Media coverage for startups: Dispelling three common misconceptions

By Bryce Maddock , written on October 10, 2013

From The News Desk

Recently I fielded a question from a reporter that every startup CEO should fear: “Why hasn’t your company been written about before?”

I was stumped. Hell, I had often wondered the same thing. We have serviced more than 100 companies, providing teams of outsourced workers that are based in the Philippines and perform everything from customer service to data entry to photo retouching, and much more. In essence, we help businesses scale cheaply and efficiently.

Then again, we’ve never raised venture capital, which would have been good for major hits in a tech press obsessed with tracking startup money, and our customers – some of them household names – aren’t exactly enthusiastic about trumpeting their use of foreign workers. In addition, I lack professional PR experience and have been reluctant to hire a high-priced PR firm. Add all this together and you can see why we have gotten virtually no media coverage.

That changed, though, with a recent story in PandoDaily. Suddenly we weren’t so anonymous anymore. More to the point, the experience disproved three common misconceptions I had about the press.

Misconception: Most startups aren’t newsworthy

Reality: All it takes is one

Every parent thinks their baby is adorable, and every founder is convinced his or her company will change the world. As my Facebook feed becomes clogged with an infinite number of baby pics, I can confidently say that not all babies are cute. Similarly, not every journalist will find your startup newsworthy; however, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Journalists are inundated with thousands of pitches a day, because every founder believes their company is front page material. You might pitch a thousand journalists who are completely disinterested, but your startup is newsworthy to someone. All you need is one.

Misconception: Your personal story needs to be cool

Reality: The real story is your customers, not you

The Sean Parkers, Jack Dorseys, and David Karps of the world brought tech to the forefront of popular culture. These tech celebrity stories are few and far between, and the majority of founders’ stories pale in comparison to the rising of a Mark Zuckerberg.

Take our story for example: I built this company with my best friend from high school, from our parents’ garages, with funding we made opening Hollywood nightclubs to underage kids. As two of the youngest founders to land on the Inc. 500, we thought our story was definitely worth telling.

After speaking with several journalists, we learned what actually interested them was our customers. The image of 500 people sitting in a two-story office in the suburbs of Manila, Philippines, powering the daily operations of companies like Expensify, HotelTonight, and HauteLook [Disclosure: these are real TaskUs clients] is what captured PandoDaily’s interest and inspired the story. We shifted the attention from us to our customers. As a business you need to find a focus that will appeal to a journalist, not pitch the story you want written about yourself – and there’s a big difference.

Misconception: Without press, your business will never be successful

Reality: Press isn’t everything, but it sure can help

Many businesses, especially B2B companies, have risen from obscurity and become successful without making press coverage a priority. Word of mouth can be powerful and fuel a business initially, but can’t compare to the impact of a good news piece. The power of the press is undeniable; when our feature hit the PandoDaily homepage, our site’s traffic spiked over 1,000 percent.

But the true impact of a press mention or feature cannot be measured entirely by Web traffic. Shortly after our feature went live, my business partner went to Summit Series and was surprised by how frequently his spiel was cut short by, “Actually, I just read about your business.”

Today, instead of being asked why we haven’t been covered by a major publication, people now ask us how we can help their business, and this is only because they read about us in PandoDaily.

It’s also true that a news story can boost sales and bring thousands of new visitors to your site within minutes, but it wears off. I’d always assumed that getting a big press hit would trigger a barrage of interview requests, resulting in continued coverage and the accompanying boost in metrics. Nope.

In the end, I guess, the best revenge is living well. As long as we continue to build a strong business, I figure the press coverage will come. That’s a lesson all startups should take to heart.

Because media coverage won’t build your company. You have to do it. If you do, then the press will come. Not the other way around.

[Image via Thinkstock]