You’re in a startup. Your idea is solid. You’ve got products or services ready to go. You have a feeling that if people only knew what you were offering, they’d be all over your company.
Now, the only question is, how am I going to make this thing visible?
Your biggest problem now is exposure, and the solution is marketing. More specifically, your solution is media exposure, a cost-effective and universally practical shortcut to get more visibility for your startup, and fast.
Here’s your ultimate, step-by-step guide to getting media exposure for your startup.
Ready? Here we go!
+ Why Media Exposure Is Important
+ Phase 1. Build a Foundation
+ Phase 2. Collaborate with Journalists & Editors (Or Become the Journalist)
+ Phase 3. Create a Media Kit
+ Phase 4. Ongoing Relationship Management
+ Key Examples of Successful Media Coverage
+ Parting Thoughts
Throughout this guide, I’ll introduce you to the ins and outs of media exposure, why it’s important, how to get it, and most importantly, how to be effective with it. Along the way, we’ll be seeing examples from our good friend SMB Sam, and his small startup, Red Diamond Coffee.
As always, be sure to scope out our table of contents and skip ahead to the sections that are most relevant for you and your brand.
I should also note that most of the advice in this guide isn’t strictly limited to startups, though this is the intended audience. Almost any company, at any stage of development and in any industry, can gain from media exposure—just in different ways, with different keys to success.
First, I want to review what media exposure is, why it’s important, and what you can hope to get from it as an addition to your marketing strategy.
The idea behind media exposure is relatively simple. You’ll take some action, and as a result, your brand will be featured in some way on some media, resulting in increased visibility for your brand among that medium’s audience. If this sounds confusing, it’s probably because I’m using ambiguous language, but keep in mind that “media” can refer to many things, including news sites, magazines, online publications, and even TV. For most of the purposes of this guide, we’ll be looking at news sites and online publications.
It may be easiest to illustrate this with an example—take a look at Crain’s Cleveland, or any other news website. Immediately, you’ll see at least a few stories featuring brands in the headlines. You can bet that, positive or negative, these stories will have a positive effect on brand recognition and (probably) revenue for each brand.
(Image Source: Crain’s)
You can also see this on the evening news, where businesses may be the center of controversies, profiles, or may even be casual contributors to a conversation.
You can get media exposure in a number of different ways, such as doing great things and hoping to get noticed, wooing journalists for coverage, or simply making your own stories, all of which I’ll be exploring in this guide.
What does it matter if you’re featured in some news publication? How does that affect you?
Your media exposure strategy isn’t going to exist in a vacuum. It combines elements of other strategies you’re already pursuing, and both benefits and is benefited by your ongoing efforts in those areas. Take a look at how a media exposure campaign relates to the following marketing strategies:
(Image Source: Cleveland.com)
It isn’t especially shocking or noteworthy, but it’s generated 256 shares in less than 24 hours. National-level publishers often see share counts in the thousands. On another level, getting featured in major publications gives you a good reason to post on your own social media profiles, lending fuel and strength to your social campaign.
At this point, you should have a solid understanding of what “media exposure” is, how it benefits your brand, and how it’s going to affect your overall marketing campaign and direction. Now, let’s take a look at how you’ll actually build this strategy—from the ground up.
Before you go off trying to get media exposure for your company, you need to build a solid foundation—meaning you have to develop your brand and your online presence to a sufficient degree in order to support your media efforts.
Why? For starters, media outlets need a reason to feature you. If you don’t even have a website, or a fleshed-out brand, they’ll be unlikely to cover your story. Even if they did, where would all your newfound visitors and brand enthusiasts go? There would be no website or base of operations to which you could funnel them.
The strength of your foundation will dictate your ease of entry in the media world, and help you realize the benefits of your efforts.
First, you need to have a grasp of your brand story, which many media sources will use to judge the strength of your potential coverage. Journalists are incentivized to write stories that people want to read—so is your brand exciting? Is it relevant? Is it different?
These are the qualities that will let them know:
(Image Source: Nestle)
(Image Source: Wall Street Journal)
Once your brand “story” is developed, your next biggest concern should be where your readers are going to go once they’ve read about you in a media piece. Surely, you’ll receive some referral traffic, but how you handle that referral traffic can make or break its value. For most startups, this will be your main website, but you might also create specific landing pages as destinations (or target specific internal pages).
