The following is a guest post by Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, a smarter way to post on Social Media. [Note: I’m an angel investor in Buffer and love what they’re doing]

The Complete Press Coverage Guide for Startup

Whoa, it’s been a long, long, long overdue guide. Many people have been reaching out for help over the past few months on how best to get their startup press. With a quick email response, I could help them, but it never felt right.

Hopefully only a link to this guide will be useful from now on.

Over the past 6-9 months, I am extremely thankful for the amazing stories lots of great writers from news and tech sites have written about Buffer.breaking news

Putting it in perspective:

Mashable featured us 6 times, TechCrunch twice, more than 10 articles in The Next Web, lots of ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, LifeHacker, VentureBeat, Inc. writings. Magazine, and so on. In total, there were over 40 stories by these notable sites written about us, each one based on the tips in this guide.

It is up to you to judge how good or bad the above result is, and of course there are others who have done better. And one of the things that I still fail to do is to get covered by mainstream media like CNN, Forbes, FastCompany, and co.

Yet, I wanted to share my experience with you on what we have achieved with Buffer and spill all the knowledge I have for getting covered. All literally, down to the smallest detail.

First off, I don’t want to fool you and need to emphasize the nature of our product, Buffer. It’s a social media tool that makes you more efficient and productive. It’s a consumer product that helps anyone who uses Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

If you want to be featured by tech sites, this is pretty helpful. So, please note that any results below are biased and linked to Buffer’s nature. It may not change your approach, but only in case.

Secondly, don’t be overwhelmed with the info below. It took me a long time to figure out many of these things. Trying to immediately follow all of these points could leave you frustrated and too much to do at once. I’d suggest you:

I think it’s one of the most important things you can do to get your product out there. With a lot of things like new signups, getting investment, partnerships and biz dev deals, it can help with and did so for us.

Especially if you’re a first-time businessman who can’t rely on a huge personal network that helps you get the word out, press can be a great way to do it.

All set? Let’s begin with:

1) Learn how to tell stories with your own startup blog.

Yes, I can’t sufficiently stress this first point. Especially because at first it seems quite unclear. A lot of the success I have had with getting covered comes down to us having a very active blog.

I have written before about why your startup needs a blog. This point is different to anything mentioned there. Is that fantastic right? Besides all the good things that happen when you have a blog, it also plays a big role when you get covered. Here is why:

You’ll learn to become a better writer if you learn to blog. You will understand why more than others, one headline is shared. Why one piece of content attracts more readers than others, you’ll understand. You will understand that no one wants to hear about your product unless it gives your readers a focused insight into which issue it will solve.

So once you run your own startup blog, 2 things will happen:

A) You will be at exactly the same level with tech writers once you submit stories. You’re going to understand their fight. See, your product does not matter to a writer. But they care to provide their readers with value. The door to get loads of write-ups is wide open once you understand that. You’re going to be a writer who suggests a great story, not the marketing guy who tries to feature his startup.

B) Knowing how to write and being a blogger will give you a huge pull. You can provide your own coverage on your own blog. Let me give an example to you. We recently added LinkedIn buffer. The write-up on our own blog, well over 500 shares, brought more sign-ups than the tech coverage we reached out for AND without any additional emails triggered 4 more write-ups from notable blogs, just because it was so wildly shared.

So the first step to get your startup coverage is to build an active blog, which will teach you how to write and tell stories.

2) How to use Twitter and Facebook to get to know writers

You are not covered by Mashable by a writer!

Here’s one of the biggest errors I made in the beginning. I thought I’d pitch that Mashable website or TechCrunch blog with a story if I had something newsworthy. Not surprisingly, we have never received any writings from it.

Then I realized something, it’s not the news outlets that write about you, it’s the individual writers that write about you. Sounds stupid and straightforward? Yet it has completely changed my approach.

So, to cover your startup, you need to know those writers and you need to know lots of them.

The first thing I did on Twitter is to follow them all and subscribe to their updates on Facebook. Here is a list of the about pages from Mashable, TechCrunch, and ReadWriteWeb (these are just examples, make a much bigger list, than just those 3). Go ahead and find the most appropriate writers to cover your startup’s industry.

Now that you are following them and subscribed to them, they become interested in what they are doing. To make this a big task, I don’t mean to do it very casually and make it a habit. Browse your stream of Twitter and Facebook and you’ll find them.

What’s the best part? All these writers are great people. Reading their stories and hanging with them on Twitter and Facebook is a lot of fun.

