AWS Startups Blog

Relationships and PR Buzz: 5 Tips Every Startup Should Know


I always get the best ideas while I’m in the middle of another task, but trying to capture those thoughts and convince others of their brilliance is another story. Just knowing that your idea could be tossed aside before you’ve had a chance to explain yourself can be nerve-wracking. So I jumped at the chance to attend “Pivots, Disruptions & Synergies — Oh My!,” an event focused on presentation and pitching best practices for startups at the AWS Pop-up Loft in San Francisco.

As we all piled into the third floor on that late Thursday afternoon, our moderator from The Outcast Agency introduced us to our panel of speakers: WIRED staff writer, Davey Alba, TechCrunch Editor-At-Large, Josh Constine, and The New York Times technology reporter, Katie Brenner. The energy in the crowded room was palpable as founders from speech technology companies to developers of the next shared economy app eagerly waited for the event to begin.

So what’s the secret to successfully pitching your startup? By sticking to the following five strategies, your competition won’t stand a chance.

“You’re more likely to try a product because your friend told you about it. Not because we did.” — Josh Constine, TechCrunch, Editor-At-Large

1. Know who your audience is

One pitch does not fit all. A reporter from TechCrunch will be looking for something very different than a reporter from The New York Times. Understanding who your audience is will help you pick the best angle to highlight. For example, at TechCrunch, Constine doesn’t need to tie a story into a larger narrative; instead, he can look for startups of interest, such as those focused in virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), drones, and robotics. But, Alba from WIRED likes a good hook, a small story that can lead into a larger story. Knowing who you’re pitching to will help you figure out how best to approach them. Constine explained that all true traction comes from word of mouth, with Brenner echoing that journalists at The New York Times strive to be neutral and want to tell a story, not simply promote your startup.

2. Follow the basic structure of pitching

Pitches are most effective when they are short and simple. These basic principles will help you achieve maximum effectiveness:

  • Start by explaining what your startup does
  • State the problem that you’re tackling
  • Explain how you’re solving the problem
  • Provide evidence for why your solution is optimal

All three reporters agreed that if startups can master these principles, their chances of being featured would greatly improve.

3. Select the best method of communication

We’ve come a long way in our quest to communicate, from carrier pigeons to telegrams to postal mail and all the way to electronic mail, but that doesn’t mean email is best. While nearly everyone preferred email to a phone call, others liked text messages instead. And, while all three reporters had different preferences, they all agreed that building relationships was essential. For Brenner, stories are largely published based on relationships. Although she might not publish a story right away, she’ll often look back through her contacts when opportunities arise. How you connect and with whom is just as important as what you communicate.

4. Let your startup stage dictate your PR strategy

Lots of startups focus on getting recognition in a big, national publication, which Constine described as their “unicorn.” Getting that one story might help them, but it’s extremely difficult to land. According to Constine, PR is helpful for recruiting, fundraising, gaining traction and users, but that doesn’t mean you should go all in so soon. Tactics at each stage include the following:

  • Pre-series A stage
    Ignore press and just focus on your product. A strong product generates buzz on its own.
  • Post-series A stage
    Find evangelists — users who loves your product — and start building relationships with them. Relationship building should be your main focus.
  • Build/Hire a PR team stage
    If you’re ready to hire a PR team, then you’re ready to go after big publications like The New York Times.

5. Remember the 3 Bs

Be conversational. Use everyday language instead of dense technical jargon. Don’t say you’re revolutionary, game-changing, or the next Uber, Facebook, or AirBnB. Those are big shoes to fill. If your product really is revolutionary it will speak for itself.

Be concise. Share something short that will peak a journalist’s interest. Don’t tell them how to write the story or provide your entire work history.

Be consistent. Always follow up. That second email helps! Your goal is to maintain a connection with the journalist, not simply send him or her a press release. Constine explained that he responds to only about 10% of the pitches he gets, and that building relationships is extremely important.

Remember that no one likes phone calls. Email is better, but text is best. Engage with journalists and aim to build relationships. Don’t forget that Twitter is insanely popular, and journalists are always paying attention to their mentions (HINT!).

Now you’re all set to put together a successful pitch and land your next big story. Special thanks to The Outcast Agency, Davey Alba, Josh Constine, and Katie Brenner for the insightful and entertaining evening.