After building something people want, acquiring customers is often one of the biggest challenges a startup faces.
Press seems like a great option to many entrepreneurs. It seems so easy…you just have to get a journalist to write about you, you don’t even have to write the article, and then bam: traction.
But is getting press really the holy grail of startup marketing? There are many benefits of PR for startups, including:
a.) Search engine optimization (SEO)
An article on a big high ranking domain, like Entrepreneur.com for example, will rank much higher on Google than the equivalent article on your newly launched Tumblr blog. In addition, getting linked to (backlinks) has one of the biggest impact on a domain’s search result ranking. So you’re more likely to be found by someone searching on Google after getting press.
If the site you get covered by has a lot of active readers, you can get a ton of exposure. It can take a lot of time and money to build up an audience on your own blog, but when you get covered by a big site you get access to the fruits of their labor. Their audience might click through to your site from the article, providing you with some traffic.
When a reputable site talks about your company in a positive light, it can boost your credibility in the eyes of your customers. If your audience trusts a given source, and that source vouches for you, your audience might therefore gain trust for you.
This all sounds great, right? But are there any downsides to public relations for startups? Could there be any more efficient or effective ways to get customers? Is getting covered on Techcrunch the solution to your startup’s traction problem? Here are some important considerations:
1. Big media journalists are hard to reach
Journalists at big media companies like Techcrunch or The New York Times are getting slammed by cold emails from startups just like you. We know you’re a special snowflake, but the journalists might not.
It can take a lot of time to get press. Running a press campaign is similar to running a sales campaign. It often takes a lot of following up, building a relationship over time, and/or a warm referral from a person they trust in order to get in the door.
If you’re a bootstrapped early stage startup, it’s your time. Time which can be spent on the million other things you could be doing as a founder. If you’re later stage, it will be one of your employee’s time, which costs money. Or you might hire a public relations firm…
2. Hiring a public relations firm is expensive
It’s not that complicated to reach out to journalists and get press, but if you feel your time could be better spent on other things, or if you really have no idea to do it, you might want to outsource it to a public relations (PR) firm.
A PR firm might have some good relationships or be better at crafting your pitch. However most of them charge a flat fee, so you pay regardless of whether or not you get coverage.
3. Big media outlets don’t always have your audience
A lot of entrepreneurs read Techcrunch. And Techcrunch does indeed have a large audience. But do your customers read Techcrunch?
Getting covered in Techcrunch might have the benefit of attracting potential hires or investors, but if your customers aren’t techies, it probably won’t move the needle much in terms of traffic. Though backlinks are still good.
To maximize your efforts, you can start by creating a customer persona. Determine what your audience reads by conducting customer development interviews, using audience intelligence tools, or searching relevant terms on Google.
4. Sometimes smaller blogs can be more accessible
In the age of the Internet, podcasts are the new radio stations, YouTube is the new TV, Twitter is the new newspaper, and blogs are (not so) miniature media companies.
As discussed above, some of the big companies are overwhelmed with inquiries about getting coverage. However, sometimes the smaller or newer sites are more hungry for content. In addition, while they might not have as large of an audience, the audience might highly relevant…
5. Lesser known media outlets often have sizable, and/or highly relevant audiences
As the Internet makes it cheaper and easier to start a media company, competition has heated up. Per classic business strategies, media companies and blogs are increasingly focusing on specific niches. For example, I focus on startup marketing rather than the entire field of marketing, or the entire field of startups.
The more focused the topic is, the more focused the audience is going to be. So while smaller, more focused, sites might have a smaller total audience size, a higher percentage of them might be relevant to you, and they even have a higher total number of relevant people.
6. Better ROI here because of how much easier it is
Is big media right for you?
Big media sites tend to cover big innovative ideas, companies backed by reputable investors, run by well known and accomplished teams, operating in a new or exciting market, or that have reached a major traction milestone. If you don’t meet this criteria, it might take a lot of time and/or money (in terms of hiring a PR agency) to get published.
However, because smaller sites might have a more relevant audience, and might be accessible, targeting smaller sites might have a higher ROI than big media sites.
7. Press is not the only marketing channel
Tired of having your emails ignored by journalists? Don’t have the budget for a fancy PR agency?
There are many ways to get website traffic and acquire customers. You could start your own blog, guest blog on someone else’s blog, use social media, do direct sales, product content on other platforms, etc.
8. Guest blogging might be better than press
Does blogging on your own site feel like a fart in the wind?
If you really want the link juice and exposure, but you can’t get journalists interested in writing about you, guest blogging might be a great alternative. You can get a lot of the benefit that press provides, possibly more, and possibly at a lower cost, by guest blogging.
Guest blogging is when a site publishes a blog post you wrote and cites you. Most blogs will allow you to link to your website and/or relevant blog posts a couple times within the post and in your bio.
Guest blogging has the added benefits of enabling you to control your message (you write it, not them), and I’ve generally found it easier to get the attention of a blog by offering them content rather than asking them to write about me.
Download your free ebook on how to get guest posts published on top sites here.
Key Takeaways and Next Steps
Once you know who your customers are, think about what they read. Depending on what they read, public relations might help you get there, or guest blogging might be better. You can also of course do both.
Press can help you with customer acquisition, but it also comes at a cost. Guest blogging can provide a better return on investment. Guest blogging has many benefits, which you can learn about by signing up below.