If they ask, answer Tweets and Facebook posts, retweet their stuff, comment on what they’re writing about. Do it because you’re interested and they’re writing about your business. Once again:

Become genuinely interested and understand what they like.

Once you email them, your pitch will be ten times better. You’re going to be able to relate personally and have seen your face before. They are much more likely to at least open that email when they see your name in their inbox.

So the second step is to begin connecting on social networks with those writers.

3) Do your best to prevent Sarah Lacys and Alexias

So we’ve added this great feature to our product. And there’s that Alexia woman who’s writing about startups. Let’s get in touch with what a great match!

Oh boy, when I started, I was naive. Later I understood that just submitting a news tip is not enough and realized that I had to reach out to the authors.

Armed with much courage through this newly acquired knowledge, I would send them my fantastic story to Alexia, Ben Parr, Sarah Lacy and MG Siegler.

And yet, there’s no answer. Here’s the matter:

These writers are the busiest of them all and most exposed to pitches all day long. Every day, hundreds of them get literally hammered. The chance of your story being picked up is very slim. Do not reach them out for yourself a favor.

Rather, be laser-focused on writers covering your industry. And look for people who are new and young and don’t receive hundreds of emails every day.

It’s very easy, just go to the front page and browse the latest stories. You’ll find the right person easily and quickly after seeing 3-4 stories from them over the past couple of days.

So avoid reaching out to the most prestigious writers as the third step. Find the rising stars and narrow your focus. Everything you can do.

3) Making the reporter’s email pitch an example that got us on Mashable

Expect to have a success rate of 25% with anything you do in life. ~ Rapleaf CEO Auren Hoffman

Now we’ve come a long way. It’s all about your story, you know, not your product. You know that you need to build personal relationships with writers and you know that you need to reach out to younger writers who are actually writing about your product-related stuff.

If you’ve come so far, you’ve probably already increased your success rate by having a large multiple featured. It’s still a tough road to get covered.

So let the pitch work. That’s what probably will determine the actual part, whether or not a story about your startup is going live.

Here’s an email that Mashable wrote to us:

Hi Sam,

Yesterday you really loved your post about how the fan got a job with the team, this is a priceless and amazing example of how passion can help us to succeed!

We’ve got some great news for you. With Twitter.com’s new release, we’ve just released a way for Twitter.com to post retweets at a better time via Buffer. By installing our browser extension, it works seamlessly. You’ll now have a new option to “buffer” next to “reply” “retweet” and “favorite.”

I think this will allow anyone to spend very little time watching their Twitter stream and retweeting everything they find interesting, but without flooding their followers with too many Tweets in a row. It should be a great way to use Twitter.com at the best times to tweet interesting content, well spaced out throughout the day straight. A bonus tip here is to use this in connection with Twitter lists, where most people have aggregated a lot of great content, but from there it is difficult to share it.

You’re the only news source I’ve been approaching with this, do you think this might be an interesting story for you and your readers?

Best,

Let’s go by paragraph through it:

Yesterday you really loved your post about how the fan got a job with the team, this is a priceless and amazing example of how passion can help us to succeed!

The opening has nothing to do with myself or anything to do with our startup. I followed this writer for a couple of weeks. I love his posts and tweets, I’m still following him today and I enjoy reading his posts. So I was thinking about opening one of the posts I enjoyed the most with a note.

We’ve got some great news for you. With Twitter.com’s new release, we’ve just released a way for Twitter.com to post retweets at a better time via Buffer. By installing our browser extension, it works seamlessly. You’ll now have a new option to “buffer” next to “reply” “retweet” and “favorite.”

Now, your product is the first paragraph. What has changed, how is it going to work? I found it could help a lot to make this very descriptive. There’s no talk about how (yet), just what it’s going to change the world. Concise and easy to comprehend.

I think this will allow anyone to spend very little time watching their Twitter stream and retweeting everything they find interesting, but without flooding their followers with too many Tweets in a row. It should be a great way to use Twitter.com at the best times to tweet interesting content, well spaced out throughout the day straight. A bonus tip here is to use this in connection with Twitter lists, where most people have aggregated a lot of great content, but from there it is difficult to share it.

This part is just about the reader’s value. Why would somebody care about it? What is the use of cases? How can a reader find this interesting? Consider this part as the one where a writer can scan his brain for headlines and imagine a written story about it.

With this, you are the only news source that I have approached.

Do you think you and your readers might find this an interesting story?

The last part is just as important as all the rest. Always be sure to give away the story as an exclusive one. Then, ask one clear question, that the writer can respond to.

