Why and how to build relationships with journalists?

Slush, the world’s leading startup event, is approaching. This means that Helsinki turns into the epicenter of entrepreneurship during the first week of December and journalists from all over the world are flying in to meet with investors and the founders of emerging startups to break the news on tech companies and product launches. But with thousands of startups looking to share their stories with the world, how do you make sure it’s the startup in your portfolio that gets picked up by the media?

Why and how to build relationships with journalists?

In September 2021, we hosted a webinar for VC investors about attracting media attention to their fund and portfolio startups together with San Fransisco Agency. The session sparked great discussion, and as we received plenty of questions around the topic, we decided to gather the answers to some of the most popular questions in this blog.

P.S. You can check the recording of the webinar here. But first, keep on reading to have your strategy set for your next, big announcement!

Why do PR and build relationships with journalists?

PR is one of the most effective ways to attract attention from a bigger audience and build your brand recognition. Your own channels will never reach as many pairs of eyes as a good story on a respected media will get. Especially attracting attention from international, global investors is much easier if they have spotted your fund or your portfolio companies in the media.

Public relations literally is relationship building. You need to establish a relationship with the journalist you’d like to work with. The chances of your story being a success is heavily reliant on the right journalists picking it up, so investing time and effort into building those relationships is key!

How do you start building those relationships then? Even when there are no upcoming announcements or stories to tell, engaging with journalists that cover the beat of the portfolio companies can benefit down the road when an announcement is pending. Commenting on their social media and articles (including DMs) will help build a relationship and common understanding – so that you approach at the right time, in the right way, and show real interest in the subjects they and their audience find important.

What kind of VC stories and news are interesting for the general public?

Focus on real stories about the entrepreneurs and societies they affect. What are the small, emotional stories of what is being enabled by the investments they are making? 

We have a tendency to talk about the funding round sizes so that operations and scaling can take place and we can “go global.” But why does it matter? Working with the entrepreneurs to dig out the inspirational vision of the company and concrete examples of the steps they have already taken to get there is critical.

VCs can also work on getting known in a specific industry or topic area by regularly sharing original stories and their own thoughts. Leading panels and speaking at events will often get a VC noticed by the press. So take on as many opportunities to speak publicly on impactful topics as possible.

How and through which channels should you reach out to journalist?

Try to identify your journalist’s preferred method of contact. Active journalists are usually on Twitter, where they might share their preferred method of contact – usually, it is email, but some do accept pitches through Signal, Twitter DMs, LinkedIn, or phone calls.

Most importantly, don’t bombard them through several channels simultaneously. Journalists are, however, always hungry for good stories but are extremely busy, so don’t forget to follow up! If ultimately you don’t hear from them and decide to move on to another person, it’s often good courtesy to let them know you’re contacting another journalist at the same media outlet to avoid “double pitching.”

If you invest in building the relationship with journalists, with time, you will most likely become the source the journalist reaches out to when they want to write a story and get insights on the topic you have positioned yourself to be a thought leader on.

How to go beyond a traditional press release? 

VIP pitching is the answer. At San Francisco, we regularly pitch to 10-30 researched and specific media for each release in a systematic way. Sending a tailored email or calling a journalist and sharing something that relates to their beat increases the chance for an interview and a wider story on the subject.

You can also sign up for services such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO) or Qwoted to get inbound requests from journalists for stories. It takes a bit of practice to incorporate them into your workflow of checking these opportunities, but they are a smooth path to getting your name out there.

How much money should one use for media relations?

We often get the question: “How do I calculate the ROI on PR?” Start by asking yourself: how much money would I be willing to spend to get the next big LP or GP on board? What about exit possibilities for my portfolio startups?

Time is money. At the San Francisco Agency, we usually spend 25 to 50 hours per client per month creating content and pitching to journalists, depending on the case. Also, a company needs to be ready to follow up with journalists and be available to fulfill last-minute journalist requests for an interview.

One press campaign takes ideally about six weeks:

  • 2 weeks for creating the content
  • 2 weeks for pitching to VIP journalists
  • 2 weeks of follow-ups and social media posts after the embargo is lifted

In short, PR is not cheap, but it pays off. If it’s at the core of your marketing strategy to use PR, it can be smart to hire a separate PR manager. Marketing and PR are completely different beasts, and both need more than one person can do reasonably. If you’re unable to hire someone to do it in-house, it’s always possible to reach out to PR agencies and have them handle all the hassle.

This is a guest blog written by Reetta Ilo, PR & Comms Manager at San Francisco Agency. San Francisco is one of Maria 01’s Service Provider Partners, providing our community members with consultation on everything from the first steps of writing a funding announcement, to how to pitch the news to journalists in order to maximize the company’s media visibility. Reetta herself is a top expert in investor relations and startup funding!

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