How often have you heard, “There is no such thing as bad publicity?”
The philosophy may have worked for Phineas T. Barnum, the circus owner to whom the quote is most often associated, and it still seems to for certain politicians and A-list celebrities.
But it rarely applies in business. In the increasingly crowded space where startups and early-stage companies fight to get noticed, bad publicity is, simply, bad. Boost your chances of getting good publicity by being prepared, understanding what media outlets need, and knowing the story you want to tell.
Develop talking points
Because life happens and you’ll get a media call when you least expect it and on your busiest day EVER, don’t go into it cold.
Find an hour or two in the next week to meet with top team members and craft six key talking points. Make sure they are conversational, with some sector-specific items and others appropriate for a more general audience.
Create a few different versions of each so you don’t sound like a robot. Aim to get three into each interview, and default to the list if the conversation strays or lags.
Using “we” rather than “I” keeps the focus on the company, what it does and why it matters.
Role-play and practice
Once you know the key points you want to make, have a team member play reporter and hold a mock interview. Record these sessions.
A good reporter will ask: “How are you paying for all this? Are your investors calling the shots? How will you spend your Series A raise? What is your end game? How do you expect to stand out in such a competitive space?”
Know your answers before getting that random call that rocks your day.
Listen to the recordings as a team. Hold another interview with a different team member firing off questions. Listen again. Polish your natural patterns of speech and eliminate ums, ers, likes, and general rambling. Practice working the conversation back to your agenda and make your talking points clear and compelling.
Reporters often close with, “Is there anything else I should know?” Instead, turn the table and ask, “Is there any other aspect of our company or product you’d like to discuss?”
Serve up the pieces
Journalists, bloggers, reporters—regardless of title, these are busy people, often tasked with producing a minimum number of stories or posts per day, plus writing wrap-up columns and contributing to larger efforts.
Make it easy for them to put together a good story.
How? Have a company “fact sheet” ready to share. Keep it updated. Collect names and contact information for a handful of happy customers who are willing to be interviewed. Avoid scrambling to line them up the same day you receive a media call; get your users/customers/clients on board before you need them.
The reporter may not ask for customer information so be prepared to offer: “Would you like to speak with a few customers?” Voices of real-life people (who have no financial interest in the company) add legitimacy and narrative interest. It makes the writer’s job of telling a story exponentially easier.
Provide images and ask whether they want web quality or high-resolution. If your company is built around an app, screenshots help tell the story. Product photos should have a white or transparent background—ideally make both available.
Yes, all this preparation takes time, but it pays off. Media representatives will see you as someone who understands their business as well as your own, and your company will be perceived as organized, transparent and professional.
You may have no more than 5 or 10 minutes on the phone with a reporter on a deadline. Using them wisely takes practice.