How Can Startups Best Use PR on a Limited Runway?

How can startups best use PR on a limited runway? by Carol Lin Vieira, Partner and VP of Corporate Marketing and Communications, BX3

A recent Quartz headline sums it up nicely: “As the rest of the economy sinks under COVID-19, most startups are doing just fine.” With funding roaring back, venture capital meetings have shifted from in-person to online conversations, making a new company’s digital presence more relevant than ever. How can founders adapt to this from a PR perspective?

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Q3 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

Michael Zimmerman’s Prentice Capital is having a strong year

business manPrentice Capital was up 15.3% net last month, bringing its year-to-date gain to 49.4% net. Prentice touted its ability to preserve capital during market downturns like the first quarter of this year and the fourth quarter of 2018. Q3 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more Background of Prentice Capital The fund utilizes a low Read More


We asked communications and marketing pros from all over the world to give us their top tips for founders looking to leverage PR to attract investors and customers when they’re nearing the end of their existing runway and received insightful, eye-opening suggestions.

"At early stages, founders should think about PR not for reach, but for credibility,” explains Michael Smart, the renowned PR industry coach and trainer. “Viral posts that drive traffic and leads are unicorns, but slapping trusting media logos on your site is a practical objective that a good PR contractor can deliver if you give them the right resources. And then maybe you'll get a viral post as a bonus."

The sheer volume of high-quality responses to our query was incredibly heartening. PR pros are super passionate about this topic, it turns out. And why wouldn’t they be? Who, especially in this dismal year, doesn’t want to help an entrepreneur succeed?

While everyone agrees that PR is critical to establishing market validation, and keeping a startup buzzy and relevant, the top-touted strategies behind what accounts for successful PR for startups looking to maximize value with limited funding amid the present economic conditions fall into four distinct categories: media relations, thought leadership content, social media, and SEO.

If a founder has a lot of passion but not a lot of cash, what are some inexpensive—if not free—ways they can create an effective PR campaign? In this article we’ll go over media relations and thought leadership content. (A follow-up piece will delve into social media and SEO.) Below, we’ve curated and chosen the best, most helpful responses, categorized for easy reference.

Media Relations

Media relations describes a company’s interactions with editors, reporters and journalists. The goal of media relations is to share newsworthy information, messages, or updates with the media in the hopes that they’ll write about it. The results, a.k.a., earned media, is publicity received based on the newsworthiness of the content or the expertise of the person being interviewed. It is free exposure for you, your company, and your brand. Earned media enhances visibility and heightens credibility, leading to elevated awareness of you and your business.

Earned media, whether it's radio, television, magazines, newspapers, or online, gives businesses the opportunity to expand their reach to a variety of audiences. Even better, an earned placement gets an extended lifespan when it's shared on social media, where it often reaches an entirely new audience.

How do you do media relations as a startup?

1. Media monitoring: Start by tracking news, trends, and issues impacting the industries important to your organization. Google News alerts work well and are free. When you see, say, a story about a competitor, or an issue that your company is solving, you can reach out and offer your spokesperson as an expert to comment. This responsiveness to timely issues is greatly appreciated by journalists who are often working on tight deadlines, and welcome proactive responses/quotes from legitimate sources.

“Study news coverage about your competitors — specifically, who wrote the stories and where they appeared,” says Rafe Gomez of VC Inc. Marketing in New York. “Once these details have been assembled, you'll have a very clear roadmap to follow and your journey to secure valuable media coverage will be extremely precise.”

2. HARO: Sign up for HARO, or “Help a Reporter Out,” a free service that connects journalists to sources, said virtually everyone—and we concur. Three times a day, a HARO email is broadcast with queries from journalists seeking responses or sources for news stories. You can sign up to get queries for all beats, or selected ones that are most pertinent to your interests and expertise.

3. Create a media database: Keep track of who is covering what in a media list database. There are expensive, agency-grade systems such as Meltwater whose entire raison d’être is to keep lists of reporters and their contact information so PR pros can research and connect with hundreds of reporters on behalf of their clients. You can also do this for free, on a smaller scale:

  • Identify reporters, bloggers, influencers in your company’s related industries that you want to target and offer your company as a source. Google their email addresses, and if you can’t find that, then look up their Twitter handle and start following them. Like and comment on their stories that you genuinely find important or interesting.
  • Get to know them and the kinds of stories they cover so you know how to frame your own story, and are able to make the case for why your vision/product/journey is worth it to them to write about.
  • Media relations is just that – relationship building. By closely following and targeting the right reporters at the right time, you establish yourself as a credible and reliable source.