In any case, your design and copy need to be tight. They need to accurately portray your brand for an unfamiliar public, and appeal to them with new angles and extended descriptions. Remember that your media coverage will likely only skim the surface of who you are and what you do. You’ll also need to focus on your conversion strategy, which is going to help you turn these barely-familiar web visitors into leads or customers.
For this, you’ll either need to point your visitors in the direction of your products or services pages through use of your web design, or else present them with signup opportunities throughout the site. Run some AB tests to optimize your conversion efforts before you start seeking media coverage; otherwise, that traffic could go to waste.
It’s also worth noting that a dedicated website isn’t the only place you can funnel media traffic, especially as a new startup. For example, let’s say SMB Sam is working on a new type of beverage to bring his usual coffee drinkers, but he needs capital to be able to fund it. He creates a page on Kickstarter to attract donations. Clearly, there’s an incentive to get people to his website, but for the moment, what he really needs is more donors; this makes his crowdfunding campaign page a higher priority.
Crowdfunding pages aren’t the only alternative destinations you can consider. For example, you might also funnel people from your media outlets to your social media profiles, or an example of your work somewhere else.
Before you get involved in any media interactions, you should have a blog in place on your website, complete with many posts that show off your thought leadership and expertise. There are three main reasons for this:
Starting a blog demands a heavy upfront investment, as it’s not something you can gloss over, but it’s worth it if you want your media campaign to make a bigger impact. For help starting or feeding a blog, see the following resources:
You’ll also want to consider creating or utilizing a personal brand, rather than just a corporate brand, when trying to promote your business. Essentially, a personal brand works just like a corporate brand, except for you as an entrepreneur; you’ll create an identity standard for yourself, build recognition and popularity, then reap the benefits by using your personal brand to also promote your company.
There are a handful of advantages here for media relations. First, people tend to like stories about other people more than stories about brands or companies. As the leader of your startup, you’ll serve as a figurehead for your company, representing both the business and the personal side of things. You’ll have an easier time working with journalists, since you’ll be able to form a more personal connection, and you’ll seem less self-promotional since the corporate branding takes on a secondary role.
It’s also worth noting that any media exposure you get as a personal brand will last longer than your startup, extending beyond the context of any one business. If you plan on starting multiple businesses, this is crucial.
Take a look at how Elon Musk has developed his own personal brand—he has his own section on Popular Mechanics as well as Entrepreneur.com, and his name is recognized more than any of his individual companies.
(Image Source: Popular Mechanics)
You probably won’t achieve this level of fame, but your benefits will be similar.
For both your corporate brand and your personal brand, you’ll want to start building a bigger social media following. You can do this by promoting your on-site content, sharing the work of others, engaging in conversations relevant to your industry, and reaching out to individuals who might be interested in your work.
A bigger, more relevant social following will help you in the following ways:
Here’s a perfect example of how a strong social media campaign generated media exposure on its own:
(Image Source: ABC News)
For help growing your social media following, see 101 Ways to Get More Social Media Followers.
Early on, while you’re still building your foundation, it’s a good idea to strike up relationships with journalists you feel might be relevant to your brand. A major factor for success in the media exposure world is the strength and reach of your connections, so the sooner you initiate these connections, the better.
There are many places to look for journalists, some of which are more obvious than others. You can generally find their contact information on their respective publishers’ sites, but a better way to find them is to meet them through social networking sites or in-person networking events. You can even find them in journalist-specific meetups. They likely receive an overwhelming number of queries through their professional emails, so you’ll stand out more if you meet them in person.
You don’t have to do anything special when starting a connection. Simply introduce yourself, ask them about their position and about their work, and leave the door open for future interactions. If you really want to stick in their memory, help them out in some way or take them out for lunch or coffee in the near future.
In addition to hunting down some journalists, you’ll also want to create a kind of “watch list” for news sources and publishers who may wish to publish content related to your brand in the future. This will make things much easier when it comes time to shop around a potential story.
You don’t need anything fancy here; a simple spreadsheet will do. There are four things you’ll want to record, in addition to any special notes you might have.
