Merritt Group Blog

How Can Your Company Get That Life-Altering Press Hit?

Every PR person gets this question: "How do we get into The Wall Street Journal? Or TechCrunch? The New York Times?" The good news is that although each reporter has a specific beat that he or she covers regularly, there is a formula for what is interesting to top-tier media outlets.

Topics: start ups startup media relations

How to Successfully Engage Industry Analysts

Analyst relations is about engaging credible people in a specific market and building influence. Whether you’re looking for an industry expert to test your messaging, validate your press activity, praise your company publicly or send a customer your way, an analyst advocate can be a valuable tool in your marketing and PR toolbox.

For many startups, however, analyst relations can be daunting if it’s your first time engaging influencers. To that end, here are a few tried and true strategies and tactics to get your AR program off the ground and well on its way to success.

Topics: start ups startup media relations

4 Mistakes Startups Can't Afford to Make

Marketing is complicated. As a startup you know it’s important to communicate with your audience and to nurture relationships along the way. But when your team is lean and mean and focused on making sales to grow the business, it can seem like a distraction to shift attention to a proactive marketing campaign.

Topics: start ups startup media relations start-up

6 Ways to Own the Stage at Your Next Industry Event

Industry events are one of the most efficient ways to get in front of important audiences in a condensed time frame. The benefits are many, from face-time with customers and prospective partners, media and analysts, as well as potential employees. But more specifically, your presence at well-attended industry events and trade shows can have a real impact on your marketing and lead-generation efforts.

But how do you rise above the noise? If the event is impactful enough, all of your competitors and partners will likely be vying for the coveted keynote slots. Does the best product win? The most visionary abstract title? We’ve got you covered with these six helpful tips to land the speaking opportunity of the year:

Topics: start ups startup media relations start-up trade shows

How to Build Valuation

One of my favorite shows on television is “Antiques Roadshow.” If you’re not familiar with the program, people take some of their most prized possessions and family heirlooms to find out from the panel of expert appraisers if what they have is trash or treasure.

When evaluating the value of the painting, Persian rug or Chippendale table, the experts consider a number of factors, such as the artist, condition, history and market demand. This process is not unlike what you’ll go through as a startup looking for cash, to go IPO, or court a merger or acquisition exit. One of the challenges around building valuation is it that it can often seem more like an art than a science.

Topics: start ups startup media relations start-up

On the Record: Don’t Blow Your Press Interview

You landed a media interview — congratulations! You have the attention of a reporter whose story has the potential to be a game changer and put your startup on the map. Now don’t blow it!

Whether you’re being interviewed for an online piece, radio or broadcast, there are three P’s you need to master in order to achieve communications success: prepare, practice and perform. As a foundation to these pillars, you first need to understand that a media Interview is not a presentation, conversation or reporter “education.” A media interview is an opportunity to deliver your message to a large audience in a short amount of time and establish yourself as a credible source.

Be Newsworthy or Go Home

To do so, it’s critical to know what is and is not newsworthy. Reporters want to break hard news; get their hands on compelling facts and figures; write about timely topics that involve drama, controversy or challenge conventional thinking; or write stories that feature interesting characters and companies that are moving mountains and shifting markets. Give that to them on a silver platter with additional third-party resources that can back you up. The second you try to push a story that is overtly self-serving, common knowledge, vague or lacking validation, that reporter’s going to be running out the door. Don’t be surprised if you get passed over in the story if you can’t answer the “so what?” question. 

‘The Questions Don’t Do the Damage. Only the Answers Do.”

That quote by Sam Donaldson is fair warning — the last thing you want to do is wing it on an interview. Your job is to listen closely to the questions, stick to the topic and messages, get to the point and have your sound bites ready.

As with any interview, there is potential for tough questions — and you should anticipate those in advance and be prepared with responses. Common traps that could potentially push you into a corner include “what if” scenarios and requests to speculate and generally negative statements. While you can’t control the questions, you can control how you respond. As the old adage goes, they can’t print what you don’t say.

