Welcome to a BetaKit weekly series designed to help startups and entrepreneurs. Each week, investors tackle the tough questions facing founders today. Have a question you would like answered? Tweet them with the #askaninvestor hashtag, or email them here.
We’ve covered if and when you should announce funding rounds in the past, but haven’t covered other topics within the PR landscape. This might lead you to think that fundraising is the primary aim of press coverage – not so! The nice BetaKit articles you read on a $5 million funding round are probably getting coverage because of a unique founder or pre-existing relationship, not because funding announcements are bringing reporters the most clicks.
Why are clicks important? Clicks are a proxy for interest, which is a proxy for newsworthiness, which is a proxy for reaching your audience. When you’re approaching press coverage, this should always be your top-line strategy: are we reaching the correct audience and are we sending them the right message?
At iNovia, we tend to think about press coverage and media narratives as part of a larger story. Your company’s story is shaped by every public interaction you have. Some are under your control (e.g., scripted presentations at conferences), some are completely organic (e.g., how you respond to an unexpected controversy), and some are a blend of both (e.g., a Q-and-A with a journalist). But across that spectrum, each interaction plays a role in shaping where your company sits in the world’s collective mindshare. Your job is to exercise control where you have it and set out a clear strategy from day one so you can act quickly when an organic moment arises.
When can I get coverage?
It can be helpful to think of your opportunities for coverage through your company lifecycle. Early on, you get one opportunity to give an overview of the company and announce to the world who you are. This can eventually evolve into sharing your origin story, which is usually done to reinforce a future lifecycle event.
When you’re approaching press coverage, this should always be your top-line strategy: are we reaching the correct audience and are we sending them the right message?
Next comes proving traction, telling your audience why they should choose you, via partnerships, awards, or product releases. This is constantly evolving, and the more progress you make, the more times within your company lifecycle you can leverage traction for coverage. With each funding round, you get an additional shot at coverage, with the odds and impact of that coverage growing with each round.
The last is the most dynamic, and the most underused. Throughout your entire company lifetime, you have the opportunity to boost your company’s profile by highlighting your North Star. This is the ultimate vision of the world you’re driving towards. If you play this card well and establish yourself as a thought leader, you can get coverage in stories that have nothing to do with your company.
How to craft a strategy
We teach our portfolio companies to think about press coverage across four different dimensions: audience, reach, thought leadership, and narrative. Your coverage opportunities lay on top of this matrix, and once you’ve identified the strategy, you’ll be able to quickly map your public interactions on top of it.
Audience is simple: are you targeting the public, your customers, investors, potential recruits, existing employees or industry leaders? These groups have fundamentally different interests and interactions with your company, and a major technical achievement or crisis will be received differently by them all.
Next, identify the press mechanisms by which you’ll reach your audience externally. Customers, recruits and industry leaders are very sector-specific, while employees are best reached through internal channels of communication. When Mark Zuckerberg writes a status update announcing his Senate testimony, he’s not posting it there so his employees know he’s out of office for the day, he’s trying to shape public sentiment of the company.
Within thought leadership, you can lay out internal forums for your controlled message. These are the non-press avenues at your disposal to communicate your audience-specific strategy. Industry or technical conferences, your public blog, customer case studies, your personal conference, or your product itself are all tools you can use to share a specific message. Extending the (admittedly obvious) Zuckerberg example above, a Facebook post allows you to directly address issues head-on. Narratives tend to stay firmly in the ‘control’ camp, rather than shifting to ‘organic’ within the thought leadership domain.
Finally, you can map the narrative itself onto this grid. Your individual narratives should all support your top-line strategy, and this is where your coverage opportunities can neatly fit in. Your origin story and funding announcements are likely focused on recruits, while specific traction proof-points can hold more weight with investors or customers.
Understanding who your audiences are, what they’ll focus on within a story, and how you can reach them both internally and via press, is key to setting a coherent and memorable public narrative.
In my previous life, I ran a tech-focused media agency in San Francisco. Public relations was a small but critical part of our practice. Though not my particular area of expertise, I bring this up because I know enough to say that it’s essential to ask yourself why clicks are so important.
Yes, media clicks are important because you are spending time and energy trying to get eyeballs on your company. However, you need to think deeper than that.
The story you are crafting is a product that you are serving to the press, who in turn are delivering it to their audience. If what you are selling, story-wise, doesn’t fit with what their audience wants, your story will never get picked up. Even if it does get picked up, it may not find an audience. The press doesn’t want to spend time developing a story that will get few, if any, clicks. In typical tech-speak, they want to avoid a CAC that is higher than the LTV. Lose-lose.
As you think about building your target audience and narrative, it’s critical that you map these attributes over the target audience of the press you are trying to reach. I strongly encourage you to both read what your target press are writing about and more importantly understand which of their stories are getting the biggest audiences.
If you give the press more of product that is selling well, the more likely they will run with it. They’ll get more clicks, and you’ll get that audience you are trying to reach. You’ll both be happy. Win-win!
Feature photo courtesy Unsplash.