A thank you for thinking about us, but I’m going to pass on this story. Can be as important as a yes. You can either move on or work on the story with that writer.

Many of my pitches are declining or there is still no response, it’s quite normal. Make your expectation of that. Never expect writers to dislike you or be upset by you. This is not true. They’re just really busy. Move on, fire and learn from the next pitch.

On this one more thing. Your bargaining power is also growing as you grow. If this is going to go live on your own blog/emailed out, you can add deadlines. Just try lots of different pitches if you start. It’s a great way to learn what’s working and not.

Oh and here is the end result of that pitch as a post: Buffer App Lets Users Schedule Shares Directly From Twitter

4) The art and timing of sending the pitch off and contacting reporters

You’ve made your pitch, and you’re ready to hit the send button. Hold off for just a bit.

You’re faced with tough competition. Not only from other startups, but also from many PR firms that want stories written for their customers. The one big advantage you’ve got is that you can add that extra personality.

This is normally what I do:

I would send a Tweet to the writer before I send that pitch off saying, “Could I drop you a quick line on an exclusive story?” I found that Twitter is a much faster medium and triggers answers much faster. So once I get an answer, I can hit send and it’s going to be much easier for the writer to recognize my name and look at the email at least.

After emailing, you can do the same thing by sending a Tweet. Referring to them with a simple “Just sent a quick email on an exclusive story, I hope you’ll be able to look at it.” It gives you another differentiating element.

Your messages are often ruled out as a mass email, so you need to take that extra step and add to your approach personality. I did this with great results.

Play this around. I tried to send no tweet as well and it worked. It’s up to you to judge the situation. Try the next one if one thing doesn’t work.

In any case, make sure it’s personal, not from start-up to Mashable, from writer to writer.

Your email timing and tweets

To get you covered, timing is also a very important aspect. The best traffic days I’ve learned to cover your story are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Monday is far too quick to get you written, reporters’ inboxes are full, it’s just not a great day.

If you started something, what I’d do is get that email in the morning before 10am to reporters.

Make sure you have time zones to check. Most journalists live either in SF or New York. For an EST reporter, 10am PST may be a very poor timing. They will see it early afternoon when they already have most of the day’s stories on their list to do.

At the same time, I learned that the news is slower, while Fridays are not as good for traffic. So there may be higher chances of getting covered on that day. With a recent story about Buffer on Mashable, I took advantage of this. I followed up on a story that I had pitched in the week before. Since it was extremely busy, I wouldn’t get a response, but an immediate response would be given to a quick follow-up email on Friday.

Play around with timing and the approach through Social Media, in either way, focus on getting your pitch out before noon.

5) Written and published a story about your startup now what?

Yes, yes, yes, yes! You finally managed to write down your story. It was picked up by a great tech blog and wrote about your latest feature. Especially if it’s your first time and you’re just slightly like me, you’re jumping around in your room, opening that champagne bottle.

Now is the time to show up, roll up your sleeves and get the most out of your success. It’s something many people forget, yet the results of the following seven steps can be immense:

 

One big point here, don’t try to defend yourself if you get hammered in the comments. Instead, be appreciative, say thanks and look into the problems. Make yourself vulnerable, it’s incredible how it works to build a raving fans community. I’ve seen this go bad with other startups a couple of times and it just ends in a pointless, thoughtless argument.

So why are you doing all this, really? The answer is very simple: To get more press in the future. Remember, this is not a one-off event, many, many, many times you want to be featured.

If you go that extra mile, showing how grateful you are, appreciating the work of the writer, you’re likely to be remembered and make it much easier when you want a story written up next time.

We did just that for our first Mashable story. See the example below:

When I sent a follow up email that day, I received a reply mentioning how great it was that we were in the comments and how well the story sat with their readers, and that I should please keep them posted on any new features we release.

You’re betting I did!

6) You can pitch four completely different story types

The goal when getting covered by the press, as I have briefly touched on above is to get covered again and again and again. To achieve this, you need to put up your sleeves with a few different types of pitches.

Here is a list of 4 very distinct ideas that you can use for pitches along with some examples that have been written for each.

Your product has been a big disaster to help pitch

This is very powerful and hard to detect as well. It requires a little creativity from your end and again, a writer’s mindset. If you are not now persuaded to have a blog, go back to Chapter 1 and check it out again.

Let me give you two examples:

When CoTweet, a popular social media tool recently shut down its free version, I thought this would have to annoy a lot of people. So, I realized, they’re definitely going to look for a substitute.

