Blog Post

How startups can hack the PR machine

Six months ago my company hadn’t even launched. Last week we found ourselves being talked about everywhere in Britain — a full page story in The Sun, the country’s biggest newspaper, columns in most of the other nationals (both online and offline) and pickup in literally hundreds of regional newspapers, radio stations, trade publications and blogs.

How? Simple: We used our strengths — the data we live and breathe every day — and released a survey of the best and worst cities to find a job in the U.K.

The result was that we saw record traffic and brand searches on our site this week, new inquiries from advertisers, and generated lots of inbound links that will help us with SEO going forward. Startups like Adzuna generally can’t afford brand advertising, but that doesn’t mean they can’t build brands, and PR — like social media and word of mouth from happy customers — is a cost-effective way of achieving awareness. In my previous roles at Gumtree and Zoopla, I’ve seen how this sort of PR can be a key early part of the virtuous cycle of getting a consumer startup into the public consciousness.

So how did we do it? Why did this story work?

It was newsworthy

Unemployment is a hot topic on the news agenda, at record levels and still rising. Government data that comes out each month gets lots of attention, but there’s little more insight coming out beyond news of companies who are hiring or making cuts. Finding work is a big issue people need help with, and people have a vested interest in their local area: with pride and greed we hit on two of the Seven Deadly Sins!

It was carefully timed

We timed this story to come out 3 working days after the official unemployment data, which we used as part of our analysis. Releasing the same day runs the risk that the journalist has already written their story – 2 weeks after it feels like it is not fresh or in the news agenda. Previously, I’ve had lots of success with stories timed around known events or calendar dates for similar reasons.

Our data was good

Credibility with national journalists is tough to achieve as a startup.  Why should they quote your opinion when they’ve never heard of you?  One way to get over this is simply to produce great, compelling analysis from data that sells itself. Fortunately, many tech startups live in that world of Big Data and therefore can mine their databases to produce genuinely insightful and comprehensive analysis and stories that are hard to ignore.  What are your top searches?  What are the patterns in different locations or segments?  Associating your data with an official government source like we did helps too.

We targeted carefully

Approaching the right journalists is key, although it can take a lot of prep work.  Build a sell-in list individually for every release, blag access to tools like Gorkana to get lists of the relevant writers, then research whether your story is relevant to them, and track down their contact details.  Write a custom covering email that explains why you think this might work for them or where you think it realistically fits for their publication. If appropriate, offer them specific additional data (for example about their local area) or even produce tailored, different versions of your story for different segments.

We used our relationships

Two or three of the national stories we achieved this week came from people who had written about us before. If you have any kind of relationship with a journalist, and the info you send has been relevant and useful to them before, they are far more likely to take your phone calls and read your emails.  Work your network, buy coffees and lunches.  And when you have a good story, don’t be afraid to phone the right people up and tell them about it – in 30 seconds, ideally between 10 and 11am – then email it over. We probably made 100 calls to journalists this week, some of which gruffly hung up. There’s a fine line of course between being persistent and annoying people.

We told a story that was relevant to our brand

From our perspective, the message of this story was right for our brand.  As a job search engine, we aggregate nearly every job ad in the UK in one place, which means we’re uniquely placed to provide comprehensive, up to date info on job vacancies.  The story we released about national trends in vacancies implies this abundance and positions us as an authority on the UK job market.

… And we had some good luck

There was no big crisis story on the day we released that dominated the news agenda. The Press Association wrote up the story, and their newswire syndication automatically feeds your story into some of the regionals and crosses the desk of many journalists.  Without the PA, we might have got 20 rather than 100 pieces.  Once we had PA and a couple of nationals, others were more interested.  On the other hand, I’ve had lots of experiences where what seems like a good story doesn’t get any coverage. Sometimes you just have to move on.

How much did this all cost us?  We brainstormed the idea internally.  One of our team compiled and analysed the data which I then used to write the release.  Two of us emailed and called journalists for half a day, and then fielded enquiries for another day.  Total of 3, maybe 4 days of effort.

We don’t use a PR agency.  I have in the past, have had generally good experiences, and will do again.  But if you are bootstrapping, no-one has heard of you and you want to work the relationships and the sell-ins hard, it is difficult to see how anyone will do a better job of getting that initial PR than your team.  It can be done.

Doug Munro is the co-founder of job search engine Adzuna.

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