This week, we took a room full of leaders from some of New Zealand’s most promising startups through a public relations (PR) Masterclass (presented in partnership with GD1’s trusted NZ PR Partner, Launch PR) aimed at demystifying the mechanics of telling your story via quality media coverage. We’re talking TechCrunch, Herald, Stuff, The London Times, AFR and everything in-between.
How do I ensure our PR programs support both brand awareness and revenue generation?
How does PR actually work?
How do I secure coverage in NZ and the US, then scale the approach globally?
How to I make sure I have the right angle and that I'm supporting journalists as they work?
What can I do myself; and what do I need help with?
Heather Gadonniex, GD1 Operating Partner, and Jody Boshoff, Founder of Launch PR covered all of this, and more…
For portfolio companies (and others) who may have missed out, here’s a short round-up of what was shared, including some of the handy processes and templates.
It’s not productive to push a PR message that is counter to your positioning and brand strategy. Yet, it happens more than you’d think. To ensure alignment, always refer back to your positioning rubric and brand strategy when crafting PR pitches and developing key messaging.
We covered the important differences between PR and advertising. Because it’s something you ‘earn’, as opposed to content you pay for like adverts or advertorial, it’s often considered by audiences as more ‘credible’ or ‘trustworthy’. That said, it’s a lot harder to control and because you aren’t paying for it; you can’t dictate the message. You can, however, ensure that journalists have absolutely everything they need to write up a great story and that you’re well prepared for any interviews - more on that later.
One of the hardest things to get your head around when it comes to PR is that your product is very rarely the news. It’s a piece of the news, but that alone isn’t enough to get you a headline. To get coverage, you’ll need to either ‘create the news’ or ‘respond to the news’.
> When it comes to ‘creating the news’ - think about the problem your product solves; why or how it was developed; and the impact it’s set to have on society. That’s what a journalist might find interesting enough to write a story about!
> When it comes to ‘responding to the news’ - think about whether your company might have a novel take on a topical issue; or some interesting commentary on an event or trend. This might be what entices a journalist to speak to you and include your opinion in what they write.
This handy little equation offers a perfect summary of needing to pitch in more than just your product when you speak to the media:
Encouragingly, there are no restrictions on who can be featured in the news. People and companies like you drive the news cycle; but the best story wins - so it’s worth making sure yours is the best.
To do this, you need to think like a journalist when you formulate your ‘pitch’ (the message you’ll send to a journalist to consider).
Some of the things a journalist will look out for include the ‘five news values’, below:
Before you email anyone, understand the lingo.
Before you approach a journalist, understanding media ‘lingo’ is important:
> Angle - This is what makes an announcement newsworthy. It’s your hook - the news event, the controlling issue and
TLDR: The bait
> Media release - This is an official statement sent out to the media or self-published to provide information, create an official statement or make an announcement directed for public release. (You don’t always need a media release to get coverage.)
TLDR: The details - if needed
> Pitch - Your best attempt at getting a journalist/editor or media outlet interested in covering your news. Almost always via email, but also possible via social platforms or text/telephone.
TLDR: Your fishing line - it’s how you get your bait out there!
Coming up with the best story angle takes practice, but this handy little 4-step process is an easy way of thinking about what you might have to say in your pitch:
Ideate - Jot down possible story ideas. These don’t (only) have to be about your product. They could also be about your people, a customer story or what it’s like to work at your company.
Evaluate - Think about each of the ‘news values’. The more genuine news values there are in your story, the more likely a journalist is to pick this story up.
Demonstrate - Journalists love ‘proof points’. You need to gather background Information to support each story idea. Think about what information would make this story relevant to a wider audience? How could this story connect to larger social and political issues? Also gather information from sources that improve the appeal and relevance of your story - including facts, opinions or other interesting information from a variety of sources.
Participate - You need to offer a journalist a spokesperson. Make a list of possible sources that could be used to add depth and vividness to your story. Sources may include experts or eyewitnesses. Tell the journalist who is available for an interview.
Securing a “Yes, we’d like to chat to you!” from a journalist is exciting stuff, but that’s only half the work. How you handle the interview will determine the ultimate story that gets written. Here are some top tips for a great chat!
In the interview lead-up:
> This is about you, but also the reporter. They’re human - so try to forge a genuine connection and before your chat, read a few pieces they have written.
> Decide what your key messages are. If you’re not on a video call, have them in front of you (or write down keywords that will jog your memory).
> Understand who reads the publication and its audience and what they might find interesting.
> Try to anticipate what you might be asked; and what you might say in the case of tricky questions. You are NEVER forced to disclose anything you do not want to. Remember, everything you say is on record.
> Prepare, prepare, prepare. Practise your key messaging and elevator pitch and telling the journalist about what you do in the simplest terms possible.
> Getting serious
Focus on your key messaging. Headlines and facts are key. (You will be asked to “PROVE IT!”)
The pivot - this is a technique that will help you get back to key messaging: You could say: “Let me explain…”; “I am not quite ready to disclose that. What I can tell you is…”
The flag - this is a technique that will help you highlight key messaging: You could say: “So, let me highlight…” ; “What’s most important is…”
Also remember, it’s ok to say “Actually, let me try that again…”
Don't forget to recap the one think you really want a journalist to take away at the end of your interview.
For video chats (recorded or live):
- Dress up before you show up - wear clothing that makes you feel authentic.
- Ensure your background is neat, or use the blur function.
- Wear dark, solid colours - patterns or white against a light background do not work well.
- Don’t fidget or swing/sway in your chair.
- Don’t um… and ah! It cuts interview time down and frustrates the listener.
- Explain any jargon.
- Say thank you and be likeable.
It’s always easiest to start by gaining quality coverage in your local market. If you’d like to approach journalists yourself, they often share their contact details online, or you can use software like Owler and Agility to search for contact details and approach journalists this way.
Don’t be tempted to think that scaling your PR strategy globally is unachievable. Competition for share of voice might be more fierce, but the same principles apply globally; and will help you succeed with overseas media.
Before you approach a PR agency for help, it’s worth considering exactly what you need help with. These three questions will help you clarify that:
Other important tips for selecting and working with an agency include:
> Giving a PR agency a tight brief on what you need can save you thousands (and thousands) of dollars. Ask for a ‘quote’ on what you need and would like to achieve; not an open-ended ‘proposal’.
> When you do select an agency, recommendations are key. It’s really important to work with an agency who has a track record of success for companies like yours.
> Define what success looks like upfront, including your target audience and publications. This way, the agency is clear on what you expect them to achieve for you and you’re spending money on results that will help move the needle on brand awareness and reputation in your niche.
GD1 hosts regular Masterclasses for portfolio companies. Please get in touch if you have a suggestion around content you’d love us to cover.