We often hear from startups planning to launch their company and/or product: "Can you get us into TechCrunch? Can you help us land in The New York Times?” There’s nothing wrong with aiming high. But, there are many critical ingredients that go into a launch that will ultimately determine coverage of your news. Let’s take a look at some key factors:
1. Competitive Landscape
Like parents of a newborn, entrepreneurs think their “baby” is the most beautiful. However, you need to assess the competitive landscape to understand how the media will judge just how cute your baby really is (or isn’t). There are essentially 3 basic market landscapes every tech startup will face as they prepare to launch.
a. Late-to-the-Party: If there are already numerous competitors in your marketplace, you’ll fall in this bucket. We call it late-to-the-party. Sometimes some market categories are completely saturated (i.e. messaging apps and mobile photo/video apps) while other times a half a dozen or more competitors already got to market before you did. In this landscape scenario, reporters are already jaded and they will need significant convincing that your company/product is vastly different and better than the others. The net-net is that your product has to not only be really outstanding but reporters will expect you to back it up with solid evidence. Do you have double-digit funding like your competitors? Does the CEO or team have a proven, successful track record? How many customers do you have? How many are from branded companies or Fortune 500 companies? How fast are you growing?
b. Some Competition: If your product has just 2-3 competitors then it’s generally going to be easier to get reporters’ interest. They may have covered your competitors and are familiar with them or the technology; their presence validates the problem/solution that you are seeking to solve.
c. Really Leading-Edge: If your technology is ahead of its time and doesn’t (yet) have competitors, getting reporters’ attention will be more challenging (i.e. gene-editing, deep learning, etc). They likely haven’t heard of your technology and unfortunately don’t have time and won’t want to delve into learning more about it (just yet). You’ll need to collaborate with your PR agency to come up with third-party evidence and/or validation to help build a stronger case. The net-net is that if your technology is very early, then the media will take more time to cover your news. Prepare for that.
2. Flawless Launch = Preparation
We cannot stress enough that Marketing and PR will have to collaborate extensively with company founders to prepare in advance of the launch. A lot of planning, research, development, reviewing, approvals and finalizing have to be readied for your launch, so plan for around 5-6 weeks. Reporters and industry analysts typically book their schedules 2-to-3 weeks in advance. So, if you want to get on their calendar, you’ll have to get in line. Reporters also don’t like receiving company information, presentation, metrics, and infographics that have typos, inaccurate facts, or need to be replaced with new versions, because the startup was proofing or finalizing these at the 11th hour. A successful launch requires advance planning and adequate time. So it’s best to avoid fire drills which then trigger mistakes.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to have buttoned down for your launch: press demo, analyst presentation, key messaging, 2-3 customer references, pre-qualification of the customer references, news announcements, 3rd-party quote approvals, metrics or market reports (if available), product FAQ, company logos, a curated database of press and bloggers, product video(s), launch blog post, etc.
3. Customer References
Customer references are critical particularly for any B2B product launch. Having strong customer testimonials to speak to media are integral and can make or break your launch. They must be willing and (more importantly) able to speak to reporters. Often startups think they have customers who can help out until they find out that a formal approval is required by Corp Comms or Legal, which regularly say no. Be sure to have at least 2 or 3 referenceable customers, so in the event a reporter can’t get ahold of the first one, they have another reference to contact. Plan anywhere from 1-2 weeks for you and/or your PR agency to pre-qualify your customer references to ensure they are happy, can speak on message and come across as a solid champion for your company. Anticipate that you will lose some coverage if no customer references can support your launch.
Spokespeople must be readily available to speak with media 24-to-48 hours after the reporter has requested an interview; otherwise you will likely jeopardize news coverage. It’s a good idea to have a back-up spokesperson in case there are spokesperson availability challenges. Your PR agency can help shed light on areas where reporters will focus their questions and can also practice with a dry-run media Q&A to better prepare the spokespeople’s delivery during the interviews. Professional media training may be needed to sharpen and help the spokesperson feel more comfortable with the process and their role. As a rule of thumb with U.S. media, they are generally unavailable after 4:00pm and never work on the weekend.
5. The Reporter's Timeline
We understand how anxious you’ll be waiting to read ensuing press coverage of your company or product launch. However, a reporter may not cover your story until a few days or even a week or two after your launch. If you’ve briefed a reporter, give them time to write and file their story. Many factors come into play around a reporter’s job. Deadlines and breaking news may take precedence; they may want to include your news in an upcoming story that they already had planned; or the reporter may be sick, traveling or on vacation. You get the idea. Don’t harangue the reporter, asking when your story will appear. Be patient with the process.
6. Customer or Partner Involvement
If customers or partners are integral to your launch, make sure that you’ve adequately prepared these parties and received formal agreement that they will support your launch. This often includes agreement on spokespeople and their schedule of availability, key messages, timing, etc. Third-party spokespeople should be readily available for interviews.
7. Quality vs. Quantity
To get coverage in lots of major outlets takes time. It will also take work on your end to produce required key evidence. In particular, startups lack evidence because they are so young. What type of proof will reporters want? Reporters want you to back up your claims of being a market leader, a company-to-watch, the most innovative, a better mousetrap, etc. You will need to deliver evidence in the form of ongoing product enhancements or innovations, big customer deals, industry gurus on your board, breakneck company growth, awards, industry analyst write-ups, etc. Evidence that demonstrates your company is indeed a rising star. With exceptions, you cannot be a star overnight. You'll have to earn it and a single launch won't do the job. Has a Super Bowl commercial ever done the trick in one fell swoop for any brand?
So if NYT, WSJ, Mashable, TechCrunch, Engadget, etc., don't cover your news with your first, second or third news announcement, this is the norm! As a startup, you will bear the burden of proof in order to successfully earn the media's attention. As a startup, you should not expect that media will write about you en masse. If you don't have something truly spectacular or key evidence out of the gate, then adjust your expectations to the realities of quality over quantity press coverage given the stage of your startup. Set about to demonstrate a steady drumbeat of progress to the market. Press coverage will slowly build. As you grow and begin to obtain key evidence, then you can realistically expect a higher quantity of news outlets taking notice of your startup and writing about your company.