When in doubt, or you’re not sure, use your ABC’s to control the conversation: anticipate and address questions; bridge, flag or defer to stick to your message points; and conclude on a positive point. Bridging is a critical technique that can help you move from one issue to another. By briefly answering the question asked and “bridging” to the point you want to make, you can redirect the focus back to your key messages. Some examples of this include “the most important thing is” or “to the contrary.”

Another technique is flagging, which places a priority on a specific thought or key message prior to delivering it, such as stating, “The best part about this is” or, “I think it all boils down to.” This draws attention to what you are about to say, so that the reporter knows that they’re about to hear something they need to pay attention to. If an interviewer persists with a question you can’t answer, defer them to an appropriate source. Don’t be afraid to point them to another website, organization or other information source that can get them what they need. You can’t know everything, after all.


Practice Makes Perfect 

One of the best ways to practice these techniques and your messages is by doing it aloud. Reading your messages in your head is not the same as hearing them verbally. Grab a co-worker, spouse or one of your children and practice a mock interview with them. Have them ask you tough questions to make sure you’ve mastered your various refocusing techniques. If nobody’s around, record yourself on video. The goal is to be sure you’re on message and reflecting your true personal tone so the words don’t sound rehearsed.  


Follow-Up is Just as Important as the Interview

Just because you had a great conversation doesn’t mean your job is done. Your follow-up is also your opportunity to correct or clarify any statement you made during the interview, if you felt you were unclear or the message was not resonanting. Be sure to ask the reporter if they have everything they need and make sure you come through on any promises for additional information. This also helps grow the relationship and shows how you’re a good resource they can trust, which means they’ll want to come back for more next time they’re looking for sources. And once you do see that amazing story pop with your name or company in the headline, be sure to reach back out and thank them for their work.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Here’s a quick list of things you should do.

  • Be Prepared — Take time before the interview to think about your key messages and prepare concise talking points. Write note cards or make an outline to follow during the conversation.
  • Speak Clearly — Keep your hands away from your face so that your voice is clear and not muffled. Slow down a bit to give the reporter time to capture your words.
  • Be Concise — Talk in sound bites and be careful not to repeat yourself. Remember, it is even easier for people to lose attention during phone calls. 
  • Be Energetic — Practice pauses and voice inflections. A monotone voice can cause people to quickly lose interest.
  • Be Equipped With Examples — Examples are a great way to bring your individual story to life for the reporter and viewers/listeners.
  • Be Passionate — Reporters can sense how invested you are in the company, product or cause.
  • Listen — Don’t just be waiting and thinking about what you want to say next. Answer the questions. Do not cut the reporter off in all your enthusiasm to answer.
  • Be positive and accommodating — Answer the reporter’s question directly and honestly. If you need to reframe a question, acknowledge the original question and then offer your opinion. For example, “That’s a great question. I think what you’re getting at points to an important trend/topic that would mean a lot to your audience.”  
  • Breathe — Take a deep breath before the call, and throughout the call, to sound calm and self-assured. Speak from your diaphragm to get some depth to your tone.
  • Smile. Yes, smile — even on phone calls! — Although your audience can’t see you, they can hear it in your voice.
  • Be on time — We all know you are busy running a company or developing new products, but media should take priority if you agree to a call. Nothing can get an interview off on the wrong foot more than being late and wasting the reporter’s time.

And what you need to avoid:

  • Don’t speculate.
  • Don’t take the interview cold.
  • Don’t adopt a negative attitude.
  • Don’t memorize sentences or paragraphs verbatim.
  • Don’t use technical jargon.
  • Don’t feel the need to fill silence (it’s their job).
  • Express your position as personal opinion.
  • Don’t go “off the record.”

As long as you remember to prepare, practice and perform, you’ll be well on your way to be featured in an article that takes your company to the next level. Not sure if you’re ready? A good next step is taking our self-evaluation quiz, which will take you a minute and will give you even more detailed, personalized recommendations for marketing your business and product.

Topics: start ups startup media relations

You Have a Great Product, Now Craft a Great Story

The key to telling a successful product or service story is knowing what kind of audience you want to reach and then putting your solution into a relevant context for that audience. Often times, this means you must look beyond the technical details of your solution and explore the wider significance of why your industry peers will find this announcement relevant.

Topics: start ups startup branding marketing marketing messaging