What Apple And Nike Can Teach You About A Startup PR Strategy

The era of fake news is making even the most open-minded journalists undoubtedly cynical. And with good reason.

Vendors across every category – from blockchain to baby toys – fill pitches with buzzwords with a goal of locking in the CEO briefing. However, as messaging and brand positioning expert Andy Raskin points out, people want “belonging.” The point here is that all brands – B2B or B2C – ultimately need to connect on a human level. This is just as true in closing sales as it is when it comes to locking in interest with a reporter. You need to capture interest and create a narrative that compels a journalist to tell a story. This doesn’t happen because you launched a product; it happens because you think like a reporter and tell a compelling story so the press can tell that story from their own perspective.

As Raskin also cites in his article, Nike and Apple didn’t need to rely on a “differentiation brag.” Did the infamous 1984 commercial talk about processing speeds or why Apple is better than its competitors? Do athletes buy Nike basketball shoes because of the product specs, or because they want to invoke Michael Jordan when they step on the basketball court? Great brands empower consumers by elevating the storyline to be about people doing great things. It’s a lesson every PR rep should take to heart.

When engaging the media, understand the context of the day and hour, and engage in a human way that allows the ability for a connection – create an authentic sense of belonging.

The New Tech Media Landscape

Media outlets are consolidating, and PR firms are hiring. We’re living in a world where there are now nearly five PR people for every journalist. After pitching for the last 18 years, I believe it has become more difficult to garner startup press coverage. Blame it on mass pitch blasting, the influx of crypto startups or prospective clients telling agencies they want to be on the cover of a business magazine because they are “starting a revolution” (yes, this really happened).

The bottom line? Even good pitches can get lost in an inbox filled with hundreds of emails. My advice is to diversify, just like your financial planner would advise you not to put all of your money into one stock.

PR professionals also need to approach what defines success. This is easier said than done when your client is sending you a Slack message at 10:30 p.m. about what coverage is going to hit tomorrow. That being said, if you’ve allowed your client to view success based on a singular launch, you’ve not only lost the battle; you’re going to lose the war, too.

When we engage with new clients, we advise them that PR is both an immersive and iterative process. It’s immersive in the sense that it requires the client to:

• Be fully available and responsive to media requests versus prioritizing their own schedules;

• Share data, insights and expertise at a steady cadence to engage media with fresh story angles.

It is also iterative in the sense that:

• If your startup has limited brand visibility, you can benchmark against competitors with more press coverage. You should, however, recognize that this must be measured over months and years versus a singular launch or a couple of weeks after signing a contract.

• Press builds on itself, and oftentimes targeted vertical coverage can be critical toward breaking into a top-tier publication.

I like to think there’s a certain formula to break into The Wall Street Journal or to get on Bloomberg TV, and it doesn’t start with a VP of Marketing espousing on a team call that “we have a new product and are expecting big things from this launch.” Think small to get big coverage: Proprietary data that maps to global trends is a good starting point.

Drop the jargon.

Members of the media are now bombarded with attempts to “trendjack” breaking news, and breaking through the noise is noticeably more challenging than in the past. Trendjacking essentially is a way to proactively offer analysis in real time on news that is breaking, and a vendor-neutral statement with forward-looking insights on how this news impacts everyone is still highly effective. Vendors that attempt to implement “marketing speak” in media pitches will fall on deaf ears. Instead, providing journalists with raw, authentic commentary and analysis is an optimal way to develop a rapport with media.

Stop focusing on product news.

Instead, try going with an exclusive. Don’t focus so much on features as to why a product changes the game for end users, whether that is a consumer or a business. Offer your target media outlet exclusive access to sources, investors and data. The best chance for a reporter to do a deep-dive writeup is to build an element of trust via solid pitches over time until you have the right hook.

Set expectations accordingly with clients. Unless you are Uber or some other pre-IPO startup with $100M+ in funding, expect news briefs over full features. Product news is a luxury and is just a difficult sell even more so than just five years ago.

Understand the power of consistency.

While securing top-tier press coverage is more difficult than ever, it can certainly be achieved. Focus on a steady cadence of newsworthy announcements (such as funding, strategic partnerships and customer wins), and combine that with authentic, timely commentary on breaking industry news and a robust content program. This strategy can also lead to a bevy of articles.

I’ve guided seed-stage startups to acquisitions within 18 months based heavily on press coverage, while more “mature” startups have flat-lined in their PR success in the quest to have everything be perfect.

Take the high road, and understand that PR is all about the long game. Entrepreneurs who saw the big picture recognized that even Apple would go through dark days. Strong leadership and culture, as well as consistent, positive press coverage can create a paradigm that inevitably leads to winning.

This content was originally posted on Forbes.com