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Building a startup requires every founder to tackle areas where they have no experience. However, unfamiliarity can make those challenges seem harder than they really are.

A particularly good example is PR and Comms around funding. This might be one of the earliest events that feels like a natural time to approach the press.

The good news is, it’s also really simple to do yourself and you should be able to get as good results as any tech PR agency.

The secret lies in focus and simplicity.

A note about uncertainty

Media relations is a fundamentally uncertain discipline, especially early on. You could get all the technical aspects 100% spot on, and even have a great story — but sometimes fail to cut through on the day because there’s another big announcement or event that sucks the oxygen out of the room.

In situations with uncertain outcomes like this, it’s natural for some people to try and sink more and more hard work into preparation to maximise their odds. Unfortunately, this misunderstands the nature of the beast, and only makes it more painful if the dice happen not to roll in your favour on the day.

The best way to approach media relations is with focus on simplicity, and spread of your bets over time. Send a shorter initial pitch to a smaller group of just the right people. Make it really nice and easy for them to tell you they aren’t interested. Find multiple opportunities to make your introduction and increase their understanding of your business over time.

Your long term goal is to make it a more reliable and resilient process by gradually building relationships with the people whose job it is to write about companies like yours.

Now, how does this apply to your Series A?

Perfect pitch

The first important step is to realistically grade the “quality” of your story. This involves dimensions like:

  • Investors — are they the top in your sector, with great portfolio, significant exits, ex-operators on the team, a platform? Or is it unknown/ pure finance, geographically obscure, 
  • Round value — Is this a big Series A? A confusing second seed round? A generally smaller “EU” Series A? Especially think about how you frame this with an eye on what you will be announcing next.
  • Evidence — can you highlight big new customers, partnerships, breakthroughs in scale, user numbers or similar to support why people should pay attention?

Let’s say your business just raised the biggest cybersecurity Series A in Europe from the top VC in that area to deliver a project for the MOD. 

This is a good story, because of how it relates to the strongest independent actors and context around you.

Now, the structure for a good pitch is extremely important. It looks like this:

HEADLINE
* FACT 1: Who cares?
* FACT 2: Exhibit A
* FACT 3: Exhibit B

If you can’t get a journalist’s attention with this structure, you won’t get it by spending hours more on a press release.

Let’s go through how to make each section as compelling as possible:

The Headline

This should be more than “CorpCo raises Series A”. That’s the “event”, not the story.

A good story requires tension. For example: “MaxCo Series A provides alternative to WhatsApp for Government”

That’s conflict, with a hero taking on the “big bad”. Equally you can create tension by challenging the reader’s existing beliefs — perhaps you are bringing a certain eco future forward, or achieving something most don’t think is possible.

Just the facts

The next section must now make good on the headline’s promise. Think of it like a lawroom drama: you’re standing in front of the jury you have put forward your argument, and now you must show the exhibits of evidence that support your case.

Fact 1 must make the headline real. Why would you be able to achieve this mission? What is the bigger picture this is part of?

For example: “MaxCo was established by the original WhatsApp team, to reverse the impact they had on society.”

Fact 2 might show your product’s reach today, geographically and at scale, or reference growth.

For example: “MaxCo tech is currently being used by 10M people, including the British, French and American Governments, growing 200% in the last 3x months.”

Fact 3 could be the “black and whites” — how much did you take, from who? Is there anything else you haven’t used yet that makes you stand out?

For example: “<INSERT BEST INVESTOR NAMES HERE> are leading the round, which raised an angel round from Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama.”

All you need to achieve with this pitch is a “yes” from the journalist. If they are interested, they will ask for more info, which you can provide — and in doing so, create specifically what they need.

Target with care

In reality, there are only a handful of journalists in the world who write about funding announcements.

What’s crucial with any list like this is you don’t just copy and paste it without thinking. Go and read what these people write — if you can’t find an article like the one you are expecting them to write about you, it’s not going to happen.

Briefing under embargo

This is the act of setting a date when the news will break and telling journalists ahead of time. This is helpful to journalists because it gives them time to make the story as good as possible — to interview people if they want to, to ask questions, to perform acts of journalism.

It also gives you a bit more flexibility in getting the story out there.

Your very first email should be along the lines of: “We are X and have a story coming up next week, are you happy to take a look under embargo.” Don’t send them any detail until you have that confirmation in writing.

The announcement itself

It’s worth having a central asset to promote in public. I don’t think it should be a press release. Why would you trap a good story in such a stuffy odd format? Nobody likes reading press releases, not even journalists — and once you have the pitch above, it covers off the key facts so they won’t get lost.

