Press for startups: The guide to PR success

Press coverage will be one of the most important channels for startup outreach. Many businesses find success after featuring in the right publications with the correct target audience; however, the process of generating relevant press can feel intimidating. This guide is formatted to offer the best email outreach tips to get you started. The simplest way to guarantee reporter relevance is to target those who have written about similar topics to your startup. In finding this information, you will discover sources to target for press coverage and build contacts within your industry. If you are able to manage PR internally, you will develop and own a network of contacts to further nurture as your startup matures.


Before you attempt to compile a list of press contacts and publications, it is essential to compile a list detailing your startup’s competition. A simple spreadsheet detailing competitor name and website URL can be copied from this file.

A second spreadsheet to document press contacts will also be required. In order to capture the most relevant contact information, set up a simple Google Sheet document with columns for the following fields: first name, last name, email, publication, blog post URL, area of professional interest, Twitter handle. Alternatively, you can access the master version here.



Moz Open Site Explorer is an ideal starting point for publication targeting. Copy each URL from your competitor list into the search box and analyse the backlinks returned. Competitor backlink analysis is a simple technique to extract relevant publications for press targeting. Each publication of relevance should be saved into your ‘press contacts spreadsheet’ for later analysis.


Run a search command on Google to find your topic with a variable of choice (links, blog etc.).

intitle:”[replace with your topic]” inurl:”[replace with what you are looking for (ie. links]”

An example for growth hacking could be: intitle: “growth hacking” inurl: “links”


Drag image into 'Google image search'
Analyse results to find similar websites featuring the image searched

Drag image into 'Google image search' Analyse results to find similar websites featuring the image searched

Use Google image search to broaden your publication research. Google image search is an accessible tool to find competitor articles, simply drag images of interest (or those present on competitor sites) into the Google image search bar. This technique will display any sites using the image and flag other publications that have covered the story. If a publication has covered your competition, they may be an ideal target for your own press activity.

press contacts from articles

Once you have collated a list of relevant articles it is time to turn the content into press contacts. Whilst this approach can be done manually using social media and company websites, outsourced help can save time. For the purpose of this article we shall cover both approaches.

Manual search

The following technique works for marketers using Gmail to send press emails.

1). Download Rapportive and add to your Gmail account.

2). Download this spreadsheet and make a copy for editing.

3). Enter the article author’s first name, surname and company domain into the spreadsheet mentioned above.

4) Copy and past all email variables into Gmail and click through, working through the address variables.

5) If the address prompts an image, name or social media link in the Rapportive preview, you have likely found a match and genuine email address.

6) Collate email addresses within your ‘press contact’ spreadsheet.

Paid search (Human intelligence task)

If you are in a rush or particularly constrained by time, consider using an outsource service to populate your press sheet. AmazonTurk and Crowdflower both allow for a CSV upload of articles for workers to find author contact information.

This process charges small amounts for the completion of basic HIT (human intelligence task) requests. The idea is a hybrid of automation and research for tasks that still require manual input.

Whilst this approach is cost-effective ($0.3- $0.9 per HIT), it can also be detrimental to your press efforts. Price per HIT is calculated on a time/skill ratio and work may remain incomplete if the rates are considered too low by workers. Whilst AmazonTurk and Crowdflower are feasible options, updates to the commission structure of HIT platforms are expected to have a negative effect on the popularity of this method.

If you do choose to hire help, Custom Development Labs created a great HTML snippet to assist in the building of your HIT. The code provided here works for most HIT platforms and can be pasted to form a specific brief from purchaser to worker. Unfortunately, this service is not yet available outside of the US; however, CrowdFlower and oDesk present similar offerings.

HIT request form to assist worker

HIT request form to assist worker

It is often worth comparing both approaches using a set of test data. Whilst contact research can seem tedious, it is one of the most important techniques in a startup outreach programme and should be treated as such. If you are hesitant to use a human intelligence task platform but are limited for time, consider combining both approaches or advertise for an intern to manually populate the datasheet.


Once you have a list of contacts to target, it is time to craft an email to send. Before you send anything you need to make sure you have the correct tools installed to track your press campaign’s efforts.

The remainder of this guide will be on the assumption that you are using Gmail to email your press contacts.

Duplicate your press contact spreadsheet to create an email tracker and add columns to document email send and follow up activity. Download the Google Yesware plugin to assess the effectiveness of your emails. The reporting function will become invaluable for testing the effectiveness of subject lines and email copy as you begin to refine your press approach. Alternatively, if you have an email tracking tool of choice or are using a lead tracking service on your website, you should remain analysing your email activity as usual.

