Startup Storytelling and Media Coverage

marketing storytellingMark Suster had a great post recently on whether or not a startup should announce their funding that was really more about what are considered “newsworthy” stories for modern blogs and media outlets. Mark makes a good point that it used to be that funding was not really a story in its own right and today it is.

This week I also had a related set of conversations with startups that went like this:

“We know media coverage works for us because when we first announced we got a bunch of media coverage resulting in a slew of new signups. Now we have nothing to talk about. What should we do?”

The solution to this problem is in changing the way you think about what is a newsworthy story versus what isn’t.

Audience First, Story Second

The first step is to list the blogs/media outlets that your target prospects read and pay attention to. Next you can categorize them into the types of stories they cover. For example you might have a small business payments solution and your media list includes sites that cover startup news, sites that cover news related to small businesses in general and others that cover e-commerce related things. The stories for these sites may have some overlap but there are probably big differences too. For example the startup site might be interested in a story about how you assembled an advisory board for your startup and your lessons learned from that. The Small Business site might like a story about what your customer data tells you about how different small businesses are doing payments. The e-commerce site might be interested in a story about best practices for lowering cart abandonment rates through better payment options. Different outlets, different audiences, different story angles.

Story Angles are Everywhere

Beyond the obvious stories related to funding and launches, you might think you don’t have any stories to tell but stories are everywhere and they don’t always have to be directly about your company or your offering to work. Here are some ideas of categories of stories that startups can use:

1/ Tying into current events. Even if you weren’t paying attention to football the past few week, you could probably have smelled how desperate media outlets were to cover superbowl stuff even when there was nothing to talk about. One of my favorite bits of “news” came from the National Chicken Council that put out a press release announcing that 1.23 billion chicken wings are going to be consumed during the game. This tidbit of “news” got coverage in both in my national newspaper and my local radio station and oh yeah, pretty much everywhere in North America. Later in the day I was brainstorming on story angles with a company that sells a fitness app and I thought it might be fun to convert those wings to calories and then create an graphic talking about how many times you would have to hit the gym to wear off that many wings or how big a tower of fat 1.23 billion chicken wings would make. I could do the same thing for chocolate on Valentine’s day or beer on St. Patrick’s Day. Just remember the point of doing this isn’t to just get folks talking about the Superbowl or a 16 story file of fat – it’s important to make sure that there is a tie back into your product with a clear call to action.

2/ Customer data giving rise to insight into a market – For Saas companies this is becoming a really interesting source of stories. As an example of this, LinkedIn did a nice one a while back analyzing Startup Founder Profiles. If you look at what your data is telling you about how certain types of customers behave (or how your customer’s customers behave) and you can provide insight into that, you have yourself an interesting story.

3/ Customer use to illustrate a trend or change in a market – Your new product or even your new customer isn’t really a story but what your customer is doing with your product is. You’ll earn bonus interesting story points if what your customers is doing or why your customer was motivated to do it provides proof of a trend or change in a market and you or your customer can provide insight into that.

4/ Startup lessons learned – I hesitate a little to put this one in here because I’ve seen great examples of this and not very great examples. In general if one of your key target markets is startup folk than you can pitch a story about how you got your first 100 customers, how you raised money, how you made mistakes, how you built a team. The caution I will give you is that the competition here is stiff and when new voices try to tell their stories they are often judged much more harshly than the dozen or so founders that are regulars on the startup speaker circuit. In general we’ve heard these stories before so yours is going to have to be pretty special to rise above the noise.

 

6 thoughts on “Startup Storytelling and Media Coverage”

  1. April: I’d suggest audience and story should happen at the same time, or maybe the story should come before the audience. To me, a good story can be customized, changed and tweaked to meet the needs of different target audiences. It’s the same story but takes on different forms based on needs and interests. Anyway, my two cents.

    1. Hey Mark,
      I agree with you but only up to a certain point. Some stories might work across audiences but a lot of them don’t. For example I think the “startup lessons learned” type article only works for a very narrow range of publications (more narrow than most founders think because they tend to read the ones that do care about it). For most companies, I’ve seen better results from pitching a story that matches the pub rather than trying to take one story and tweak it across many different outlets.

  2. Thank you April — great summary of startup storytelling.

    Completely agree with your comment on ‘startup lessons learned’. Hacker News is a great example of that. Your are judged more harshly if you don’t have a reputation built up, but as a frequent participant adding value to the conversations, you can tell your startup story to an audience of very involved and intelligent readers.

    1. Thanks Rutul,
      Hacker news is a really interesting example. There certainly is a difference between the reaction you get as a YC company versus the reaction you get as a non-YC, or even non-silicon valley based company there. And like anywhere there are certain stories that work very well there (startup lessons learned and more technology/programming related articles for example) and other very good articles that get no play at all there. For example I’m really into startup marketing but I’ve seen some great content get absolutely no play there at all and yet get an amazing level of engagement within the marketing community on other sites. The audience at Hacker News might be smart but they aren’t smart about everything.
      April

  3. Thank you April–Love your article on the parameters for determining what is a newsworthy and what isn’t. As a PR company, we are in the business of creating stories for our clients, and we always encourage companies to get creative, use current events and all of the other points you mention, and most importantly, let their personality shine through. Great post!

  4. Your
    StartUp story needs to be fixed within the big picture of what your
    business is about. It also needs to be reflected in all aspects of
    what you do. If the entrepreneur is telling one story and others in
    the community of the business are telling different ones, the
    entrepreneur’s will not be effective. Community means all those
    within the company and around it: staff, suppliers, customers–in
    fact any audience of the business. This is one of many points I make in my new ebook – Telling Startup Stories – that you might want to check out on Amazon tinyurl.com/qyvcwux

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