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5 Golden, Press Release-Free Keys To Building Successful Buzz For Your Startup

Who needs a fancy pants PR firm, anyway?

Forget generic press releases. If you want to get your startup noticed by bloggers, media outlets, investors, and customers, you can do it yourself. And usually for a whole heck of a lot less money than hiring a public relations firm.

Startups such as Dollar Shave Club, Appotopia, Grasshopper, and others have been able to generate a tremendous amount of buzz by rolling up their sleeves and following these steps:

1. Define your brand and your message. Coming up with a game-changing idea for a new product is one thing, being able to clearly communicate what makes it totally unique is truly another. Whether it’s naming your startup, creating a tagline, or writing content for your website—defining and articulating your brand is like capturing lightening in a bottle.

Before you start overthinking it, strip your product down to its simplest form—What is it? What does it do? And how will it make someone’s life better? A great example is Dollar Shave Club—the name of their startup immediately defines their business, their tagline "Shave Time. Shave Money." addresses a common pain point that’s existed as long as marketing itself, and brilliantly simple messaging "A Great Shave for a Few Bucks a Month." drives their positioning home.

2. Start marketing early and often. A lot of startups want to hold off on sharing too much information or making a big media push until they have an actual finished product in hand. That’s all well and good, but that also means you might end up months behind in the marketing department once you’re ready to make your big splash.

Don’t be afraid to roll the dice. Seek out publicity early—even if you’re still working on your final product. Boston-based startup Apptopia did just that, securing coverage from TechCrunch when they were nowhere near ready to launch. The exposure helped them generate traffic and start attracting customers almost immediately.

3. Create your own PR. Speaking of publicity, you don’t have to run out and hire a fancy public relations firm and spend thousands of dollars trying to get your startup noticed. When it comes to PR, social media has been a total game changer. You don’t have to rely on generic press releases and arbitrary embargoes—in most cases you can try to build relationships with media outlets on your own.

Identify key publications and writers of interest and try to get on their radar—leave a relevant and value-added comment on one of their articles, start following them on Twitter or Google+, and then, when the time is right, look for opportunities to have a conversation about something they’ve written about recently and how it relates to what you’re working on. One of the best examples of creative PR still has to be sending 25,000 chocolate covered grasshoppers to 5,000 bloggers, politicians, celebrities, entrepreneurs, CEO’s, journalists, reporters, and TV anchors. Spoiler alert: they got a ton of media attention without using a press release.

4. Showcase your media mentions. Once you’re able to secure some high profile media mentions, as a startup you’ll generally want those to be highly visible on your website. Doing so helps to give your business and your products credibility in the eyes of prospective customers, prospective investors, and other media outlets.

If possible, include their logos at or near the fold on your homepage.

5. Get excited. Nothing helps get others excited about your product, your story, and your startup than your being excited about your product, your story, and your startup. When I think about the best pitches I’ve ever heard, they weren’t canned talking points but personal interactions filled with unmistakable passion and genuine excitement.

When it comes to generating buzz for your startup, there’s really no substitute for putting in a little legwork defining your brand message, building relationships with writers and bloggers at media outlets of interest, personalizing your approach with each contact, and showcasing your successes.

[Image: Flickr user Nicki Varkevisser]

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  • Cynthia Kinnecome

    Nice article. We work with a lot of small companies and start-ups and it's great when you can hear the genuine passion they have. I also love your point about stripping things down to the simplest points vs. overthinking. Thanks for sharing your insight, Shawn. 

  • Edward Smith

    Great advice Shawn.  I coach small businesses, authors and non-profits on how to do their own publicity and I can tell you that you took a page out of my book.  Your point about start-ups being able to do their own publicity is really a key one.  They knows their business and how it stands apart from others and this is a key point in getting publicity.  They can hit that sweet spot where they are different and yet something that will appeal to the media's audience.  And your point on the money saving aspect is also right on.  If they concentrate on sending targeted, focused email pitches, they even save the distribution costs of press releases.  You don't have to be "wired in" to get coverage, you just have to have a story the media thinks their audience is interested in.  The media needs you as much as you need them.  They don't have a show or story without you.  OK Shawn, thanks again.  Edward Smith. 

  • Shawn

    Thanks for the comment, Edward. Unfortunately, generic press releases and arbitrary embargoes seemed to have become the norm on the PR front. I've always found it's just as easy (and free) to reach out to target contacts with a personalized message--something that shows you're familiar with some of what they've covered in the recent past AND something you think their readers might be interested in. Not just a shameless self-promotion about a new hire at your business, a new feature you've added to your mobile app, etc. That might be really exciting to you, but that doesn't mean anyone else will automatically want to read it.