Crafting a press email

The majority of this guide has focused on gaining press exposure for your startup, in this section we shall focus on how to craft an effective press email. Remember, each contact has been included within your press list because they have written about a similar topic or service and will likely be receptive to your email. Journalists work to strict deadlines and will have limited time to allocate to reading email; therefore, you need to define your request clearly.

Think very carefully about what you are looking to achieve from each email and outline your copy around a single goal. Popular goals for startup press could be: being featured in a magazine or blog, introducing your product concept to a journalist, writing a guest post for an influential website, asking notable press contacts to trial or beta test your product, requesting advice for product growth.

Each approach should include the following:

  • Introduce your startup by name with a focussed description of your product or service. The issue your product/ service solves should be outlined in a single sentence.
  • Relevant project information: have you launched? Do you have funding? Are any notable companies using your product?
  • Reference the author’s past work (contained within your spreadsheet) to demonstrate your research and insight into the contact’s area of professional interest.
  • Include your website URL and any relevant links to support your pitch.
  • Place emphasis on subject line and analyse performance frequently.

The email template below can be tested and refined in line with your own spreadsheet fields for the most startup email communications:

Example template:

Hi/Dear [First Name],

I am <your first name> from <company/project name>.  I recently read your article {{ story.title }} featured in [source name] and thought you may be interested to hear more about [topic from their article you referenced above].

We developed/ are developing <what the product is> to solve <issue your product/service helps to solve>.

We have <whatever you are looking to share> which relates directly to an area of your interest/expertise and thought it may be of interest. We are currently <piece of company news related to what you’re looking to share> and thought you may be interested in reviewing/testing/reading. Let me know if it’s of interest?


<Your full name>

<social links where relevant>

The above template works so well because it highlights the writer’s professional interests. Inclusion of references to past work/ the reporter’s area of professional interest pre-validates your product or service’s relevance and increases your chance of a positive reception.


The success of your outreach will likely be determined by whether the email is read. Email subject lines should be tested frequently using your Yesware plugin to determine successful open rates. Utilise your knowledge of the reporter to capture their attention and reference your contact spreadsheet for inclusion within email subject lines.

Include the title of a blog post (as documented in your contact spreadsheet) or the reporter’s area of specialism to enhance the notability of your email.

  • ‘Re. [blog post title]’
  • ‘A couple of points about [blog post title]’
  • [blog post title] and more on [area of interest]
  • ‘Will you be writing more about [area of interest?]

Reference the problem your startup attempts to solve within the subject line, questions are also effective here:

  • ‘[startup name] can help you solve [issue]’,
  • ‘Would you like to find out how to solve [issue]?’
  • ‘Re. [blog post title] and more about [issue]’
  • ‘Solving [issue] within [area of interest]’

FINDING THE BEST TIME TO SEND YOUR EMAILS Sending your press email at the right time can make all the difference. First, establish the time zone your reporter is based in. Most journalists check their emails when they wake up, frequently throughout the morning and less in the afternoon. Social activity can also help analyse the best time to send your email. Most reporters will have a defined morning routine of checking news, social channels and email in order to plan and prepare for the day ahead. Follow the writers you are looking to target on social media, paying particular attention towards their posting habits. If in doubt, between 5.30 and 7am local time is an ideal time to attempt and will increase the chance of your startup being added to the day’s reporting activities.

Exclusive access to press content

It is likely that you will have exclusivity requests at some point in your press journey. There is no correct formula for acceptance of exclusivity but your own judgement will allow you to weigh up the benefits of an exclusive rights agreement. The general consensus is with consideration to publication readership and influence. If a publication were to offer your startup access to it's target audience in exchange for one week's exclusivity, it would likely be worth foregoing similar press attention for that seven day period. Ultimately, any decision regarding exclusivity should be based around audience exposure for the period.

It is important to keep a clear objective for the duration of your press campaign. Before you complete each email and subsequent follow up, keep your desired outcome at the forefront of press activity. As you begin to nurture new press contacts, campaign goals will be revisited frequently in order to best utilise emerging relationships. Plan your communications in advance and have a strategic view for company launch and beyond. If you follow the steps outlined above, you will begin to form relationships with press contacts tailored to your company. Business development is not a temporary activity and persistence is required to build and execute a successful outreach plan. The methods above are merely approaches to press and there are many alternative techniques to be explored as you gain confidence in building relationships. Hiring a PR agency may seem the most effective strategy for press; however, this guide has been written for startups operating on a startup budget. Press is a crucial step in a successful marketing strategy and by skipping the outsourcing you will personally own your relationships for launch and beyond.a