Startup PR: How to Get Press for Your Startup | Criminally Prolific

10 Awesome Steps To Hack PR for Your Startup On a Shoestring

Dima s
Dmitry Dragilev Last updated on August 17, 2016

Gary Vaynerchuck recently responded to me on ProductHunt with the following comment:


This very statement above translates into one action for anybody reading this: STOP hiring PR agencies and START doing press outreach yourself. Why?

Remember Why Startups Shouldn’t Hire PR Firms article from Mark Cuban?


What Mark said three years ago is finally starting to become mainstream, majority of startups are realizing that doing PR on your own saves you TONS of money and frustration and actually gets better stories published about you.

I’ve done my own PR for 8+ years, published 1320 articles and got a startup acquired by Google by employing unconventional PR methods. These days I coach startups to do their own PR even though I can earn 3X more if I were to offer PR as a service.


Find and pitch journalists + influencers who are actually interested in you right now


Why do I do this? Because I don’t want startups to hire PR firms. I want startups to learn this skill themselves.

Noah Kagan of AppSumo, SumoMe, OKDork recently wrote about a service I run to help entrepreneurs find journalists and pitch them on their idea, here is what he says about it:

I love the philosophy behind, and it should be the mantra for every marketer. Just Do It. Don’t outsource it PR. Don’t defer to an “expert.” Don’t wait until some imaginary time where you’ll really be ready.

My goal with JustReachOut is to let startups find journalists who are interested in their story on their own instead of having to hire expensive PR firms.

But in this article I go a step further. I show you how to connect with journalists who will eat up your story, without having to use any tools except Google.

Ready? Let’s roll…

1. The first step is nailing your one sentence value prop

What’s that? A value prop is what you do that sets you apart from competing products. You should be able to answer what you do in 1 sentence. Use this template below:

My Company  <name> is developing <offering> to help <target audience> <solve a problem> with <a secret sauce>.

Courtesy of Adeo Rossi of Founder Institute this template is pure gold, I’ve been using it for years. Just fill in the blanks and keep all the jargon away. Let’s look at a few examples of one sentence pitches utilizing this template:

Soylent: Never cook another meal or buy groceries again.

AirBNB: Stay in other people’s houses and apartments when traveling.

In both of these cases, you instantly understand what they do without having to think too hard.

Now lets look at the following:

We are a web analytics platform designed to give you business intelligence to close your next deal.

Umm, huh? What do they do?

When you are working on your one sentence pitch think about how a journalist is going to imagine themselves in the scenario you present with your pitch. Do they cook their food a lot? Can they imagine themselves never cooking again? How would they react to this? If you were in their shoes what would you say?

I recently listened to a great webinar from the guys at Digital Third Coast which quoted a great book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die where they break down any pitch to journalists with the following questions:

I like to adopt the one sentence pitch to the reporter I’m pitching, in other words not just:

“We’re the fastest & easiest way to deliver anything to any location”

but  instead:

“You’ve tweeted about this before , sound familiar? Crap, you really need this package delivered by tomorrow but you’re stuck at work and there’s no way you’ll make it to the post office in time. Enter X.”

See how this story flows like water and it’s so easy to imagine yourself in this situation?

Stories also stick in someone’s memory much longer vs generic explanations of what you do. The longer you can stay sloshing around in a journalist’s brain, the better the chance they will remember you when they plan to write about a related topic.


Find contact info of journalists who are actually interested in you


2. Create your contact list of relevant journalists

You want to find reporters whose main beats include what your product/app/service does.

What space is your company in?

Use the following formula:

(descriptor) + (noun)

Noun: Think about main action your service/product facilitates or performs. Is it sharing? Is it delivery? Is it coworking?
Descriptor: What is its one main distinguishing feature.


Product: car sharing app
Space: peer sharing

Product: travel concierge service
Space: personalized travel

You should know the space you are in so we won’t spend too much time discussing how to identify that. Go ahead and type in the space your company is in into Google and toggle to the News tab.

