UPDATE (16th May 2014): Now includes response from Mike Butcher, Editor @ TechCrunch, after reading this post
We were lucky enough to have our public launch of Trak.io covered by The Next Web and Venture Beat. This brought a huge spike in traffic, credibility, newsletter subscribers, investor calls and most importantly: new signups!
This success wasn’t the result of a “shotgun strategy” of spamming hundreds of journalists! Instead I had a laser targeted approach, crafting a Press Release (yes, they aren’t dead) and working on getting covered by 3 big publications (of which I achieved 2 out of 3 – I’ll come to that later).
I wanted to get some of the “big guys” to cover us first, and then move onto smaller publications with that credibility in hand The whole process was far from perfect, and I learned a lot. I wanted to share as much as possible about the launch, including the exact press release, so that it might be useful for other early stage startups who are looking to get their launch covered by a major tech publication.
In this post, I’m sharing:
- The exact Press Release I wrote and shared with journalists and the process I used to write it
- The data to show how much impact an article in TNW and VB can have for your startup
- The conversations I had with journalists
- How we fucked up TechCrunch, and what Mike Butcher emailed me after reading this post
- The mistakes I made during this PR launch and what I’d do differently next time
What We Wanted To Get From Our PR Launch
When we decided to go for a big PR launch, we were very clear about what we wanted to achieve:
- Visibility to investors (upcoming Seed round)
- Articulating our target customer pivot (more later)
- A big boost in Free trial signups
- Officially mark the end of our Free Beta period
We were clear with these goals straight away because we wanted to measure our success in more useful terms than pageviews. I mean sure, a spike in Google Analytics makes everyone feel good, but there isn’t much we can do with that other than pat ourselves on the back and crack open a beer.
With those goals in mind, I decided to start planning our Press Release and thinking about the strategy. I knew we needed a strategy as I had no prior relationships or experience with any major startup blogs. I’ve exited companies before, but they were regional successes, not international. I knew this would take more than an email to a buddy and a coffee at my favourite East London coffee shop.
At first, my roadmap looked like this:
- Write the Press Release on a Monday
- Send it to an excel spreadsheet of journalists on Tuesday
- Handle all the inbound questions and interviews on Wednesday
- Tweet out all the articles and coverage on Thursday
- Drink beer and celebrate with Matt & Tobie on Friday
Of course, this was total bullshit and I realised this was going to take a bit of hard grind!
1. How We Wrote Our Release
Here’s the link to our exact Press Release – nothing has been changed since this was sent out to Journalists in early April:
This press release needed to serve 1 simple function: To make life easier for a journalist!
This release had no other purpose than that. If a journalist wanted to cover us, we wanted everything to be readily available.
- Compelling reason why this is news worthy (i.e. creating an interesting story)
- Compelling reason that Trak.io is a credible company with a unique opportunity in the market
- Quotes from the founders
- Quotes from paying customers (ideally credible names)
- Quotes from our investors
- Screenshots of the product to use in the article
- Company logo
- Contact information of founders
Getting this together was more than a days work, as I originally planned!
Creating A Compelling Story
I wrote the first draft of the headline, our USP, and a quote from myself and Matt in about an hour. I then asked my group of awesome founder friends (we have an informal Skype room) if anyone was free to offer feedback on the messaging. I also pinged it to an associate at Kima Ventures, Vincent Jacobs, to ask his input both on the messaging and to grab a quote from Jérémie Berrebi (Co-founder at Kima).
And then I waited. And waited. Because guess what? Awesome people are fucking busy!!
Over the next week, I had around 20 rounds of feedback with different people on the headline and messaging. We halved the amount of copy, made everything tighter and more positive, and generally made the introduction exciting!
Usually, an expert copywriter will be able to create a single piece of text like this on their own in an hour or so. But a document this important, that needs to grab the attention of a small group of people in a very short (<2 minute) space of time needs to be amazing.
Lesson: Crowdsource your messaging from a group of awesome people. No one person’s opinion should be considered the ‘correct way’, so getting many layers of advice and feedback will help to create the perfect message.
Getting Quotes From Customers
As with crowdsourcing the messaging, getting quotes from customers took a long time. We had companies of all sizes using the platform during the Beta, but for maximum impact on the press release we knew we wanted to go for the biggest names.
Even if the quotes weren’t used, they would play a huge part in making our company look credible and like somebody worth covering.
The problem is: CEO’s and CMO’s at big and successful companies are extremely busy! We’re just one vendor tool in a whole stack of tools! As much as I like to think I’ve built great relationships with our Beta users, my email still lands into an inbox with maybe another 50 that day.
Eventually after patiently waiting (they were doing me a huge favour after all – this is no time to be a nuisance and pester people) we had a bunch of amazing quotes from some of the biggest names in the Beta.
We also included information about number of paying users to add to the credibility.
Lesson: Quotes from credible customers/users might not get used in the article, but it helps the journalist to instantly get a feel for your company’s credibility and typical customer.
