The best form of advertising for your startup is free publicity via editorial coverage. This can grow your company's credibility, business relationships, user base, Web traffic, and revenue. It can also help you raise money or even sell your company.
So how to get more press? Obviously, you could hire a PR firm, which specializes in this. Eventually, that's probably going to be a good idea -- or at least you'll eventually want to hire people to do this in-house. But for small startups that want to conserve cash, here are six ways to get started:
- Start a blog and write about this industry. Don't just write about your company, but write about the broader industry you participate in. This will help you get quoted in news coverage, or will help you get linked to from startup industry message boards or news aggregation Web sites, such as Techmeme or Hacker News.
- Start publishing metrics about your company and industry. Any sort of data that you collect can be helpful for identifying industry trends. Journalists can use these metrics as data points in larger stories, or sometimes, your metrics reports will justify news coverage on their own. Make sure you're clear about what the metrics data means and doesn't mean, and any potential limitations in your data or methodology. (And for competitive purposes, if you're worried about this sort of stuff, make sure your customers or clients or secret business practices aren't completely revealed.) Companies that have done this especially well include Monster.com, comScore, AdMob, Panjiva, and others.
- Start an informal email blast list of industry journalists and/or thought leaders. After you write a good blog post, shoot it out to reporters so they know it exists. When there's news in your industry, send over a few sentences with your raw thoughts, making sure they don't read like a sales pitch. Maybe include some more material, such as an update on your company with key metrics, an updated "40,000-foot view" of the industry, or other story-angle ideas for reporters. This will help you get more coverage, either because of what you're doing, or because you have an interesting take on what your peers are doing.
- Participate in industry chatter on Twitter. Reporters are now increasingly looking at Twitter for stories and quotes. It's an easy way to join the conversation and get your way into a story.
- Start hanging out with reporters, and arm yourself with story ideas for them. Find out what networking events that key journalists in your field attend, and make sure you're there at least once a month. The best journalists are always looking for interesting stories that their competitors are not aware of. Don't be annoying; just be casual and have interesting things to talk about without sounding like you're on a sales pitch. This will help make sure you're the first person they call when they have a question about your industry, which could help increase your editorial exposure.
- Throw a party at your office! It doesn't have to be big or expensive. But getting reporters and cool industry people into your company's office, where they can see what you do firsthand -- and have a couple free drinks -- can open doors for future coverage. Reporters will often attend parties at companies they don't think are worth a formal briefing, only to find out they're more interesting than anticipated. Just make sure the place is clean and your air conditioning is working. You don't want to be known as "that gross, sweaty startup."