PR best practises for startups

Good PR can be a powerful tool. The right amount and type of buzz can help attract users / customers, employees, partners, open doors more easily in general, put you on the map for investors, acquirers, etc. It’s a great acquisition tool in many ways, but it’s always a poor retention tool.

In this post I wanted to share some of the best PR practises I’ve seen working with startups. Most of the points below cover how I’ve seen teams nail big announcements and really benefit from them. Of course PR is an ongoing job and doesn’t start or end with announcements. Make sure you’re a rolling thunder, not an explosion.

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Here it goes:

Don’t just do PR where your peers and investors are –  focus especially on where you can reach users / customers. Go broad, differentiate your message accordingly where you can

  • Getting a tech blog to write about you is important and has many benefits (early adopters, hiring, investors, etc) but it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of folks you should be reaching out to

  • Come up with a (very) long list of key publications, blogs, etc that cover all groups of people you want to reach. I usually see lists with up to 50-100 contacts of publications, journalists, bloggers, etc

  • Differentiate your message for each channel: e.g. funding can be a great excuse to actually get much more important messages across. Customers may care less about your funding and more about your next product steps. An Android blog will care more about how you are using Android OS specifics vs your Apple App Store rankings, etc

Access key journalists with social proof. Help them do their job & build relationships

  • Try and get warm intros through other entrepreneurs, your investors, etc

  • They’re busy folks, write *short* emails and get to the point. Send some materials, similar to an investor pitch deck, that allows them to get up the learning curve (but don’t expect they’ll read it)

  • Try and get a skype call etc to explain your story, or even better to meet key journalists when you can

  • Get them on beta / using your product, listen to and engage on their feedback

  • For the top 5-10: give them an angle, interview, a piece of information / quote, infographic etc that nobody else has – it has to be meaningful though

  • Send them your press release but offer in addition high quality visual assets, screenshots, a selection of additional quotes, etc

  • Don’t just be in contact with journalists, bloggers, etc when you need them. Stay in touch, update them when there are meaningful news, build a relationship

Go global

  • Why shouldn’t that huge Chinese blog that covers your space write about your product? It’s never been easier to get high quality translations of your key PR pieces and to get access to international press and blogs

  • Obvious languages beyond English are Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil), Mandarin, Russian, German, Japanese, Korean, Italian and French

  • Think about time zones; e.g. releasing news early a.m. Central European Time makes little sense. Most of our startups release news early US West Coast time and follow-up again when Japan is waking up

Engage & add fuel to the fire

  • Engage with people commenting on blogs, tweeting, posting on your FB page, etc

  • Create a list of folks ready to retweet, share on Facebook, post positive comments on blogs, leave good reviews, etc. These are employees, friends and family but also friendly startups in your community. Again think of time zones – most entrepreneurs have friends everywhere

  • Make its simple for them: have sample tweets they can copy and paste, have a common hashtag for all, etc

  • Try and get “key” influencers excited about your product, build a list of them – so people with large twitter and FB followings who you think may be willing to post something about your product; you’ll have to make sure it’s relevant to them. Invite them to beta, etc

  • There self-service newswires you can distribute press releases over, check and see if any of them make sense for you

Be a pro

  • Run-through a pre-launch checklist: embargo / timings clear to everyone, backend-team in the know & servers ready, app in all relevant app stores / geographies, landing pages up to scratch, no hick-ups in your viral loop, support team ready, etc

  • Have a Q&A for you and the team ready for key questions that will come up, make sure everyone is consistent

Measure and improve

  • Analyse where traffic came from and what quality that traffic had (i.e. conversion to active user, etc)

  • Decide whether a channel was just bad or you need to improve how you use it


This can all be done without hiring an agency. There good arguments for and against hiring a PR agency. It largely depends on your goals, budget, opportunity costs, team capabilities and of course finding a PR firm that really knows their stuff. If you do hire one, I find the best PR firms provide the following services beyond the obvious:

  • Be a tough sparring partner about your key messaging points, positioning, etc – this isn’t about just drafting press releases for you

  • Review all parts of your face to the market – from the “about” section on your webpage to the landing page of your product, etc – it all needs to tie in

  • Coach you on how to lead effective interviews

  • Help you manage the aftermath and provide really good reporting


What works for you?

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  • Jakob Carstens (@j4kob)

    Thanks Ciarán for sharing your thoughts.

    You write “Getting a tech blog to write about you is important and has many benefits (early adopters, hiring, investors, etc) but it’s probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of folks you should be reaching out to” – I think you underestimate the virality in this. For example see the launch of the Mailbox app, which was a well done marketing case: They got some news at TechCrunch and Engadget, and after this people who read the news checked out Mailbox, then some of them blogged about it and so on… Reach the core target group, the early adopters should be your goal. If you are cool and your product is something to talk about, the rest done will be done by itself.

    I would add the point that you should identify some core messages you want to tell and repeat them, to sharpe your identity and make clear whats your aim.

    • berlinvc

      Hi Jakob. Thanks – I am saying tech blogs are a must & powerful but it would be a mistake to not look beyond. Of course Mailbox’ early adopters are to be found in those tech blogs – so for them its a perfect match. But what if your building an online market place for loans? On the rest: yes, you need to be really crisp

  • Marguerite Imbert

    Ciaran- I very much appreciate your providing this thorough set of PR tips. In my work with startups across India, I find that PR and Communication are more than often the two weakest points. I’ve shared your article on our Facebook page @ Thanks for taking the time to consolidate your learnings! Much appreciated!

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