Instead, prepare a post for your website which is effectively the article you’d want someone else to write. Start with the problem and context to set the scene. Think about why this moment matters for ANYONE BUT YOU.

You can quote your investors in here (even better if you can quote from a post they have also published elsewhere.) And think about this linked relationship between the various assets on the day. It’s great if you can share a draft with the journalist and tell them the URL where it will go live, so they could link to it if they want.

There’s a lot more we could talk about… (Exclusives? Only if you have to. Quotes? Make sure they don’t repeat your other points, and don’t use cliched phrases like “excited”.)

… but for now, this should give you a fighting chance if you want to announce your own story.

Perhaps more than most, the technology community believes in its ability to transform how things are done. But when you apply that to government, the chain breaks. Seemingly, we’re only just generating the connections that directly link our technically savvy with our politically powerful.

Soma Salon is an effort founded by TechCrunch honcho M.Butcher and supported by a group including Jonathan MacDonald, David Bailey, Daniel Appelquist to address this need. To assemble multi-disciplinary experts, identify key themes, stimulate discussion and ultimately draw attention to the problems that matter from the technology industry’s point of view.

Yes, the perspective requested is broad but it’s through the technology lens that our interests focus on social areas like government, privacy, education and more.

Most importantly, it’s an attempt to do so that doesn’t just generate hot air. Sister group Soma Labs is the first output of the Salon, assembling a small team to help turn the discussion into addressable and specific challenges.

So, can it be done?

Mind the mind gap

Attending on Tuesday night, it took an hour or so for the attendees of maybe 60-70 to identify key topics for groups to split up and discuss. Having spun out into the media group (for obvious reasons), the conversation included 30 minutes of anecdotes, observations, short discussion and ideas about how the media landscape and publishing have changed.

We touched on native advertising, the responsibility of the mainstream newsfeed algorithms as the new equivalent of the mainstream media, the idea of a sort of ‘free advertising’ where material that was reacted to positively on networks should build up currency for the publisher, which they can then use to favour their posts in the feed.

Here’s three big ideas I’ve been thinking about since the conversation.

1. Organic posts, sharing and interaction already acts as a more meritocratic curating algorithm.

Yes, if a Facebook brand page posts something, they probably have to sponsor it to get it into your feed. But if three of your friends all post a link to an article or piece of material then Facebook probably wants to assume that’s something you’re interested in.

We obsess with the questions of how we get material to reach potential targets. But nothing will ever trump being great and interesting. Start slowly and build a genuinely interested community and spend five years growing it. Sustainable will always beat immediate.

2. What’s the incentive to create important journalism?

Maybe I’ve been reading too much Ben Thomson recently but I’ve become more and more interested in the topic of misaligned incentives. In the case of the media industry, they pursue traffic. That’s fine, a company can do what it chooses to generate profit.

But what’s the incentive for creating useful meaningful news, the kind of stuff that makes democracy tick instead of lurch? What news organisation is motivated by the impact of traffic (you’ve got to reach people after all) multiplied by the effectiveness with which is informs the populace with clear unbiased information. It doesn’t exist — maybe it can’t. No, screw that, of course it can. But first we need to pay careful attention.

3. Where’s the BBC of the algorithm world.

Few things make me proudly British rather than a member of the World. But one of them has to be the BBC. In a time when publishers drove what people paid attention to, it was awarded a mandate to break free from the forces that can corrupt news production. For better or worse, it was designed with a social purpose.

These days, the Facebook algorithm is classically held up as one of the ‘editorial systems’ that determines the kind of news most people see. So, if you were to try and achieve something with similar goals to the foundation of the BBC — but with today’s media landscape — how would you go about it?

Do we need a public sector algorithm, kind of news.gov.uk that’s designed to identify and reward rising stories not about beach bodies or drunk celebs but the themes that matter in a democracy? Will it always be a flawed attempt? Probably yes. But is it worth doing and would you benefit by iterating based on how it ran over time? I think definitely.

What’s to come

It’s clearly early days for the Soma initiative and its various moving parts. Passion is clear but all too often it fades before potency can follow. The fact of the matter is, there’s no value in being cynical about the potential of this group. It’s unproven. It follows in the footsteps of countless other attempts that didn’t manage to turn the hot air into inflation.

But if it produces even a few sprouts of progress, how can it not be worthwhile.

Hopefully we’ll see you at the next one and find out what role the tech community will play in this brave, new world.