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Building a brand from scratch is never easy. But, there are missteps that can definitely make your path more difficult. It’s hard enough standing out as a startup. But if you make these mistakes — from my perspective -— you are sabotaging your brand on day one.
Let me start with a conversation I often hear with startups: Are we making a mistake by giving an interview to this smaller media outlet? Shouldn’t we wait for a bigger media outlet to give this exclusive interview to?
On the surface, it sounds rational. If something is scarce, it’s historically more in-demand. But that doesn’t apply to branding, especially in the early startup stages. And unless you’re Jeff Bezos or Marc Lore, you shouldn’t be offering up exclusives as a startup. Your job as a new company is to get your brand everywhere in the least amount of time.
In February, we launched a media campaign for a digital health startup. Their CEO is fairly experienced and successfully sold his previous company for over $1 billion. That’s great from a PR perspective. He has credibility as an entrepreneur, making our job easier.
And we got interest in his story out of the gate. Writers and editors with Benefits Pro, HR.com, Forbes, StrictlyVC, Biz Journals, Stat News, Pharmacy Times, Pharma Shots, Popular Science, Fierce Healthcare and ZDNet all expressed interest or asked to speak with the founder. Yet this CEO turned down the majority of these interviews because he thought the publications were too small. I won’t share our internal conversations, but this approach created self-imposed obstacles.
If you’re a startup, you should be accepting all media opportunities — big and small. You haven’t earned the right to be picky. Your story hasn’t been told as a startup and every media opportunity is a chance to scale your brand. These news stories also help your website with SEO.
How smaller publications help build your brand
Let me use StrictlyVC as an example. If you’re a startup trying to raise money from investors, or get on the radar of VCs, your targeted audience will be reading outlets like StrictlyVC. Sure, StrictlyVC has a smaller reach — less than 50 thousand readers/month, compared to VentureBeat, which reaches roughly two million visitors/month. But I guarantee you, writers and editors are reading stories published by their competitors. It’s a part of their job to know what the competition is writing. And by speaking with smaller publications, like StrictlyVC, you are effectively pitching the larger outlets, like Venturebeat, at the same time.
A common excuse I hear for rejecting interviews is the CEO is too busy. If the CEO is busy, find a new person within the company to speak with the reporter. That’s called delegating.
Again, sticking with a real-life example to demonstrate the why. In the case of this digital health startup, the editor of Pharmacy Times was intrigued with the storyline we pushed and asked to speak with the CEO. We coordinated the interview, but unfortunately, the CEO missed the interview. A few days later, he said he didn’t want to do the interview because he thought the publication was too small after looking at their website.
Don’t judge a media outlet solely on its website design
MSN, Yahoo and others frequently pick up stories from smaller news outlets and publish them on their home page. And I’m not talking about stories in Google News or Yahoo News. I’m describing stories where Yahoo News places its logo on the story and syndicates it to consumers who have a specific interest in this topic. Think Yahoo Lifestyle or MSN Money. If you look there today, you will see many stories from smaller publications featured prominently.
This syndication approach also applies to TV. If your publicist secures a segment booked on a TV station in St. Louis, don’t assume that is a waste of time. Local features are placed on the affiliate feeds all the time and shared with the rest of the country. As a line producer in Phoenix, I turned to ABC NewsOne to find promotable ideas. Sometimes the syndicated story was cut down to a 45-second voice over. But it doesn’t matter. This is additional exposure your brand needs at the start.
I might get some heat for saying this but you’re not as big as you think. I don’t want to sound disrespectful or condescending. I’ve just seen it. Brands aren’t built in a month. Media coverage, along with a brand, are built over time. And if that’s not enough reason, use these smaller outlets as an opportunity to perfect your messaging. The experience of speaking with more inexperienced writers at smaller publications will refine your storyline. These conversations will make you even more prepared for the day the larger publications want to interview you.