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"I can't tell you how many times we've met with early-stage companies, and they start by telling us their big vision. They say, 'This is what we're about and what we want to change.' But when we ask them what they actually do, they can’t tell us. If you can’t answer that question, don’t do anything else until you can. Nothing else matters."

This is Brooke Hammerling, unfiltered. Her company Brew Media Relations match-makes young companies with journalists, influencers and anyone else who can help propel them to stardom. Today, her roster includes Wordpress, Charity:Water, Wealthfront, Oracle and About.me — all known for bold, creative communications strategies. She also happened to make the cover of The New York Times’ Sunday business section a few years ago as the poster woman for doing tech PR differently.

When it comes to whether startups need help in this area, she has a somewhat subversive opinion: they don’t. Even while at Brew, she’s helped hash out PR plans for a number of entrepreneurs who can't afford full-time agencies or in-house support. And she’s got a playbook of tactics for those who want to do it on their own.

  • NP

    Nameet Potnis

    almost 7 years ago #

    I agree with @sean about the fact that PR can drive powerful growth and yet, to get it right can be a lengthy process!

    Since I have managed to get decent press coverage for a restaurant and events company I used to run till 2010 and the positive press we are getting for our new tech company now, all without ever hiring a PR agency, I thought I could add 5 points from my personal experience.

    Here goes:

    1. Use twitter to follow journalists and other key influencers, interact with them. If you are sensible in your observations, it very often leads to them calling you up for Quotes, Story Ideas.

    2. Never be rude, always have patience: PR is a long game. Quite often when a journalist/tv anchor is doing a story, they aren't experts in your field, YOU are the expert. Don't talk down to them, chances are that is the last time you will hear from them.

    3. Don't name-drop unless you can back it: The Media community is usually very close knit, everyone knows everyone. You dont want to be embarrassed name dropping when the other person has never heard of you.

    4. Always thank a Journalist for their time, they don't get thanked often, they WILL remember you.

    5. Offer to help: When I see interesting trends developing, I write a short note in an email and send it across to Journalists I know would be interested in certain sectors. More often than not they respond for a story, even if the story doesn't involve me, I connect the journalist with other entrepreneurs she can pursue for the story. More often than not, this one time email exchange turns into a long term association because they remember you as a RESOURCE.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 7 years ago #

    Brooke Hammerling is one of the top startup PR people out there, so not surprisingly this is a really good article.

    I thought it was interesting that she said you should start meeting with press several months in advance of launching, but only if you "have your message down, know it backwards and forwards, and can clearly explain your value proposition to the market." In my experience, it's best to crowdsource this information from your most passionate customers, so it seems like a press launch would have to happen many months after your product becomes available. This is counter intuitive for many... Steve Blank advocates that you don't even think about press until you have validated product/market fit.

    I also thought her perspective on the importance of decoupling a funding announcement from a product launch was really interesting.

    Anyway, PR can be a powerful growth driver, but it can also be a massive distraction. I highly recommend that anyone marketing for a startup read this one.

    • AA

      Anuj Adhiya

      almost 7 years ago #

      Three things came to mind when I read the bit about meeting with press in advance of launching.
      a. Eric Ries' post on lauching: http://www.growthhackers.com/dont-launch/ - which echoes what @sean mentioned above.

      b. Paul Graham's essay on fundraising: http://www.paulgraham.com/fr.html
      The pertinent piece in this essay is the part about "Be in fundraising mode or not".
      Analogous to this, and in line with Eric Ries' post, I think a startup is in Press mode or not.

      Also as Paul points out with respect to fundraising, if you are going to do it when you are not in that mode, then it has to be with zero time spent and on your terms. I think the same applies with Press (and @sean alluded to this as well above).So if a journalist comes across your offering and gets the idea and wants to write about it, great - but it shouldn't be consuming your time for that to happen.

      c. It would certainly behoove any startup to be cultivating relationships with the right people in the press as part of their marketing strategy so that when the time is right (or if the person wants to preemptively write about you), the stage has been set.
      @cegusa's put together a great list of reporters for that to happen: http://www.growthhackers.com/former-venturebeat-writer-launches-free-tech-reporter-contact-list

      • CC

        Claudio Carnino

        almost 7 years ago #

        I agree with you @anujadhiya about being in press/fundrising mode or not. As CEO/company you should always trying to do only one thing. This way you can put all the effort in it and nail it.

        It was really interesting reading about @dickc deep focus when he took over Twitter as CEO. Their focus was on increasing the userbase and he got a great proposal that would create a cash flow. He refused to follow this opportunity because it was not the focus of the company.
        (The book is Venture Deals of Bread Feld)

        If you think about it make sense. Also if Twitter was already big with a lot of resources, it chosen to focus on one thing. Now their product rocks.

  • ND

    Nicoletta Donadio

    almost 7 years ago #

    I'm trying to get press for my startup lately and I can tell it's a very long process that takes his time. I'm not a pr/marketing person so it's even more difficult because I have first to learn how to do it properly.

    If journalist and bloggers don't know you, you need first to be know by them and then pitch to them and start a conversation that may lead in some articles.
    Another things I noticed is that, in some cases, big journalist are more polite and less arrogant then blogger.

    Thanks for sharing the article Anuj, ;)

  • KA

    Khalid Al-Jaaidi

    over 6 years ago #

    This article just made me understand PR on a whole other level, since I've always worked next to them, never really understood the true value of what they do! Great find @anujadhiya