Why Google News tab? Because the people who recently wrote stories about your industry/space will most likely be interested in what you do.Alternatively you can type in the name of one of your competitors.

Google News will show you the most recent articles that have been written on your topic. For example since my topic is “PR for startups” I would type that into Google News and here is what I get:


The quality of Google results is not always great. This is what inspired me to build JustReachOut – still a work in progress. It’s a service that returns much more relevant journalist matches and helps you craft a killer email pitch.

In any case, at this point you should have a list of articles written about your keyword, your space, your industry, your competitors. Add the links to these articles into a Google Spreadsheet.

In the spreadsheet make sure you have the following columns:

  • Full name of the reporter
  • Date of the article
  • Link to the article
  • Link to the Twitter profile for the reporter
  • Link to the personal website or blog for the reporter (if available)

Now I am a little lazy, so I tend to put a lot of information into the notes section, here is how my version looks.

I like to have at least of 20 reporters in the spreadsheet, so I never run out of targets to contact.

Fill out the spreadsheet with the details just like I did by researching every article and the person who wrote that article. Leave the email column blank for now. We’re going to guess them in batches later.

When going through each article, click through to the journalist’s social media profile. Only if they cover your field on a regular basis (you see multiple articles written by them on this topic in last month or two) go ahead and add them to your spreadsheet.

If the article was just an one-off, chances are they may not cover this topic again so it may not be worth the effort to add them to your hit list. BTW some journalists include their email in their social media bios so it helps a lot to check their bios thoroughly.

If they link to a personal website, make a note of it in your spreadsheet. I’ll go over where this comes handy shortly.


Keep in mind there are different types of publications and blogs so you want to make sure you categorize each publication in your Google doc.

Here’s the hierarchy of publications and blogs from most authoritative and thus toughest to break into to the least (courtesy of Austen Allred). As you can see, at the very top of the press pyramid are mainstream publications. Further down are industry and mid tier blogs. At the bottom are personal blogs.



Find contact info of journalists who are actually interested in you


It is useful to categorize the reporters and publications in your hit list so you know how hard it would be to reach them.

Quick tip while we’re talking about categories of blogs: Do not exclude local publications from your hit list.

It’s much easier to break into local publications at first because the mere news of your launch can be considered relevant for your local city news. When pitching, explain how the city stands to benefit from your product/service. 

For example your one sentence pitch might change the following way:

Let’s say you’re a meal delivery startup, dig up a stat about how many restaurants in your city deliver versus how many that don’t and make that part of your pitch.

BTW has a comprehensive list of top media and blog sites which cover startups. Take a look to see if any of them have published an article related to your field in the past.


There’a another a roundup called Promotehour that lists all the community forums you can tip your startup to such as PromblemSolved, Hacker News and Reddit. Remember that since these are community sites, some of them tend to be opposed to blatant promotion. So instead of outright linking your website and saying come check me out, frame it differently. Ask for a copy critique. Ask if any of its member ever experienced [problem your startup solves].

OK at this point you have a HIT list in a Google Doc of 20 journalists containing the following information for each entry in your list:

  • Full name of the reporter
  • Date of the article
  • Link to the article
  • Link to the Twitter profile for the reporter
  • Link to the personal website or blog for the reporter (if available)

Next step is to find their email addresses.

3. Find their email addresses

Finding emails these days is super easy.

Most emails are in the following formats:


Enter the publication URL into and it spits back the emails of employees they can find. Looking at the results you can tell that formats their emails as so you can guess your target journalist’s email accordingly.



Search for the publication on to find out which format the journalist’s email is most likely in:


You can use these free tools to verify if your guessed email is accurate:

If you’d like to skip the manual work of guessing emails entirely, give SellHack a try. Simply install its browser extension for either Firefox, Chrome or Safari, go to one of your prospect’s social profiles and slam on its button. It does all the work for you to find a good email match.

Note: It doesn’t work 100% of the time so if it can’t find anything, revisit the steps above to unearth their company’s email format.


