Are you ready to supercharge your company’s story telling strategy? Creating viral buzz for your startup, is easier than you think if you know the industry’s inside secrets. So clean off your whiteboard, grab a marker and get ready to go “backstage” to learn the Top 5 Buzz Tips from Seattle’s tech media elite.
On October 13th, the MIT Enterprise Forum Northwest hosted the program, “Pitch, Don’t Spin – How to Create Buzz Around your Start-up” featuring a panel of five seasoned news experts: John Cook, Co-founder, GeekWire, Brier Dudley, Technology Columnist, Seattle Times, Leslie Helm, Editor, Seattle Business Magazine, Mike Davidson, Vice President, Social News, msnbc.com and CEO, Newsvine and Curt Woodward, Senior Editor, Xconomy.
The panel shared personal insights and answered questions from a packed room of Seattle startups about creating buzz and the best way to get your story looked at and published by reporters and influential bloggers. You can watch the full event here recorded by Puget Sound Media.
To save you a few hours of play-pause-play-pause, I have consolidated the wealth of advice into the top 5 buzz strategies for success.
Top 5 Strategies for Creating Buzz around Your Startup:
1. Create Great Content
Leslie Helm suggests creating two press releases, “one for niche trade pub, and another for people who don’t care about that specificity.” Leslie also reminds us to stick to the basics – “market size, competitors, key advantage” in four sentences or less. Unfortunately, many people don’t do that. As a consequence, Curt Woodward stated that “most pitches plain suck.” John Cook prefers to have potential sources “boil down news nuggets a few days in advance” with a few sentences, blog link, or press release so he can triage. Brier Dudley wants us to “talk about it the way you would talk to a friend or family member.” You should also take advantage of all of your digital resources including the about us page, pictures, bios, contact address of the company, etc. Leslie highly recommends hiring a professional photographer or designer to create good art and make it super easy for reporters to show off you and your story
2. Build Relationships
Curt challenges you to “make me want to write about it vs. thinking that I have to.” That is how you can have a relationship with people to help down the road. But even with a strong relationship, Curt shared this insightful tip regarding the timing of news releases. If you want to keep it under wraps, you have to use the magic words “Must have hold for release, do you agree?” The reporter doesn’t care about your product release schedule. Once you send the information without first getting confirmation that the reporter agrees, “it is public.”
“Chances are that they already know about your embargoed info,” said John. He also advises startups to “look at archives, number of posts, comments threads, etc.” for a specific reporter. John also prefers electronic communication over calls.
3. Be Bold
Mike Davidson believes that “courage and the fact that you have nothing to lose is the number one tool you have as a startup.” Brier sounded a little more philosophical with his comment that “your best tool is your mind, being observant and knowing where you want to go.”
4. Time Your Approach
Leslie reminded the group that timing isn’t always in your favor and that “if you don’t take the opportunities when they come, you may not get another chance later.” Brier added that everyone should “think about timing, gadget and holiday season” and encouraged startups to “stay away from big waves at industry events. Piggy back doesn’t really work.”
Mike commented on the changing face of networking, stating that “one link from anybody isn’t going to do anything, but a cluster makes the difference.” To build that cluster Brier suggests going local because it can “be easier to get picked up by regionals like the Seattle Times.” In fact, Brier shared the little secret that “big stories usually click back to a wire service or local story.” You can test this yourself by looking at the history of video propagation on YouTube views, noting which sources are picked up by their bigger peers.
5. Tell Your Story
Curt believes that “the best stuff is human. News is what I am not supposed to know, the rest is just releases.” John suggested that you spend more time developing your story. “Everyone has an app,” he said, “but they also have a story.” For the story to work, Curt cautioned startups to “be real [and] be authentic.” He shared the story of when PopCap Games did their pre IPO roadshow. The CEO and Cofounder apparently sat down with reporters, but ended up providing insight about other game companies like Zynga. They could have pushed back and insisted on talking solely about their company, but by being flexible and providing a service to the reporter, they received great press coverage.
Because of those stories, Mike reminded the audience that “people follow people, not companies.” Brier emphasized that thought, indicating that “the most interesting thing about your company is you, more than your stuff. The person behind the company. The “who” is what makes your story interesting.” He stated that reporters “are always looking for the good human interest story. What is special about you?” He said that you should think about your idea or passion for something and talk about how it will change their lives, the community, or make other people’s lives easier.
So how do you bundle all that advice into real world examples?
John Cook related an example of packaging and presenting your story the right way. BigOven CEO Steve Murch took the time to create a story content package and deliver all of the essential reporting elements on a silver platter. Steve provided a link to his website, product images, headshots, a YouTube video and the personal human element from his own life to the story. “It was perfect,” said John. They did the entire interview via email. Read John’s post to see how he used the elements. John did say that he “wishes he would have had a little bit better art, but [it was] otherwise perfect.]
The next case study serves a dual purpose. Mike Davidson’s edgy anecdotal story both showcases how one presidential hopeful used digital media the wrong way and how Mike used the perfect pitch strategy and timing to propel his story to the national stage. At the time, Mike was CEO of startup newsvine.com. From Mike’s blog post we read, “John McCain’s people commandeered my world-renowned MySpace design template and did a few things wrong.”
It really is so easy to provide attribution to your sources, but apparently, the McCain camp not only forgot to provide credit, but they also used an image being served from Mike’s own server. Can you guess where this is going? As Mike put it, “I figured it was time to play a little prank on Johnny Mac.” If you are going to do something to a presidential candidate’s website, you might as well go big so Mike contacted Michael Arrington to provide the scoop and perfectly time the lesson in internet etiquette. You can still see a copy of the site change in Michael’s post.
But the story doesn’t stop there. Mike knew he had “made it” when the story got incorporated into this Daily Show edition at the 2:30 mark.
If you found these tips and case studies helpful, start building your media relationships by taking a moment to send an email or tweet to your favorite reporter from the panel and say “thank you.”
I would love to hear some of your success or failure stories in creating buzz around your startups or other media projects.