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When should startups seek media coverage? (and when not to)

 press conference
We receive dozens of emails from startups every week looking for coverage in Tech in Asia, and while some might be interesting, they don’t necessarily send us anything newsworthy. Every media outlet worth its salt will be looking for a news peg – an event that makes the piece timely. In the startup world, a few types of pegs in particular capture our attention. To help prevent both sides of this interaction from wasting time or missing out on good future coverage, we’ve put together a list of when – and when not – to seek media coverage as a startup.

You should send out a request for coverage when you …

Launch

This can be the launch of an open beta or a full launch, but probably not both, unless there are major changes to the completed version. Media get a fun new startup to talk about, often taking the novelty or underdog perspective. In return, the startup gets exposure to potential users and investors.

Receive investment

This is more likely to be picked up by media specializing in the startup and finance sectors. And if you’re getting an eight-digit figure, the mainstream media might be keen to pick up the story too. This is good exposure to future investors, but not necessarily customers. Be careful about sending out investment info before the deal is sealed as it can affect your funding round should your prospective investors see it.

Make a profit

Many startups receive investment, which is great, but far fewer actually turn a profit, which really spells success in the eyes of the media. You’ve just discovered a business model that puts your books in the black. Don’t be afraid to brag about it to the world. This is often when people start seeing your company as less of a wild card and more of a real market competitor.

Expand to another country

Like making a profit, international expansion is another indicator of success. This can be pre- or post-launch of your product or service in another country, but make sure not to backpedal if you go with the former. Remember to target media both in the domestic and foreign market.

Can offer expertise

Reporters often need sources to provide background information or context on a story not necessarily related to your startup. Entrepreneurs are often experts on some are or another, and they have more on-the-ground experience than university professors. Even though the story might not directly concern your company, it’ll still likely get a mention and you look like a smarty pants.

Reach impressive user numbers

What counts as “impressive” depends on your business model. Obviously a B2B business isn’t going by the same scale as B2C, for example, so it’s up to you to make that determination. Nice round numbers with lots of zeroes make for more attractive headlines (e.g. 100,000 is more catchy than 113,000). Savvy media will also know the difference between daily active, monthly active, and registered users, so don’t try to pull a fast one. Note that download numbers don’t equate to users – that’s just BS. Active user numbers are most important, whereas registered is just a supplementary fact and can even be deprecatory if your active-to-registered ratio is low.

Exit the market

The company that acquires or merges with you will probably take responsibility for this one, but market exits are always big news, so don’t miss the opportunity. Every good story deserves a good ending. You’ll want to make sure all your users are aware of the upcoming change of hands, and media are more than happy to spread the word.

Get burned

If you’ve been publicly insulted or somehow screwed over by a government or another company, defend yourself! You can send a response directly to media or post it on your company blog and direct journalists to it. You get to redeem yourself and the media gets a juicy conflict-ridden story. But be warned, both parties will likely fight for the last word.

You should not seek media coverage when you…

Haven’t launched yet

Unless there’s a ton of hype around your product or service, this is a bad idea. Even if you get a lot of people reading, the chance of them remembering to sign up or buy a week or even a day later is much lower. If someone is stoked about your product, they should be able to get their hands on it right away. It’s also risky. You never know what unintended circumstances could delay or even alter the final product between when an article is published and launch day.

Make minor updates

Most people who aren’t already users simply don’t care about new features, especially if they’ve read about the product or service before. Major updates might be worth sending out a press release for. Ask yourself if the additional function or feature could theoretically operate on its own without the rest of the product or service. If it can’t, the media probably doesn’t care.

Win a competition

If media cared about the competition, they would have already written about it. This might be a nice bullet point within another announcement, but a trophy doesn’t warrant a press release of its own. Winning a startup competition is a cool but relatively arbitrary achievement. It’s no guarantee of success, investment, or even a good idea. Plus, some awards are borderline scams.

Get covered by other media

If you get lucky enough for a big-name media outlet to write about your startup, don’t rub it in the faces of other media. First of all, media don’t want to publish stories that everyone has already read elsewhere. Secondly, no one wants to write (or read) a story about a story.

Have a promotion

Great deals at low prices coming up this holiday season? We don’t care. Credible media want to remain as objective as possible and will not advertise for you. Promotions, unless they are authentically mind-blowing, are not newsworthy.

It’s important to strike a balance between too few and too many media requests. Exposure is great, but too many press releases will just lead to your emails going directly to the spam filter. We hope this list can help guide your future interactions with journalists. Also check out our tips on how to come out of a media interview unscathed and how to approach the press.

(Editing by Steven Millward)


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