(Image Source: Adam Sherk)
Finally, you’ll want to start tapping into the power of influencers, if you can. Influencer marketing is the process of engaging with noteworthy, high-authority individuals (usually strong personal brands or other thought leaders in your industry) to gain exposure or authority for your brand. The best way to do this is through ongoing relationships with key influencers, such as regular conversations, content collaborations, or other exchanges of value. The earlier you scout for and build these relationships, the more power you’ll be able to tap, especially later on.
Influencers will help your content and social media campaigns grow, multiplying the benefits of these foundational elements (which I’ve already covered above). They may also be able to help you find new journalists and new publishers, as they tend to be well-connected in their respective industries.
With all these aspects in place, your foundation will be more or less complete. From there, you’ll be able to start doing the work of attracting and creating media exposure opportunities.
Once you’ve got your foundation in place, you’re ready to start communicating with journalists and publishers.
Start by identifying which publishers to target. I covered seven essential quality metrics for evaluating publishers in my article at Search Engine Land. One of those, Google PageRank, has since been discontinued. Here are the other six:
You may already have an idea of which media outlets you want to get covered in. If not, Alexa.com has a fantastic list of publishers, listed in order of the amount of traffic they get, and you can break them down by category. If you don’t know where to start, start here!
There are many different types of news outlets, and many different ways you can approach your delivery of news content related to your company. These include writing and submitting your own press release, pitching a story, and collaborating with others for a joint project. I’ll be exploring each of these in turn.
Your first option is the easiest (and the most approachable for entrepreneurs unfamiliar with garnering media exposure). In this process, you’ll use a newsworthy event related to your company and distribute it to a host of potential news sources using a service like PRWeb, Cision, or just about any PR firm. Those sources may reject, edit, or publish your piece directly on their sites, giving you potential exposure across the web.
If this process seems easy, it’s because it is. Just don’t count on every publisher you encounter to run with your piece.
Collaborations and exclusives are different types of news stories, and they don’t rely on the manual submission of articles to be published. Oftentimes, this is the joint work of a journalist and a personal brand/entrepreneur/individual, so you’ll need either a pre-existing relationship with a journalist, or a strong enough reputation to earn these pieces on your own.
You’ll get varying degrees of exposure and reputation boosts depending on the type of collaboration you choose. These are just a few:
One fantastic way to do so is to sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which will put you on an email list that will send you opportunities that may be of interest to you. Basically, reporters who need sources for their stories can solicit them via HARO, and if you find a story for which you think you could be a good source, you can contact the journalist and offer your assistance. It’s free, and it’s a great way to connect with journalists who write about your industry.
(Image Source: HARO)
Press release submission demands that you create your own material. Collaborations require that you have either something important, valuable, or knowledgeable to say, or have a pre-existing reputation.
Pitching, on the other hand, mandates neither of these requirements; you don’t have to do the writing (unless you want to), you don’t have to have a newsworthy event in mind, and you don’t need to have a pre-existing reputation.
The idea here is to come up with a story that news readers would want to see. It could be an industry profile, a review of local businesses, or (depending on the source) something more niche along content marketing lines, like business strategies or economic tips. Then, contact a journalist and pitch your story. It could either be a story idea, or the full written story itself. If the journalist likes what you pitched, they’ll reply.
As always, the stronger your relationship with the journalist you’re pitching to, the better chances you’ll have of seeing your story written and/or published. And no matter who you’re pitching to, or what you’re pitching, there are a handful of strategies that will help you be successful:
***Self promotion alert!***
At AudienceBloom, our core business model is to help our clients get media exposure by building relationships with journalists, editors, and media publications so that we can pitch them stories that are beneficial for their audiences as well as our clients. When these stories are published, our clients get media exposure, mentions, and SEO benefits, while our media partners get awesome content for their audiences. If you think we could help you get media exposure, don’t hesitate to contact us!
My favorite way to get media coverage is simple in theory, but difficult in practice – become the journalist. You can do so by becoming a guest contributor, or even a regular columnist at your publication(s) of choice.
The general idea of guest blogging is to use your personal brand as a way to post your content on external publications, building exposure, reaching new audiences, earning links, and earning a more authoritative reputation in the process.
