Hard or Soft? Which Way to Launch? How to Make Getting Good Press a Habit

storytelling

Seattle has a ridiculously strong bulletin board + email list sorta culture.

When Buster invited me to join one of these lists, I was skeptical at first. Who needs more in her inbox, right?

But the brutal honesty of founders sharing really tough sh*t changed my perspective.

Ye Olde List Serve still has value if the right people with the right experiences open up, at the right time (ie when you proactively ask them for help).

And Seattle? Well, let’s just say the natives are friendly.

On one of these lists last night, a startup founder asked for advice on doing a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ product launch. The answers were binary.

Some weighed in in favor of the hard launch, with exclusive TechCrunch coverage representing the Holy Grail. Others recommended a ‘soft’ launch to insider press, influential bloggers and their ilk.

But I think that’s asking the wrong question entirely…

There’s no such thing as one time, hard or soft.

Don’t treat getting press like a one night stand, in other words… getting covered once *can be* the beginning of a beautiful, long-term relationship that starts with a little romance.

Press relationships are long and nuanced, like investor or cofounder relationships.

‘Spamming’ our contacts with frequency turns our big milestones into noise rather than signal.

Trust me, you do NOT want to get a rep as a player here.

To seal the deal, you’ve got to establish that you’re legit, by cementing:

  1. Your reputation;
  2. Your product’s reputation (or vice versa);
  3. A relationship with editors; and
  4. A relationship with anyone who has relationships with editors (ie your investors should be an excellent source here and willing to recommend you personally to a reporter/journalist/blogger/editor).

All that said, being conscientious and proactive when you plan an outreach to press prevents leaks and ensures your desired outcomes are met.

Bottom line: Plan ahead. Be prepared.

Poor Buster. I’m totally anal with this kind of crap…but this is how we do it, Habit Labs style…

Before sitting down to write up a press plan and schedule (or press materials), I fill out this acronym, which I also use for other kinds of strategic planning.

I call it PAD mapping (thanks to Eric of Padmapper.com).

  • P = Purpose. What is the ‘purpose’ of this launch?
  • A = Audience. Who is the audience we want to read? NOTE: Usually it’s several: investors both current and prospective, frenemies/competitors, supporters/fans, users, other press, fellow startup founders, team members friends + family
  • D = Desired outcomes. What are our desired outcomes from this launch, both qualitative and quantitative?

The PAD approach is all kinds of f*cking awesome because it includes:

  1. Quantitative goals (ie “4 pieces of ‘mention’ level coverage and 1 in depth interview with a founder”) and
  2. Qualitative goals related to our mission/vision/values (ie “establish relationship as ‘new source’ for X journalist who just covered Y story/sector for Z publication”).

In other words, it’s legit.

Ok, so how do we turn the answers to PAD exercises into a cohesive press plan?

Easy.

At Habit Labs, we use a “3 Level” tiered approach to press/PR of any kind.

When we have a product relaunch (or substantial redesign, ie a new ‘version’), for example, it warrants Level 1 coverage.

Overall:

There are three tiers of product news (and I’m separating this from ‘company’ news which includes merger, new hires, partnership announcements, and funding/revenue milestones):

  • Level 1. New feature/s
  • Level 2. New version (ie what we’re discussing here)/relaunch huge pivot but same company
  • Level 3. New product entirely; company rename, etc.

So what do we prepare for each level?

Level 1 warrants ‘internal’ and ‘friend’ press:

  1. Blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
  2. Twitter/FB
  3. Friends’ blogs
  4. RT/push requests to industry friends
  5. *maybe 1-2 smaller tech press mentions but unlikely

Level 2 warrants ‘smaller’ tech press and maybe investor/partner coverage:

  1. Blog post(s) by partners (ie devices etc), new hires, corporations if that type of partnership
  2. Internal blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
  3. Twitter/FB
  4. RT/push requests to industry friends
  5. 2 pieces of smaller coverage; 1 ‘larger issues’ piece or interview; don’t need embargo date but have target date

Level 3 warrants an APB (“all points bulletin”) press approach, like our merger press outreach:

  1. Blog post(s) by Habit Labbers
  2. Twitter/FB
  3. Active press targeting and outreach by Jen (email)
  4. Compose ‘bigger issues/story ideas’ doc to send
  5. Compose press release (‘official’) to send with embargo date (ie we set target for publication)
  6. RT/push requests to industry friends
  7. 4 pieces of larger coverage; 2 ‘larger issues’ pieces or interviews
  8. Moving forward, pick ‘exclusive’ tech sources for each type of larger news (product goes to RWW or TC, local/team goes to GeekWire, etc)

For Level 3 coverage, I send editors and reporters the following:

  1. Personal intro email. Vary copy slightly each time.
  2. Embargo date/’go live.’
  3. “Official” (read: boring) press release with all the meaty stuff no one reads – usually.
  4. A ‘big issues’ Google doc (converted to PDF) with stories related to hot trends in our sector – including suggested headlines and additional sources and their company names whom I can reach out and invite to be quoted and participate (and can count upon to do so).
  5. A Google doc (converted to PDF) with our pre-event press (including blog coverage, other tech coverage, quotes from investors, screenshots of user tweets, etc).
  6. Closing graph with some rough timeline of when we’ll be doing the NEXT Level 1 coverage event, and that I will reach out to them – “let me know if you want to cover that?”

I don’t do exclusives, yet. That’s a load of horse’s caca, and generally not in the best interests of the company, unless say Discover magazine or Dr. Oz wants to pimp you exclusively.

However, when a source calls and asks if they can run your coverage “early,” ie before your target “go live date,” and thus sort of get a scoop, be ready with your answer.

If you give them the ok, notify your other Level 1 sources that X blog or publication is running early, and you think they might want to do the same.

Concrete example: This meant TechCrunch and GeekWire covered our merger press and launch a day early. We’d planned for 8.15; they ran it late Sunday afternoon on 8.14, and everyone else ran it first thing Monday, the morning of 8.15.

About involving your investors: I also send the whole shebang email with attachments to investors who, thank goodness, are all ‘value add’ and have been integral in helping us 3x quantitative press coverage goals to date.

As an example, our merger press (August 14-15) I had a quant goal of 4 sources and 1 interview. We 3x’d this, thanks in large part to investors reaching out on a weekend and making personal introductions.

Thanks in particular to Jennifer Lum, Chris DeVore, Esther Dyson and Brian Singerman!

Homework: Should probably mention that I also look up the last articles by writers and editors at our target publications covering our sector and scope out the social media profiles of journalists at each publication I’d like to cover us. I put that stalking info to good use in the cover email and to generate ‘big picture’ story ideas they might slaver over covering.

Bottom line: An almost obsessive approach to press, or at least a planning process that is as logical and detailed as wireframing out a new UX or spec’ing a new app, WORKS.

For merger press, using this plan, we achieved 8 sources, 2 interviews, and 2 additional interviews are in the works.

That’s 300% more coverage than even I expected. And this was after repeatedly being told initially “not to expect much” because “mergers with startups your size aren’t news.”

Side note: I also learned I should automatically include headshots of the founders/team and logo art in 300 dpi, 150 dpi, etc (but neglected to do this with our latest launch and so had to follow up individually if sources asked for art).

Summary: Controlling and pre-planning the press process is no accident – it’s done by design and that’s how it’s successful (ie merger press goals were not just *met, they were *exceeded with smart design of process).

Yes. This takes a metric crap-ton of my time.

You’ve got to spool up ALL that content at least a week in advance of your target go live date, but then be ready to modify the documents the night before outreach, which you usually want to do only 24-48 hours before the target release.

But I’m a bizdev founder. What the hell else have I got to do?

The really tough part is keeping the team aligned around a cooperative (product + press) rather than a competitive cycle.

Press and coverage are iterative cycles that often mirror/complement – but don’t exactly coincide – with product development cycles.

This can be tough because the product side of the house is working their asses off, wants to launch NOW, and the credit/long term benefits of shouting from the rooftops with associated chest banging might be significantly delayed because the timing of press launch coincides with investment efforts/raises, hiring targets, etc.

I do press planning A YEAR OUT in tandem with our runway, so we don’t ‘run out’ of either funding or oppty’s to reach out to press and thus strengthen our case with investors.

As a team, you can and must collaborate and make sure product + press are aligned for best COMPANY results overall.

Feel free to reach out to me individually if I can give you more details…

Hope this helps your startup make getting good press coverage a habit!

 

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