How to manage your expectations when dealing with the media

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All great comms, all amazing press coverage, takes time and momentum. For early-stage startups it is important to understand the importance of having realistic expectations when it comes to the media.

When you start talking to journalists, always ask yourself: why would anyone care? If you can't answer that, don't pitch the story. And if you can answer that, is it obvious when you share the story?

The fact that you exist, is not news.  Here are a few tips to get a reality check before contacting the media.

Be realistic
When you think about the sort of press you want to get, figure out the best way for you to measure success internally. 

If you do want a vanity piece - an article that may help your SEO, look great when an investor or potential customer googles you or gives you a lovely publication logo to add to your website - think very carefully about where you want it to be.

Each publication, whether it's TechCrunch, BBC or The Times, will have a very different requirement you'll have to consider when pitching. This is where all that reading and research you've done before comes handy! 

If you want to drive customers - don't set targets based on the volume of coverage you want to get but set targets based on the increase of traffic or downloads you want to see. Measure your Google Analytics. 

Remember to not judge success based only on monthly unique viewers of the website, as viewers do not equal customers. 

When you watch Google Analytics, track just how far those leads go. What is the conversion from article to a customer? That is the rate you want to beat moving forward. It'll also show you where there are problems in your pipeline and you'll need to fix the ones you have control over to make a full conversion.

Going after thought-leadership? Always be writing and/or commenting. You are not a thought-leader until you do.

Whether that's through your own channels or not. Measure your reach - the more you grow your following, the more journalists will consider you. Measure how your own channels grow over time. When you start from 'nothing', it takes a while for you to be considered a 'something'.

When you start figuring out which publications to share stories with, it's a volume game. The more relevant titles you can share that story with, the greater your odds of someone covering you. But it takes time.

If story number one results in one piece of coverage, don't be disheartened. That is a great start, and now you need to find the perfect way to keep the momentum going and find your second story to share.

Keep a running tab of all press mentions, and over time you'll see what sort of stories and which articles work best for you.

Be authentic
Be you. When you start talking to the media, be the best professional version of yourself, that is true to you and your company's brand. People generally respond well to someone who can be honest, have integrity, be real and take accountability.

You only have to see the negative way everyone responds to bad comms teams/people and CEOs of major companies when something goes wrong, to know that common sense is key and the best way forward (Google anything to do with Sean Spicer, Pepsi or United Airlines to understand that....).

If you want to get media attention but want to hide a lot of details....consider NOT getting media attention. It may not be the most helpful marketing channel for doing so!

Remember that journalists are under a lot of pressure. Their inbox is insane. The volume of articles they have to write on a daily basis would make most people have a panic attack. And they have to put up with a lot of things.

The last thing they need is hundreds of startups chasing that email they sent, after the pitch they sent, to see if they're interested in covering you/meeting for coffee/like your app/that funding you had you can't talk about/your pivot etc.

Think about every time you've ever had a sales call or a sales email. How annoying is that?! 

Simple rule - don't be that guy
Be the company that does its research, sends them everything they could possibly need for a story in one email with no attachments, and if you really need to, follow up once.

Don't be upset if they don't get back. Don't get angry if the article isn't the piece of your dreams. You have no say in that. All you can do is be prepared, be helpful, be respectful and think about long-term relationships, not short-term gains.

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* This post was originally published in our newsletter The Communications Workshop. Sign up to get more free tips about communications and marketing here!