Guest blogging is how I became a contributor at dozens of online media publications, including Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Search Engine Land, and more. It’s a phenomenal tool for markers and shouldn’t be ignored.
However, it’s a subject that requires a guide of its own (trying to distill it into anything of value in this little section wouldn’t do it any justice), so you can read my guide on guest blogging here: The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.
Most of my tips in this section have been focused on online publishers, which are the most prominent, and generally the easiest to access. However, be aware that most of the strategies here—including pitching ideas and helping reporters with one-off contributions—can be applied to television and radio as well.
These mediums are more appropriate for some brands (such as retail and traditional industries) than others (like startups and tech companies).
Once you’ve started building a foundational reputation through media collaboration, and you’ve established a reputation for yourself online, you’ll start receiving press inquiries from journalists.
That’s when a media kit comes in handy. A media kit doesn’t have any formal requirements. Instead, it serves a simple purpose; giving potential journalists and publishers all the information and assets they need in order to represent your brand appropriately in their material.
Some brands have a .zip file of this information, while others simply consolidate it onto a single page of their website.
Your first job will be to introduce your media kit to prospective users. Again, you have a number of choices when it comes to presentation. In your early stages, a simple standalone page of your website will do fine; include it in your footer, and design it to show off the key elements of your brand in an engaging way. Eventually, media demand or your brand reputation may be such that it demands a more formal distribution system.
When making pitches or engaging in collaborations, it’s also useful to send your media kit along as an attachment or a referendum. In some cases, it may serve as a type of resume to show off your brand authority. The mere fact that you have a media kit shows that you’ve had exposure in the past, plan on exposure in the future, and are prepared enough to address these situations professionally. It sets a good tone for the future of your journalistic relationship.
Your media kit needs to tell your “brand story,” which I touched on a bit earlier. Here, you’ll need to present this information with a bit more formality, so it’s clear to the average user where you stand.
Journalists love to cite facts and figures, so the more objective data points you can include about your brand, the better. This also further incentivizes them to link back to your site, as they’ll need a citation for the statistical data meaning it can help your SEO campaign.
To give you some ideas for what types of data to post, here are some suggestions:
It wouldn’t be a media kit without media, right? But the media I’m referring to here is different from the “media” as it describes news sources and publications. This is the visual sense of the word “media,” referring to tangible elements that a publisher may use to enhance or supplement their coverage of your brand:
It’s also a good idea to include instructions and policies about how, exactly, people are allowed to use this information. You could hire a lawyer and draft up a formal agreement that digs into detail about how your assets and statistics are to be used, but this is generally more trouble than it’s worth.
For most brands, an informal, even conversational request is more than enough to make sure your information is used appropriately. Besides, all your brand assets are protected under general intellectual property laws, so you don’t need to worry about plagiarism or theft.
As a great example, check out MailChimp’s brand assets page. They take some time to show exactly how not to use their brand, clarifying some common misconceptions, then make a few simple statements about when you can and can’t use their information. It’s simple, to-the-point, easy to follow, and doesn’t demand that your external publishers get legal representation before giving you free media exposure.
There are some ongoing considerations you’ll need to bear in mind as your reputation grows, and you start striving for higher goals. Media relations aren’t something that can be initiated or executed as one-time events; they demand management and refinement over time.
You’ll need to manage your relationships with journalists, influencers, editors, and publishers on a regular basis. If you lose contact for too long, you could lose them from your network entirely; here’s how to keep your contacts happy and engaged:
You’ll also want to take advantage of any cross-promotional opportunities you can find. Usually, this involves supporting a press release or coverage article on an external publisher by using your own marketing campaigns.
For example, you might share a positive press piece on your personal brand’s social media channel, or email it out to your subscribers. Refer to my introductory section on media coverage’s “relationship to other marketing strategies” for more ideas.
Finally, don’t forget to take ownership of your latest publication opportunities by showcasing your affiliation with major publication brands. On your website, you should have a rotating list of publishers, or a collage of different logos of those publishers, to demonstrate social proof and make your reputation known.
Similarly, you’ll want to reference your partnerships and previous coverage in every new pitch or every new relationship you create; this will help you land even bigger and better opportunities in the future.