2. How I Got In Touch With Journalists
Once we had a solid release, and the product was definitely going to be ready in time, I started to reach out.
To make this work, I decided:
- Craft a totally personal and unique email to each person. No copy & paste crap
- Get introduced through a mutual contact where possible
- Use twitter for a multi-channel contact
The Next Web
Probably my favourite tech blog, even though they aren’t the biggest and wouldn’t be able to give us the most attention. However, I love that these guys are independent and that the founder, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, is a totally eccentric character! (Europeans do eccentric well).
I managed to find an old TNW email in my inbox that was from Boris (announcing a new Pro feature) and used that to craft a brief but polite email, asking if he would be interested in looking at our story. I also talked about the TNW conference (which we’d decided we couldn’t afford, but hey ho)
…. and then no reply. But that’s ok. He’s a very busy guy and doesn’t actually know me. But I’d decided to offer exclusive coverage (if they wanted it) from the point of this email going out, so I needed a yes or no before I sent more emails out.
And then 5 minutes later, a response! And a promise that it had been forwarded to the Editor for consideration!
I then went on to talk to the editor, who was very polite but reminded us that the journalist he sends this to might not be interested. However, we had a great conversation and I helped out the journalist in question with a few more details, and the next day we woke up to find that Ben Woods had written an awesome story about our launch!
Lesson: Craft a direct and personal message, but be prepared for the reality that you are almost guaranteed to not be the most important story this day. Journalists and editors are very, very busy and your app is just one of 50 launching that day – and they all have funding from a big name investor too! Don’t be afraid to ask for a yes or no confirmation, especially if you’re offering exclusivity.
I’d offered TNW an exclusive period, and I honoured that. So on 7th April, I reached out to Venture Beat.
Venture Beat mostly cover funding rounds, so I tweaked our message slightly to hint that we’re trying to raise a Seed round and exposure to their investor base would be a boost. The crap part? I’d being ignored by 3 direct journalist emails that I’d sent out… so I resorted to emailing the generic “tips” email address:
And almost immediately after this email, an article went live!
For a while I was annoyed that this kind of went against all the advice I’d been told and tried to follow: go direct, get an intro, build a relationship.
But then I thought this way: I was still emailing those VB journalists with a cold email. I’d not got an intro. I’d not built a relationship. So my best bet was to send to a shared inbox, probably monitored by a team of people.
Interestingly, I’d tried to spice the subject line up a bit (thinking perhaps this was the reason why my last emails were ignored) however the final article just focused on the funding, but did however go into detail about the market place with competitors and similar companies who I’d not even put into our press release.
Lesson: when all else fails, and you have no other options for a personal introduction, go to the tips desk. You have nothing to lose at this point, and it can still work out and get covered!
While not done via our Press Release, I did also get submitted to Product Hunt (totally awesome product community by Ryan Hoover) on the day of our TNW article, and we finished top (beating Digital Ocean!).
But I want to save that for another article, as Product Hunt is a totally new generation of distribution and not really traditional tech coverage.
I’ve discussed these a little out of order, as we actually reached out to Techcrunch first through a very powerful introduction. But we absolutely failed…
UPDATE: Below is my original reason why I thought we fucked up techCrunch, but Mike Butcher was awesome enough to email me after this post went live and tell me EXACTLY where we fucked up
3. When Techcrunch Ignored Me, Repeatedly
The cofounder of Kima Ventures, Jérémie Berrebi, is probably the most connected guy in tech in Europe. To be honest, he’s one of the main reasons we took the $150k angel funding from Kima.
He had offered to do an intro to Mike Butcher, of Techcrunch Europe, as soon as we were ready.
We couldn’t believe our luck. Guaranteed TC coverage, 10,000+ startups flooding to our site in one day.
But it totally failed. And Mike ignored us (and Jérémie apologised). But Mike had ignored us not because he was a douche, or because he didn’t care for Jérémie’s introduction. He ignored us because he had more important shit to do that day with Royalty, he was about to launch the Europas, and he had no idea who we were!
We had arrogantly assumed that one introduction would do all the work for us. I’d only thought about myself and Trak.io. I’d not looked up above the canopy to see what else might be happening, and if we could have delayed the launch by a week to get the most from the intro. I’d not even considered trying to bump into Mike at an event, or to try and get some office-hours with him via our Techhub Campus membership.
So the Mike Butcher introduction fell on it’s arse.
But before we moved onto TNW, we did try their tips desk. Nothing. Nada. Not even a reply of “No”.
Consolation Prize: The Venture Beat article was syndicated by CrunchBase, and we made the cut for the daily CrunchBase email! However, we didn’t see any significant direct traffic from it.
UPDATE: Email From Mike
To summarise Mikes points:
- I definitely should have allowed more time. Trying to move within 1-2 days just wasn’t enough, and it would have meant that other writers could have taken a look to see if it fitted with them
- I could have tried the story at a new angle to offer TC an exclusive
- Being at the event on the day was NOT the reason Mike couldn’t cover us (as I thought). The reason was that I didn’t do it soon enough
- Mike thinks this post is very good!