If you have a personal website for the journalist, pop it into WHOIS. In most cases, it returns the personal email address of the site owner.

An email sent to their personal email address has a much higher chance of being read than one that is sent to their business address where it has to fight for attention amongst the hundred other pitches that flood their work inboxes.


If none of these tactics above worked to help you find an email address go ahead and install Datanyze Chrome Extension and register for an account with them. Once you’ve got it installed just right click on a reporter’s name on the webpage and click Datanyze Insider:


Datanyze pops up a dialog to confirm it has the correct information about the name and the website this person writes for and finds you the email:

All right at this point you have a list of reporters and journalists you want to contact, you have information about each one of them including their contact info. The next step is to get to know each one of your prospects better to be able to write a kick ass email pitch.

4. Familiarizing yourself with the journalist

You know how sometimes you go to a website and suddenly an ad for it follows you everywhere? In the ad world, that’s called retargeting. And the repeat exposure works by subtly worming the company’s way into your subconscious. Well, there’s a way you can do that with journalists who have previously never heard of you as well.

1. Follow the journalists you want to pitch on Twitter from your personal account.
2. If they ask any questions or share an article, leave a meaningful response that relays one of your personal experiences or an interesting piece of knowledge. Don’t forget to inject some personality and humor into it to really stand out!

If any articles they share is also relevant to your audience, retweet it. Any of the above actions gives your email pitch a natural intro.

Here’s how Greg Pietruszynski from Growth Bots starts off his cold emails:

I’m Greg (@pietruszynski) from Growbots. We have been tweeting about the article you shared: ‘The power of personalization’. I did some research and saw that you may be responsible for lead generation at XYZ, so I decided to get in touch.

Following journalists on Twitter also gives you a better idea of their writing style and personality so you can tailor your choice of wording accordingly.

Here’s what Rebecca Grant, a former writer at Venture Beat, has to say about building relationships first:

Unfortunately, the relationship usually feels one-sided. You — a PR person, employee, or entrepreneur — reach out to the press when you need coverage. You are asking for a service, for us to pick your story over the dozens of others we could be writing about.

Rarely is that reciprocated. If you have a tip or an idea for an article that *gasp* doesn’t involve you, share it with a journalist. We are always on the prowl for good stories.

I love her writing, she has another article called How to pitch the [tech] press: Tips from a former VentureBeat writer which has some really juicy details in it.

Ideally, you should be laying the groundwork for outreach to influencers and journalists while you’re building your company. This way when launch day comes, you have all your ducks lined in a row.

Yes you’re busy. Yes you have another line of code to fix. Yes you have to move that div by another 1px. But guess what, there will be nobody to even notice the div is off by 1px if you don’t have any publicity.

So…start compiling a spreadsheet of people you want to pitch as soon as possible so you can start building a relationship with the highest value contacts before your Big Day.

What journalists like receiving without any strings attached:

  • Substantive answers to questions they pose on social media/their blog
  • Inside scoops about something related to their beat that is going to happen
  • Valuable help (example: if they are traveling somewhere, throw together a brief guide for them about the best places to eat/see)

Remember what Rebecca said about building a relationship with press:  If you have a tip or an idea for an article that *gasp* doesn’t involve you, share it with a journalist.


4. Write a banging email pitch

First off, why pitch over email? Why not Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? shared a kick ass study Fractl conducted of 500+ journalists from top sites like BuzzFeed, TIME, Lifehacker, Scientific American, TechCrunch and more about what they want in a pitch.

Here are some key findings:

  • 81% of journalists prefer to be pitched by email
  • Most writers publish one story per day, 44% of them get pitched a minimum of 20 times a day.
  • 39% are looking for exclusive research to publish
  • 64% said it was moderately to very important to establish a personal connection before pitching
  • 69% prefer to be pitched in the morning

Here is the entire slidedeck detailing the findings:

Think of an angle you can present your company from or a context you can place your company in.

