We asked Gründerszene journalist and editor Christina Kyriasoglou about press for startups. Here is what she had to say:
HRK: What does a startup need to consider before they start looking for press?
Christina Kyriasoglou (CK): Oh, so many things. First of all: Make sure you understand what the press is and what a journalist does. I receive tons of mail from founders asking me, if I will advertise their startup or help them get attention. This is not my job!
My job is to critically question everything you tell me. I am not your PR spokesperson.
Once you are ready to answer all the hard questions about your purpose and your product, go ahead. Think carefully about your story: What makes you unique? Is it a personal story? Is it your product?
Figure that out and write a short, catchy mail or call me.
HRK: How early is too early? What do you find are the minimum requirements before you decide to bring a story?
CK: I do not think there are specific rules. This very much depends on the company and the founder. If the startup, for example, is in a very early stage, but the founder’s story of how he got there is incredibly interesting, why not cover it?
It’s all about having something to tell.
HRK: Why is it important for a startup to rethink whether they are ready for press attention? And what do you need to consider?
CK: If you are not ready things can backfire. And this is not because [media] are mean, but because of what I explained earlier: A journalist’s job is to be critical.
Many startups handle the communication with the media very unprofessionally. We’ve had examples where desperate founders contacted us because they needed an investment to survive.
Of course, they would not tell us about the bad state their company is in, but were upset once we investigated and found out. This is not exactly a clever tactic and can result in the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.
My advice: Media training really can’t hurt anyone, and is well-invested time and money.
HRK: What is one of the worst examples you’ve seen of a startup that approached the media too early?
CK: Not the worst example, but an interesting one: The Berlin-based fintech startup Cookies went bankrupt earlier this year.
They spent an immense amount of effort on marketing, advertised their peer-to-peer payment app persistently and landed national coverage in big newspapers – all before they had even launched.
Then, when they went bankrupt just a few weeks after their launch, they had not only burned 1.5 million euros in a short amount of time, but it also left a very bad taste because of the hype.
But: What would have been the alternative for them? Not engage in marketing as much? Not really an option with their B2C (business-to-consumer) business, since they needed that attention to attract users.
So that is the price you have to pay sometimes, when you decide to put yourself out there and you should be aware of that.
HRK: What are your tips for startup founders when they interact with a journalist?
CK: Be transparent and concrete. It is important to establish a relationship with mutual trust.
If you want some information to be confidential, we will treat it as such. If you feel like we should know something to understand things better, but don’t want to read it in the news, you can tell us so. These are basics of journalistic work. And tell the truth. Anything else is a killer for a good long-term relationship.
HRK: How can a startup distinguish whether they (or what they offer) is newsworthy?
CK: It is a matter of understanding the medium you are addressing. Reading it helps, obviously. But you can also call a journalist, pitch your story and learn from the feedback. Some founders are offended, which is not really helpful.
But if you make an effort, it is going to bring you further. I once had a founder contact me five times over the course of several months and in the end, we found a story.
Sometimes it is also helpful to think about what you would call your best friend and tell them.
Christina Kyriasoglou has been working for Gründerszene since 2015 and covers tech, economics and startups. She previously studied at the Journalism School for Politics and Economics in Cologne, Germany. Prior to attending journalism school, Kyriasoglou studied Economics and Politics at the University of Cologne and International Political Economy at King’s College in London.