Kudos to Mike for emailing over advice after seeing this post and taking the time to try and help me with future TC outreach.
Lesson: Bigger outlets like TechCrunch need time, patience, and ideally a prior relationship. Try to work a story to offer them an exclusive, even if it means looking for a different angle. Reach out as early as possible, and try to build a relationship with a few of the writers before you suddenly need something from them!
4. The Data From The Coverage
So 2 huge tech blogs. Here’s what happened:
- 687 social shares (mostly twitter, and all in a 24 hour period)
- 3,700 unique visitors to the Trak.io homepage
- 5.9% conversion rate to free trial users
- 8 email reach outs from interested investors & VC’s
- 3 skype calls with investors
Not exactly a life changing impact, however:
- There was also a noticeable shift in the type of companies signing up. Even though we don’t ask for a credit card until the 30 day trial is over, we had a handful of these free trial signups just enter a credit card straight away
- We began the process of pivoting our target customer from Developers to Marketers & Product teams. The article was a huge announcement about our new direction as a company, and it meant the inbound attention was exactly our new target customer
To be honest, the investor interest was exactly what we were hoping for, and we opened a lot of relationships that are now proving really useful as we’re out for a seed round. We were in the fortunate position of having a large angel round and revenue, which means we don’t need to rush while looking for a seed investor.
However, the inbound traffic and signups was a lot less than I expected. I think this would have been a different story if it had been Techcrunch in the mix as well.
Lesson: PR is not going to be the answer to your marketing. It’s a nice spike, but not enough to change your company. However, the brand and credibility impacts will have a noticeable effect if you’re fund raising.
5. The Mistakes I Made That You Shouldn’t Repeat
I made a ton of mistakes with this launch, and I missed a lot of opportunities. Opportunities that wont come around again until we have something that’s newsworthy.
1. I Didn’t Build Relationships With Enough Tech Journalists Before Our Launch
The example of getting nothing back at all form Techcrunch was a perfect demonstration of why you need to build relationships before hand. I’d already had a few twitter interactions with Boris from TNW, and I hope that played a part in why he chose to forward our story to his editor.
I know there are multiple opportunities I could have taken around London to meet more journalists, including Techcrunch journalists, but I never thought about doing it until it was too later, and I was already expecting a favour from them.
2. I Didn’t Get Around To The Smaller Blogs (Longtail)
The problem with getting a spike in signups that’s way above your normal daily rate, is that it totally throws your customer support out of whack. I was so busy dealing with the first influx of coverage that I totally forget the second half of my strategy involved capturing the longtail of the tech blogs.
And by the time I was free, the story was old. D’oh!
3. I Didn’t Get Enough Outside Help (A Temp Consultant or Two)
Don’t get me wrong, the CEO’s job at a really early stage startup is basically “everything”. Thats cool, it’s why I love what I do.
But I can’t help but think I should have brought in a temp consultant to help with some of the reach-out. Not sure if a PR agency would have been the right choice at this scale, but certainly someone who could write personal outreach to the 100+ longtail of tech blogs would have been a positive ROI, both in terms of coverage and SEO.
Also, I think we should have had a provision in place to handle support. During the launch, I was trying to schedule calls and podcasts while at the same time dealing with a sudden influx of support tickets and pre-sale support. Every ticket that I couldn’t deal with inside the first hour was basically a lot customer.
And don’t assume that your technical cofounders will be able to step in – Matt was totally swamped in a correlated influx of bug reports as we simply had tons of people poking and prodding at every corner of the app!
4. I Didn’t Prepare Enough One-to-Many Support Options
Up until the launch, I’d prided myself on dealing with every support ticket myself, and making an effort to always go above and beyond. Writing integration code for people instead of just sending them to our docs, having a Skype call instead of pointing them to a blog post, doing a screenshare to fix their problem rather than pointing them at the StackOverflow thread with the answer…. It’s awesome for building relationships, but it doesn’t scale.
I should have had a bunch of screencasts for our most common support questions already in place. I should have established a much better Help Center site ahead of time. I should have scheduled 2 pre-sale Webinar demo’s and pointed users towards those.
Basically, I underestimated that with a huge increase in interest comes a huge interest in support!
In Conclusion: What I Learned From Getting TNW & VB Coverage, and Getting Ignored By Techcrunch
Probably the best lesson I took away from this was that PR is a very temporary win. Taking aside all the vanity, the cold hard benefits were not much better than a really amazing blog post could provide.
Sure, we gained exposure and credibility with investors, but from then until now, the thing that has spoken much louder than anything else with those investors (and others we’ve spoken to since) has been our traction and what our current users think of the product.
(In fact we’ve even gone as far as to move the Media coverage slide right to the back of our pitch deck…)
Did I excitedly send the link to our articles to every startup buddy I have? Of course!
Am I under any illusions that Techcrunch coverage is the answer to building a successful B2B SaaS company? Hell No!
How did the PR launch for your startup work out? Do you have any extra tips to share, or disagree with anything I’ve said? Please leave a comment below!