Company: Car sharing app
Angle: People are much more comfortable about sharing items with strangers these days
Context: Sharing economy

Most journalists don’t just write pieces about your company and what it does. That’s called…an ad. What they will do is use your company as the jumping off point into a story about the space you operate in or what implications your product/service has for your audience and society at large.

OK, here is the moment most of you been waiting for as you read thus article, here are some PITCH TEMPLATES WHICH I LIKE TO USE (some of these come from a good dear friend of mine over at ArtOfEmails):


Find contact info of journalists who are actually interested in you


If your company does work in an exciting space which has been in the news lately:

Subject: Re: The title of their related article from your contact spreadsheet

Hey X-

My name is [first name] from [company name]. After reading your article {{ story.title }} I thought your readers might be interested to hear more about [topic from their article which relates to what you’re pitching] since the subject of [general topic from the article] has been in the news lately as you’ve probably seen. Looking over your bio and past articles sounds like you cover [topic from the article] a lot.

We developed a technology that…

We have some insert your news/study which relates directly to your interests and I wanted to shoot over info/details for you to review/check out. Let me know if you’d be interested?


Your full name

contact info


If your company makes a product that can be used in articles or websites


When I did marketing for Polar (acquired by Google), I pitched journalists on embedding Polar’s opinion polls into their breaking news articles to significantly boost their audience engagement. It went quite well, Polar was acquired by Google as a result of this type of pitching. Here is the pitch angle I used:

Subject: Got a poll for you: Which Foursquare logo do you prefer?

Hey Chris-

Made a poll for your article asking which Foursquare logo people like the best, check it, might be fun to get your readers more involved to get more to come back to the article:

Here are how these polls look like live:



The personal angle pitch

Got an interesting backstory? Share it. Even if you think you’ve had a pretty ho-hum life, journalists eat up details like the formative experiences that inspired you to create this company.

Personal details make the perfect hook for articles so the by teasing you’ve got a life’s worth of Kodiak moments, it really helps the journalist see your story potential.

Subject: Got a good story for your article about the extremes entrepreneurs go (involves not showering much)

Hey X,

Saw on Twitter you’re writing an article about the extremes entrepreneurs go to bootstrap their startups.

I’ve got a good one for you. I actually slept in my car while I run around pitching investors.

My gamble (and slightly less frequent showers!) paid off. I secured a $100K lifeline, giving my company enough runway to takeoff.

Happy to provide a few solid insights about how to decide if a big sacrifice like this is worth it.

If interested, I can provide the rest of the details,



The innovative product angle

This angle works if you just launched an innovative technology which solves a complex problem that affects a substantive number of people. By complex problems, think cheap to launch satellites, algorithms to automatically approve/reject small business loans. If your product is not innovative in this regard, fret not. There are plenty of other compelling angles you can pitch your company from.

Subject: [Just launched] Our software tracks serial killers

Hey Journalist,

Really trust you as the go-source source of nuanced explanations of recent STEM breakthroughs. Really liked your recent article on the potential of Theranos to revolutionize blood tests without short shifting the scepticism surrounding its proprietary tests.

I’ve got another interesting breakthrough for you to chew on. I recently created an algorithm that helps police narrow down where repeat offenders live by calculating distances between the locations of their crimes. My software Rigel assigns the highest probability percentages to areas where the serial killer is most likely to live or hang out in.

Police have used Rigel to help catch serial killers including:

  • the Suffolk strangler
  • the M25 rapist
  • Pickton

Exciting new applications I’m exploring:

  • Tracking illegal immigration patterns

Think this will be a good fit for your audience? Let me know how I can make the writing process seamless for your team.



The interesting data angle

This approach works if your data on user behaviors gives you interesting insights. Develop a script that regularly mines your data trove for trends and see if anything fascinating pops up.

Bonus brownie points if you can tease out a trend runs counter to prevailing wisdom or tackles a hot topic.

Subject: Juicy data about racial bias in dating preferences – interested?

Hey X,

Been following your articles for a while, great insights into social trends.

