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Common media mistakes start-ups make, and how to avoid them!

Amber Daines | 3 June, 2022


Listen up entrepreneurs and start-ups! I need to tell you something – when you invest in Public Relations, it is a bit like a marathon, rather than a 100m sprint race. It takes time to build a brand and an authentic leadership voice in an increasingly competitive marketplace. And yes, it requires an investment of time, ideas, and actions. Make sure you make every dollar count.

Richard Branson, a global start-up legend and Founder of the Virgin empire once said that “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.”

And he’s 100% right.

But … and this is a big BUT …

The truth is this – no matter how good your product is, how innovative your technology, or how successful your ‘to market’ strategy is; no matter how big your profit margins are or how impressive your CEO is, the mainstream media really needs you to be “good media talent”.

Every business is special and has a lot to offer its audience … But I’m speaking from 25 years of experience here. Furthermore, if I’m really being honest, serendipity really can play a big part in whether you get three pages, two paragraphs, or any social media hits when it comes to PR.

Yes, there are some fundamental principles behind every PR campaign, and a lot of research too, but sometimes even the most considered strategy or solid news story can fall flat, simply because there are no ‘sure-fire’ PR guarantees.

Those who succeed are agile and don’t stop pursuing relationships with the right media. It just takes time, consistency, and creativity to get long-term traction when it comes to media engagement. PR is an essential element of any marketing campaign and that remains.

Most people running a start-up won’t have a massive budget for marketing, communications, and PR – that’s to be expected.

Here I’ve put together some top tips so you can avoid costly mistakes!

Above all – and this is critical – if you’re embarking on PR then be prepared.

Biggest tip: journalists are ALWAYS on deadline. So have headshots ready, or make sure that your spokesperson is camera-ready, or zoom-ready. Make sure you’ve got logos in different formats, that your website is up and running, and that you have an up-to-date company profile or an annual report. Also, make sure that your spokesperson is absolutely 100% crystal clear about your message, and media training is always important before you pitch to a journalist. You don’t always get a do-over… so make sure you have everything lined up at your end, ready to go.

It’s a good idea to have a media folder that you can add to over time so that whatever you’re asked for, it’s current, and at your fingertips.

Remember that when you’re embarking on a PR campaign, planning is vital. There will be key dates in the year (International Women’s Day, or End of Financial Year, for example) that you can organise well in advance but if you’re jumping on a story that’s current, then you need to be prepared to GO FOR IT.  Newsjacking works. The news waits for nobody!

Other things to consider:

  • Baby steps 
  • It’s all in the timing 
  • Make a commitment 
  • Accept rejection – and learn from it

Initially, it is always a good idea to start pitching yourself to media platforms and outlets that are a ‘logical’ fit – targeted media, like those servicing a slice of your target market, your industry publication, or local community paper. Not only are these sometimes ‘easier’ to get a story in, but importantly, they will give you a little taste of what to expect, including the types of questions that journalists will ask, or how different platforms want things packaged up and sent over to them. There is a lot of value to be gained from the process, particularly in how the final story or piece of content went out to the public domain.  Sometimes this can be different from your original expectations – not in a bad way – it’s all part of the learning curve, and when you take baby steps you build experience and confidence.In our experience, many start-ups either peak too soon or wait for the news to be over to even pitch their business story to journalists or bloggers. Being too early or too late to jump on an issue can be a fatal PR mistake that will leave you deflated, licking your wounds, and asking yourself why you even invested in public relations in the first place. A ‘day two’ angle can sometimes be a good way to jump into the action. What does that mean? It means adding to the original story in a different way. Just remember that whatever additional information or commentary you have needs to be fairly compelling to keep the story alive or take it in a new direction.Start-ups have their own special challenges. Having coached many enthusiastic, switched-on entrepreneurs, we know that you are busy folks with many competing demands. This is why hiring a specialist PR agency or freelancer can really help your business — because you’ll have a team or someone skilled in keeping an eye on the opportunities at all times, so you don’t have to. An agency should have well-established media relationships and can pitch you regularly with ease. A freelancer can build relationships with publications key to your PR strategy – either way, when you’re persistently reminding journalists and content creators that you’re available and have a story to tell.Nobody likes to hear ‘no’. Even worse is radio silence. Newsrooms are not for the faint-hearted, and in the current landscape, fewer reporters doing more work means less time for returning your calls or letting you know via email if you’re story is a winner for them. This is another great reason to hire a specialist – to seek feedback so you know what’s required next time, or to say thank you if the story gets a run. Regular contact keeps you front of mind – and, as above (see point 3) – it does pay off eventually.

Lastly, remember that famous Australian actor Shane Jacobsen wrote a great autobiography entitled: “The Long Road to Overnight Success.”

The title is also a pretty good mantra to remember for anyone wanting to succeed in PR.