PR 101 for Engineers by@aneel

PR 101 for Engineers

Aneel HackerNoon profile picture


Startup Marketer

Demystifying public relations and making it work

Craig Kerstiens, all around great guy and product master at Citus Data, did a mini-tweetstorm about PR from the perspective of a non-marketing person.

As an engineer who eventually found my way to marketing, let’s talk about this.

Programming notes: this post is n in a series of indeterminate length on GTM topics mainly for startup people, mainly leadership, mainly coming from non-GTM backgrounds. There’s a list at the end.

Being in the media is a job

The press have agendas. They need to tell better stories, with unique points of view, that generate more interest (and eyeballs) than their competition. Consider their incentives. Like everyone else doing a job, they have incentives.

Give them reasons to listen to you. Establish your bona fides. Help them accomplish their goals.

Are you advancing their cause? If not, why do you expect them to advance yours?

Help the press do their jobs better

They do better when they’re first with a story. Or the only one with a story. Or both. A good, exclusive story is the best outcome for a journalist of any stripe.

Attention spans being what they are, there’s a limit to how much detail and depth they can either consume or write with. Unless you’re a name brand in and of yourself, your airtime will be limited to one or two quotes — so make them good.

Long form stories, should you be lucky enough to be the focus of, are a different experience altogether.

And finally, most tech press want to be smarter about whatever topic they’re writing about. They’re interested and enjoy learning about technology, decoding the industry, etc. They want to provide more than just facts; going to levels of depth and analysis that make their readers smarter.

All under severe time pressure. So make yourself useful and trust-able:

  • Help them get smarter
  • Do it neutrally so they can trust you
  • Be willing to take the time to do that instead of pitch your agenda
  • Tell them something they don’t know, or that no one else knows, without taking credit

Know your message

Media training. Get some. Or the poor man’s version: find your friendly marketer and have them role play interviews so you can get practice.

  • Know the 1–3 points you want to get across
  • Find ways to connect the conversations to your points
  • But don’t derail or ignore the questions
  • Be open about not being able to answer a question, if you can’t or won’t
  • If it’s clearly a pitch/briefing meeting, state your points at the outset, then repeat them at the end, and send a follow up email with them
  • Try not to make assertions. If you’re a brand name, you can get away with it. Otherwise, have reasons grounded in some reality.
  • Practice. Find someone who’s done it before to role play. Focus on being able to direct the conversation, responding without agitation to tough or critical questions, and reading when the other person is/isn’t interested.
  • If you’re cited or quoted in a way that’s not accurate, send polite clarifications afterwards

Know your numbers

Yes please. Know your data well and have it down. Be able to answer questions about your company and market off the top of your head accurately. Things to be armed with:

  • Founding story
  • Problem solved
  • Who the problem is solved for
  • Real life stories (naming names if possible) of your product solving that problem
  • Growth numbers or percentages
  • Market size
  • What factors in the industry, or wider world, create your opportunity
  • Point of view on industry trends relevant to your space, the more iconoclastic the better
  • Market landscape, who your competitors are, where you fit
  • Answer to “what do you do if Amazon/Google/BigCo starts competing with you?”

Know your sound bites

Better yet, have sound bites and quotes from multiple sources, including yourself, that support your points.

  • Our founder always says..
  • Customer X said..
  • So and so at Gartner says..
  • Adrian Cockcroft says in his presentations that..
  • Such and such VC says..

Know your audience

Figure out who the specific, important press and outlets are for you. Which ones cover your space? Which ones have the attention of the same people you want attention from?

Read their work, learn their beat. Find mutual ground. Target your pitches, briefings, and commentary to their areas of interest specifically.

Build relationships. Be intentional. Treat them like people.

Be useful

Make yourself available to provide background info and color commentary for their articles, even if they have nothing to do with you, and even if you aren’t cited.

Point to useful resources like industry reports, analysts and other people who might provide insight.

Pass along leads to stories to them. But don’t break any laws. :) For example, notice something obscure or buried change on someone’s website which suggests they’ve had a legal event of some kind? Point it out.

Have a human touch

If you don’t know how to treat people like people, learn. If you’re a sociopath, develop the mannerisms. If you’re a severe introvert, get someone else to do it. Find a face for your company that can be the press face. If you’ve got no one, get outside professionals. Agencies and freelancers are aplenty.

A word on agencies

They mostly suck. Good ones for you will have a few common features:

  • Relationships with the press you care about
  • Relationships to other companies, execs, analysts that might be useful
  • Ability to articulate your story as well as, or better than, you can — meaning they demonstrably can and will learn your product/technology/language
  • Willingness to do the labor of translating your story into a journalist’s agenda
  • Can create opportunities for increasing your visibility — placement, bylines, content, speaking, and more

Posts in this series (and templates)

Reading List

Thanks to Craig KerstiensMike Maney, and Pam S. Njissang for their feedback!


Signup or Login to Join the Discussion


Related Stories