Your recent article about rising reports of people feeling lonely really resonated with me. I think with the declining popularity of several institutions that traditionally provided opportunities for people to regular meet each other such as church, there hasn’t been many replacements that has brought people together in the same way.

I also have a few juicy social trends to share with you. Our whizzes at OkCupids have been busy crunching some numbers and our data paints a pretty sobering portrait of racial bias in online dating.

The highlights:

  • Black women receive the lowest number of messages
  • Asian and black men receive fewer messages than white men
  • Most races still prefer to date within their race

Some interesting questions this poses:

  • Are these patterns played out in real life dating choices?
  • Or are online daters, who can so called window shop a lot of options, more selective?

Think this will be a good fit for your audience? Find attached an overview of the report.



Interesting context angle

If your company is working in an interesting or trending space, spell out the connection in your pitch.

While some journalists may not wish write an article solely about your company, they may mention it as an example of a broader phenomenon.

For example, a hot button issue right now is online privacy so let’s say you make an IP mask tool. You can bring up people’s growing anxiety over who is collecting their data and how it may be being used.

Company: Startup about matching you with a personal tour guide

Context: In the age of mass consumption and automation, people are increasingly seeking one-on-one connections with other human beings and experiences customized to their interests.

Subject: How our product plans to replace food

Hey Journalist,

I’ve been following your articles for a while – very cutting cultural analyses. Loved your recent one about eating insects as a substitute for meat protein – think all it needs is an image makeover to overcome the ick factor.

Wanted you to introduce you to another food substitute we recently launched – in the form of a nutritional drink. It provides 2600 healthy calories a day and makes eating super affordable and convenient. Step 1: blend with water or milk. Step 2: Drink up and feel full.

For the average four member American family: $154.62 per month on Soylent versus $584 on groceries.

Interesting angle to explore: Soylent’s role in the life hacking movement.

If this is a good fit, let me know.



The local angle

As mentioned above, local publications are much easier to break into because

a) the limited scope of their coverage means they are always on the hunt for more news and

b) the addition of your product/service can be relevant and impactful for the community.

Frame your pitch from this angle first when you’re first starting out to get your feet wet and test reactions to your pitch and one sentence hook.

Hey Journalist,

Really interesting coverage about the lax security at VIP lounges. It’s that old truism – money talks.

Thought you may be interested in something my team and I just launched. Ever been stuck at work and you’ve just dying to eat favorite chipotle taco? But snag, they don’t deliver? Well, imagine a world where every restaurant, even your favorite hole in the wall that can barely keep up with the crush, does deliver. We’re making it happen! With our team of meal heroes on scooters.

Basically you call the restaurant to order and then call us to arrange the pick up and delivery: [link]

Let me know if this is a good fit for your audience? We can throw in an exclusive coupon for them – first delivery free. And suddenly a few more people just became employee of the month at their workplace. 🙂



Relationship building emails: Giving the journalist a scoop

These emails are primarily for building a connection with a journalist before you pitch them so when you are ready to, they are more likely to at least open your email and consider it.

Subject: Re: Article title they recently wrote
Hey name #1-

Respect your writing a bunch, I’m an old acquaintance of <insert name #2> of <publication for which name #1 writes for>, love you blog and tend to check it every other day. Saw something you’d dig, wanted to pass it on… in relation to your post on webcams from Feb:

I saw this little hacking guide/video on how to “actually look good on webcam” which was just published, figured you’d dig, wanted to shoot this over:

Curious to hear your thoughts about it, I thought they bring up pretty good points, no?



Relationship building emails: Typo in their article angle

Subject: Typo in your article

Hey X,

Respect your reporting a great deal, love the stories you put out. Crazy to think that there are more people using mobile vs. desktop now. Saw that you have a few spelling mistakes in your recent article, wanted to follow up:

“The project, which was was announced”

“The content will be uses for The New York Times”

Looking forward to your next stories. Which article are you working on next?