I want to close this guide with a list of examples of companies that have successfully leveraged media exposure for their brands. This has proven difficult, as there’s little transparency into the outreach strategies and journalistic relationships available to various companies, and there’s even less evidence of early-stage startups making their breakthrough via manually submitted press releases or content pitches.
Instead, I want to focus on some bigger companies, as a demonstration of just how much power a single news story can have on the public.
In 2013, Jeff Bezos, founder CEO of Amazon, purchased the Washington Post. The world hasn’t really stopped talking about it since. Even though much of the reaction has been negative, complaining of the newspaper leaving local control and expressing concerns that Bezos may strive to profit from the purchase, therefore biasing the publication, it’s gotten Amazon, the Washington Post, and Jeff Bezos himself a ton of exposure. In fact, the New York Times recently did a follow-up piece on this very subject.
(Image Source: The New York Times)
This is a fantastic example of how a personal brand can transcend a corporate brand, even a powerful one like Amazon, as Bezos is the center of these forms of media coverage, not any one company or organization. These major publications have also had a cascading effect, trickling down to smaller, less authoritative publishers as “newsjackers” and other publishers attempt to benefit from the story’s publicity.
Y Combinator is one of the most sought-after startup accelerators in the country. Why? Because of the sheer access it has to media publications. Everyone’s watching Y Combinator during Demo Day, when all of its startups present their ideas to potential investors (and a leering public).
TechCrunch and other niche tech publications go crazy for Demo Day, and it often ends up being a top viewed and top shared article for almost all of them.
(Image Source: TechCrunch)
This is a good example of how even being a marginal contributor, like being only one company in the hundred or so presenters of Demo Day, can give you a massive boost in popularity. Not all startups get access to relationships on the order of Y Combinator’s influence, but you can start small and work your way up to something analogous.
I mention Red Bull Stratos because it’s, quite frankly, one of the greatest publicity stunts of all time. It even has its own Wikipedia page.
(Image Source: Red Bull)
In the project, daredevil Felix Baumgartner flew almost 40 kilometers into the stratosphere, leaving Earth’s atmosphere, and diving a full 10 minutes back to ground—all while sporting Red Bull branding. Media coverage was rampant, including forecasting and announcements in the weeks leading up to the event, ample streaming and coverage during the event, and analysis of the impact of the event for weeks after.
Why is this such an interesting example of media exposure for startups? Because this was a contrived event. You may not have the budget or the reach to stage such a massive stunt, but something like SMB Sam’s St. Patrick’s day promotion is certainly within your reach.
Sometimes, the news we create for ourselves ends up being more interesting than “real” news—and you can use that to your brand’s advantage.
Finally, there was Lyft’s free “DeLorean” rides, offered in October of 2015, in celebration of the date Marty McFly goes to the future in the movie Back to the Future 2. Passengers in New York City were given the option of going into “McFly” mode. When in this mode, users had a chance of being picked up by a DeLorean for a free ride of up to 15 minutes.
(Image Source: Lyft)
This story was powerful because it held an inherent value to readers—awareness of a free ride—and it also differentiated the once-startup from its major tech competitor, Uber. This is also further evidence of the fact that created news stories can be powerful.
Media exposure manifests in so many different forms, it almost can’t be categorized in a coherent, singular way. Press releases and guest posts are very different strategies, but they can be leveraged together as part of the same path to greater brand exposure.
For a startup in the early stages of development, with few customers and not much to build on other than a central idea, the approachability, cost effectiveness, and scalability of media relations makes it one of the most effective marketing strategies you can pursue.
Its power is multiplied even further when you use it in conjunction with other powerful online marketing strategies, provided you’re following best practices throughout.
There’s no single list of takeaways I can leave you with here, other than to keep in mind that everything in brand exposure and external publications boils down to your relationships. The better you build and maintain relationships with your customers, journalists, editors, and even the general public, the better you’re going to fare.
Media exposure is very much connected in a self-perpetuating feedback loop, so the more visibility you earn, the easier it will be to obtain future visibility—but the only way to gain that initial visibility is by instilling trust in your earliest relationships. Maintain a brand and a strategy with integrity, remain passionate, and stay committed; the rest will come in time.