I reached out to Mashable and suggested them a story to them on this, titled CoTweet Gone: Here Are 7 Great Alternatives. I didn’t even have to ask if Buffer could be included.

When Twitter scooped up and announced that Summify, the popular news aggregation tool, would close its services, News.me did exactly the same thing. They reached out to news sites and said Summify is a great substitute. There have been many posts written about them.

Again, the key for me was to always think about how you can provide value for readers, not how you can get your startup covered. If you do that, you’ll have plenty of new opportunities to get your startup features written up.

Amazing data – pitch

Love, love, love data news sites. Especially if it’s related to the largest social networking sites in some way. Why are they so fond of data? Because it spreads on social media like wildfire and is a very interesting reader insight.

Let me give you an example of how we got over 5 stories written up about one data set we collected:

We looked at 1 million tweets sent and realized by Buffer, we add a lot of value to users. Basically, we could show that if you start using Buffer, you’ll get 200% more tweet clicks, double the number of retweets and a 3.5-point increase in your Klout score.

This was absolute gold and the news sites loved it. How can no site write about a tool that increases 200% of clicks on your links? Even in future write-ups, when the study was no longer the focus, we could use that data on many occasions.

Find out what might be an invaluable insight for readers to find out from your users. It will open up many great opportunities to write about sites again.

Brand new user-friendly features – pitch

This is used these days by the most well-known pitch startups. You’ve added a new feature to your product and think it’s worth covering.

With new features pitches, the point I want to focus on is to keep it to only 1 feature. I have made the mistake plenty of times in the past, that I would send a pitch saying: We have added this feature and this feature and also this and this and that.

You will find that if you remember the email pitch in chapter 3, I focused only on one aspect. One thing alone, nothing else. And it was, in fact, a small thing. However, I could give a very compelling pitch by working out exactly how it will be helpful for readers.

Try and do the same, just pitch your product with one iteration or addition. Not ten. It will make it much clearer and easier to understand your pitch. Writers have a very short span of attention, and if they need to figure out how to add in a story all your different new iterations, they’ll be much more likely to just move on to the next pitch in their inbox.

And as you add different features, it will also give you the opportunity to pitch lots of different stories.

Hit big landmark – pitch

Milestones pitch is the last type of pitch that worked well for us. This is great, not just for signups, but for branding as well. People will see that you’re still around, that you’ve grown, that you’re worth a good first or second look.

I learned that this is also great for news sites because they have a unique insight into the background of your startups, which no one else has access to, such as a feature.

In our case, we had an early story once 1,000 000 Tweets were sent out using Buffer. The key here is to choose a large number. Often, signups are not going to be the one. It can be any number that shows your app’s great use and makes readers curious to check you out and curious writers to cover you.

It is particularly up to you to show why the figure mentioned is relevant with this type of pitch. For example, Klout made a big deal because with their algorithm they had 100 million users scored. It didn’t mean they had 100 million users, but sure enough, but it helped them trigger around their milestone a huge amount of press.

7) How to make your habit covered, not an accident

Whoa, we’ve been going a long way. I tried to go into every detail I could think of to help you write down your startup. And yet, I have one final point, which I think may be as important as any one mentioned here.

You don’t want to feature your startup once, twice or three times. You want it to appear in a cycle in the news. You ought to pop up again every 2 to 3 weeks. You name it with a cool new feature, some interesting data, a great new milestone.

If you make this your goal, all you do will be much more long-term focused. And I learned, for things that wouldn’t make sense as a one-off, I’ll be able to motivate myself much better.

Building relationships is easier. It’s easier to write your blog. It’s much easier to focus on being grateful once you get a story.

You should set up everything mentioned in this guide to make it easy to get into this cycle of constant coverage and mentions of news. Of course, your startup’s development needs to follow that path clearly.

Because you’ve launched a real MVP in Lean Startup fashion and are iterating like a madman, you shouldn’t run into any trouble getting two to three weeks into a new story.

Work with your team if you do, and push yourself more frequently to release more stuff.

Work on different stories as mentioned in the previous chapter, and set yourself a schedule for reaching out for write-ups. If at the beginning 2-3 weeks are too tight, make it once a month, but have it on your list as a consistent and recurring point.

Are you willing to rumble? Get out there and cover this startup. I have no doubt that by following the steps of this guide you will manage to do so.

If you still have any questions, just let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email leo@bufferapp.com.

What are you thinking? How did your efforts in the PR go? Would you like to brag about any big hits? If so, please share and teach us a few things in the comments.