disastrous PR results. 

18. Choose a Boutique PR Firm That Can Help

If you don’t have a PR background, then maneuvering the ups and downs of public relations for startups will be a little rocky. A boutique PR firm can offer the expertise to help you to learn the playing field, and score media opportunities without breaking the bank. A boutique PR agency will provide senior level attention and flexilbity, which larger agencies, given their structure, can't afford to provide.

What a Model Pitch Looks Like

Let's take a moment and look at all of these tactics in action. The following is an actual pitch concerning recent research conducted by a financial services startup. It caught the attention of journalis who received it.


Hi [Insert name of journalist/blogger],

A major survey released today captures sentiments and investment behavior of a wide swath of affluent investors and financial advisers – with a significant paradox.

Key findings of the XX Survey include:

  • Serious, growing economic concerns, despite a positive outlook based on President Trump’s policy agenda
  • Evidence of the surge in robo investing
  • Investors’ rising confidence in managing their own portfolios

The survey, by X, drew responses from nearly 5,700 people, who collectively influence hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Almost 25% of the individual investors responding have more than $1 million in investable assets (besides real estate), and half of the asset management firms represented manage more than $1 billion in assets.

Please see the release below (which links to a related report), and let me know if you’d like to interview an XX expert on the findings and what they mean.


Key Points to Remember…

  • Clearly identify your PR goals, and use these to identify what journalists you will pitch to and about what.
  • Choose a story that is newsworthy and relevant to a journalist’s beat and interests.
  • Avoid complicated industry jargon that will just lose your audience and end in a deleted pitch.
  • Utilize the expertise of a boutique PR firm that knows how to amplify your story and get you the media attention you deserve.

Remember, just because you may feel like the underdog when it comes to media attention doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Use these public relations tactics to amplify your startup's efforts and get real results.

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Jul 28, 2017

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.

Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets. 

View all posts by Wendy Marx