The COVID-19 pandemic created a “work anywhere” culture. Despite the setback of a global health crisis, times were good in the startup ecosystem. We learned to replace two-hour commutes with back-to-back meetings on Zoom, and our productivity flew through the roof. Investors were throwing money into startups, and those startups were launching—so much so that reporters couldn’t cover all the new companies. For those of us in the business of building companies—founders, engineers and marketing execs—the mindset was growth at all costs. Then May 2022 rolled in and, well, things slowed down.
Despite the slow down, startups are still taking life, and people are still writing about them. After all, some of the most iconic businesses—Oracle, Ebay and Airbnb—were conceived during down cycles. Unfortunately, the media doesn’t only cover success stories. Startup launches and funding news is now competing with layoffs, lowered valuations, company shutdowns and quarterly slumps for precious real estate in the top business outlets. Still, amid all this doom and gloom, companies like ChiselStrike, with just $7 million in seed funding, and Nanopath, with a $10 million Series A, found themselves in SiliconANGLE and TechCrunch.
How did they make that happen? Thoughtfully and with the utmost intention. Because your chances of getting a solid story at launch are compromised by every misstep you take along the way—especially when there is so much catastrophic news to cover.
Here are tips to avoid four of the most common missteps founders take when launching in an uncertain or pessimistic market:
1. Don’t do the announcement yourself, or ask an engineer or developer to get the news out on a wire only.
There’s power in knowing what you don’t know. You may have a few media contacts from a previous company or want one of your engineers or developers to handle marketing, but unless you work with the media daily, your announcement is best left to an expert. In today’s complex media environment, I wouldn’t ask an engineer or developer to issue an announcement any more than I’d want the responsibility of writing a line of code. It’s not that they can’t do it; but their time could certainly be better spent on development rather than figuring out how a wire service operates and which reporters are going to take interest in your news. If you don’t have someone on your team with that insight, start looking for a partner four to six weeks before you announce.
Tip if you’re short on time: The less time you have to find someone, the more important it is to ask around and work with someone you can trust. Referrals are a great way to find a right-fit agency or consultant. Take a week to talk to a few people and hire the one you have good chemistry with and who has handled similar recent announcements and understands how the media is working.
2. Don’t set an arbitrary date for your news, and get it out there as soon as you can.
The fact is news is only as good as the story you tell, and if you can’t find someone to tell your story then your audience is limited to the small ecosystem that surrounds your company. Give yourself, and the PR partner you choose, time to determine the best media targets, a solid description of your company and position in the market, a press release that includes all the important information, and a concise way to tell your story to a reporter who will care. It’s an anomaly to pull all of this together in a week and get the result you are looking for.
3. Don’t expect a story from the same reporter who covered your friend’s fintech startup when your company is in the developer tech space.
Most reporters tend to have a beat or general industry they cover. You’ll want to do your homework and understand which reporters cover your industry. Many news organizations have had high turnover this year, so navigating virtual newsrooms is harder than ever. The right PR partner can help you reach the right person for the story.
4. Don’t give the reporter news under embargo two days before you plan to put your press release on the wire.
Even with fewer companies getting funded than in months past, we’re still seeing a record-breaking number of new companies come to market. Today’s news environment is dynamic, and it’s also more cynical than in past quarters, often focusing on uncertainty—after all, people flock to headlines announcing which stocks to sell, which companies to back, and where not to work if they just got laid off.
Today you’re competing against other companies for both good and bad news. Give the reporter enough time to consider your story and understand your angle. Is there a macrotrend driving demand for your solution? Why does your company matter now? The worst thing you can do is tell a reporter they have 24 hours to consider your story or you’re moving on because the news goes on the wire in two days. Instead, give yourself at least eight to 10 business days to “sell your story.” Some high-demand outlets may want as many as three or more weeks to settle on an exclusive if news volume is high, and even non-exclusive embargo pitches should allow more than a few days advance notice when possible. Factor in more time if your story is a harder sell (e.g., first-time founders, small seed round, no customer traction or product availability).
The media landscape has changed, but that’s not a surprise. News is cyclical. Follow these tips and you’ll avoid some of the common launch-time foibles that impede success.
If you’re thinking about hiring a PR partner, we’ll be diving into discovering when the time is right for an agency or consultant, and which is right for you in another blog.
About the author
Theresa Maloney has managed public relations campaigns through highs and lows for more than two decades, including Ebay’s infamous IPO, WebMD’s acquisition spree, the rise of eHealth during the Great Recession, and pivoting Engine Yard to address market consolidation. She founded and runs Cogenta Communications, a boutique agency that works with early-stage startups and high-growth ventures on company introductions, pivots and strategic initiatives to get noticed in a dynamic news environment.