Relationship building emails: Implementing their advice

Re: Loved your article about radical honesty – here’s my results after a week

Hey X,

I’ve been following your blog for the past 3 years, so many great insights!

Your recent post about radical honesty really resonated with me. I followed it step by step and I found it dramatically reduced my day to day stress levels.

You can read my post about it here: URL

If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to share it with your audience.

Thanks for sharing your can’t-find-anywhere-else tips with the community.


6. Track your email pitches to know if they’re getting opened

There are several tools to track your emails to see if the journalist has read your email or clicked on your link. My favorite is MixMax for Gmail it works like a charm and the free plan includes unlimited email tracking!

I can set the default setting to track all the emails I sent out. Or I can select the individual emails I prefer to track:

I can then just search for email or go to my sent folder to see if anybody has opened it or read it. The lightning icon with a number next to it indicates someone has opened it and the number of times they opened it:

I can click on the lighting icon to find out the details:

Some other good alternatives are YesWare and Sidekick.

7. Continually improve your pitch by tracking open and response rates

You should start by pitching to lower traffic publications to perfect your pitch first. Continually tweak the following parts of your email:

  • your subject line
  • how you describe your differentiating factor
  • the angle you pitch from

Tweak the email until you consistently start to get over 2 email opens from a single email pitch (it goes without saying that you should only send one pitch to each reporter).

8. Follow up!

I’d say 90% of responses I get from journalists are to follow up emails I send.

Some journalists may be intrigued by your pitch but may not act immediately. You must follow up! Check your email tracking logs. If a recipient opens your email 2-3 times, it generally means they have some interest in your pitch. In this case, send them a follow up email 3-4 days after your initial one. Say something simple like:


We just did [recent interesting development].

Let me know your thoughts about [our company]?”

9. Preparing your site for media coverage

If you receive notice you’re being covered, depending on the media outlet, prepare your site for a deluge of traffic.

1. Make sure your site is hosted on a dedicated server or a cloud hosting service.
2. Use Cloudflare. Add a line of script to your site and it automatically minifies your javascript files and caches your files so your site loads a lot faster.
3. Email your host. This is one step that a lot of people don’t take. If you’re about to get hit with some serious traffic, shoot an email to your web hosts and see if they can help you at all by allotting your site more resources.
4. Minify your images. Minify all your images to its lowest possible size without severely impacting quality.

When one media outlet covers you, it not only gives you a lot of social proof but helps you be discovered by other journalists as well, kicking off a snowball effect hopefully. Make sure you have your contact info prominently displayed on your front page so other people can easily email you.

One crucial part that most everyone forgets: Perfect your landing page!

Nothing worse than getting lots of press mentions and getting that dreaded 99% bounce rate. Get Optimizely to A/B test your landing pages to see what copy is more effective at getting your audience to take a desired action.

Also, stick to a “one page, one conversion goal” design approach. As in, your landing page should focus primarily on guiding your visitors to perform one action whether it be downloading your app, signing up for a trial or leaving their email. One action.

So as you can see…

There are many, many angles from which you can present your company to get press mentions. Even if you are in a boring industry. The beauty about taking control of your PR outreach is, you know exactly who is responding, what is working and what isn’t. Instead of waiting for your PR firm to circle back at the end of the month with “we’re on the cusp of a breakthrough if you just stay with us another month”.

The other beauty of running your own PR outreach at first is, after you finetune the process to the point it starts to reliably delivering results, you can automate many parts of it. For example, you can get a virtual assistant to populate those press contact lists.

Once you have sent several pitches that have gotten good open and response rates, you can simply start tweaking and re-sending that same winning template over and over again.

In any case, there you have it, this is the exact process I follow when I reach out to journalists to get them to cover me. Apply this process, take the time to research and find journalists who really are interested in what you have to say, make sure to go through each step and you’ll see success I guarantee it. I’ve used this process for 8+ years, gotten startups acquired using this process, and have built my entire business on it.

Happy reaching out!

Get a PDF of the exact email templates I use to pitch press