Most advertising is all about statistics. But when it comes to getting press, most companies still use traditional "PR," personal relationships with journalists, cold calls, and email press releases.
The founders of Spokepoint set out to move beyond that, building a PR firm and public relations platform that brings the same kind of numbers-based insight that companies cultivate about their contacts with customers to their contacts with the media. Spokepoint's focused on catering to other startups, even offering packages for crowdfunding campaigns where Spokepoint takes a percentage of funds raised instead of a flat fee.
"We’ve done that with a bunch of customers, and it’s always worked out super well," says Spokepoint cofounder Dan Siegel. "It aligns incentives really well."
Siegel and cofounder Paul Lam got the idea after successfully publicizing a previous invention of their own: the popular "Super Pac App," which applied Shazam-style sound recognition to political ads during the 2012 U.S. presidential election. The app let TV viewers turn to their smartphones to find out who was sponsoring commercials backing and bashing different candidates.
"The app hit number one in the App Store," says Siegel, and friends and acquaintances began to call for advice on publicizing their own companies and Kickstarter campaigns.
"We sat down with people, and we laid down the process, and it was stupidly simple," he says. "Track everything, was really the answer."
Many company founders who might have no qualms about poring over programming language specs or negotiating hardware specs with suppliers weren't sure how to go about reaching out to the press, he says.
"They get right up to the point of actually sending messages out, and then they get a little too scared to do it," he says. "The thing I say there is don’t fear the journalist; fear the silence."
That is, startup founders should be more worried about their inventions not being publicized at all than they should fear a snarky interviewer, he says.
"It’s very empowering to realize it’s well within your power to vocalize and get press," Siegel says.
Spokepoint started out providing standard PR services using their own tools behind the scenes to find journalists who'd be likely to take an interest in their clients and A/B test the effectiveness of different pitches, and, as of this month, launched a platform to let clients do as much or as little of the writing and pitching as they wish.
Siegel says he advises clients to think about their concrete desires for a media campaign, just as a financial advisor would advise clients to think about earning goals and risk aversion. Some clients might prefer to pitch a few big-circulation outlets, and others might do better pitching to a wide circle of smaller publications, he says.
The most important metric to measure about a pitch, the company's found, is simply whether an initial pitch gets a positive reply, Siegel says. Knowing that, clients can target journalists interested in particular topics and try different variations on a pitch to see what gets the most interest, he says.
"You can really have an impact on the positive reply rate based on the message you’re sending," he says.
From tracking results from previous clients and crawling the web for journalists' new stories and up-to-date contact information, the data that provides Spokepoint's predictive power is always getting more complete, and the company's working on pulling in other information like reporters' social media posts and LinkedIn profiles, says Siegel.
Some reporters are initially skeptical of the idea, he says, but most ultimately warm to the idea of a tool that means they get more story ideas that are actually relevant to them and their audience, he says.
"Okay, if this works, it means i’m actually going to get more targeted pitches," he says reporters think.
"Our north star is conversion," he added. "It’s helping people get a positive reply from a journalist, and the way you get that is by sending journalists something they actually care about, rather than by spamming them."