Public Relations for Startups
Dealing with the Press
When dealing with the press, it is important to realize that the outcome will not necessarily be like you think it should be. Rather than controlling the press, it is better to think in terms of managing it. The following covers some basics and serves as a primer on managing the press.
Know With Whom You Are Dealing
If you are contacted by a reporter, the reporter should identify herself and the organization that she is representing. Be sure to have a clear understanding of which media you are dealing with, i.e. a trade publication, newspaper, or television. Provide responses that the reporter will understand. For example, a Wall Street Journal reporter probably will have a better understanding of business issues than will a smaller town newspaper reporter, so be sure to tailor your responses accordingly. Also consider who will be the ultimate audience.
Building the Relationship
Your relationship with reporters is very important and is the basis of your interaction with the media. These relationships take time to develop, and this time should be viewed as a long-term investment.
If you are heading a start-up company that has not established a relationship with the local press, read the local publications and get the names of the reporters who cover your specific topic. Check out the online version of the publication and search for articles by those reporters. It would be good to discern whether the reporter is skeptical about the type of company you are running, for example, if the last start-up he covered went bankrupt. Note any articles that are particularly interesting to you and contact the appropriate reporter and offer to buy a cup of coffee so that you can introduce yourself, mentioning that you enjoyed the article that you found so interesting. Often your offer will be accepted; because journalists constantly are looking for news, they are more approachable than many people think. Don’t expect an article to result; rather, the purpose of the meeting is to start building the relationship for when there may be some news.
To avoid appearing as though you only are seeking free publicity, consider “trend” stories. Reporters like trend stories and you increase your chance of coverage if your company can be used as an example to illustrate a trend. If your company is doing something in response to other news, it could make a great article. Even if your company is not the main topic, it nonetheless can be valuable to be mentioned in the story.
Declining to Comment
In some cases, you may not want any press coverage. In the interest of a good relationship, keep in mind that reporters expect you to answer their calls and do not like to be ignored. If for some reason you do not want to be interviewed, you should be aware that refusing to talk to them may result in a report that you refused their calls.
Taking the call but providing no comments may result in a report that you “declined to comment.” Think about whether declining to comment will be perceived negatively by the public in the particular situation. Keep in mind that by talking, you have the opportunity to better define the issue. If you decline to comment and somebody else comments instead, you are letting someone else define the issue. If you must decline and you have a good relationship with the reporter, you may consider informing him or her that you can’t talk about it now, but suggest getting together in a few weeks and you’ll tell all about it. In any case, the reporter still has the right to say that you declined to comment.