4. Track your story ideas using a pitch library: Develop a pitch library with several different angles and tailored to address different journalistic beats and industry topics. Once you start pitching and developing rapport with reporters you follow and believe would likely be interested in your company/mission/expert, keep a record of the pitches.

You might be able to reuse them to send to another journalist at a later date. Categorize them by angle or topic, and you’ll create a library of key company storylines that you can repurpose as blog posts, social content, or talking points.

5. Facebook/LinkedIn groups: Facebook/ LinkedIn groups are perhaps the most underrated source of PR you could easily use to build your profile without costing a buck, notes Hena Kausar, lead, PR and corporate communication, at Mercer | Mettl, a company that compiles skill assessment tools, in Gurgaon, India. Many journalists, bloggers, and other influencers are looking for startup founders to discuss their trials and tribulations, successes, their learnings, and plans for a post–COVID-19 world. It’s the most unused source for backlinks, thought leadership, and to bolster your brand reach.

Thought Leadership Content

If you’ve launched your own business, you’ve already staked yourself out as a leader. Why not articulate what sets you apart and get that message out there? Your thought leadership content will establish your fledgling company as such. You might not be McKinsey or Bain, but the same principles of what makes for great content for firms that are looking to uphold their long-standing reputation similarly apply to entrepreneurs and founders of startups seeking to make themselves heard.

1. Write about what you know. Why did you choose to start your company? What hole in the marketplace are you trying to fill? Use your company blog to write about issues that are near and dear to your heart; for example, our recent post on how the venture capital world can pay more than lip service to diversity.

2. Start a Medium channel. We cannot stress enough how useful the blogging platform/digital publication treasure trove Medium is to any brand’s content strategy. Medium hosts content ranging from big-name business publications such as Inc. to smaller industry-focused trades such as Age of Awareness and musings from solo writers.

The beauty of Medium is that it has useful and fascinating stories for everyone. Something extra handy from a PR/marketing point of view: Once you’re reading one story in Medium, it will take you down a rabbit hole of other interesting stories from myriad authors and publications; including, perhaps your own brand’s channel.

Content Syndication: Not only that — if you are consistently producing quality content, your brand stories could get syndicated to other publications within the Medium network.

Take, for example, our client Narbis, which creates neurofeedback smartglasses based on a NASA-powered algorithm to help train the brain to focus and pay attention. A story we wrote, “Distraction Nation — Why Adults are Getting Treated for Attention Disorders,” was syndicated on The Startup, which with more than 719,000 followers, is Medium's largest active publication.

SEO: Routine blog posts won’t just generate credibility; they’re key to your SEO strategy, something we’ll discuss in further detail in the next installment of this series.

“Startups are often intimidated by SEO, but the best way to start is also the easiest,” says Stephen Roe of Thoughtful Prose, a company that works with SaaS companies on SEO. “Just have a founder record their opinion on an industry topic. Get a freelancer to transcribe and publish it. You'll generate powerful thought leadership in just 30 minutes a week.”

Kausar of Mercer | Mettl also suggested ways to demonstrate your experience and knowledge beyond contributed written content. She suggests:

3. Join as an expert on a webinar / Create your own webinar: You can write to various companies in your niche to do a series of successive collaborative webinars with them; or join as an expert if they are conducting these. If you don’t find any such opportunity, you could launch your own webinar and ask them to join as experts. In a few months, you will have created your expertise in the subject matter and established yourself as a thought leader to reckon within a particular field.

Hyper-meta case in point: The BX3 content marketing team went on marketing podcast Tech Qualified to talk about thought leadership marketing.

4. Guest posting: Start writing to the people and companies in your industry who are popular or well-known and tell them that you are interested in guest posting on their website. Often you would find such people to contact in their “resources” or “newsroom” section. Some websites even offer opportunities to write for them, along with stipulations. You could send them your content right off the bat and wait to hear from them. Be sure to write to people in your own industry because you need to build your personal brand and expertise in a particular niche, and it doesn't help much if the website you are guest posting on is not relevant to you or your company.

Media relations and thought leadership content can be two important arrows in any startup’s marketing quiver. Done well, these strategies can boost your credibility with investors, attract customers, and improve your digital presence and search engine rankings. In part two of this series, we’ll have many more insights to share from the experts when it comes to using social media and starting an SEO program.