PR tips for startups: 7-step proven system to get press

by | May 24, 2016 | Media Relations, Pitching Tips, PR Tools, Public Relations

Having worked in the PR industry for 10+ years and successfully landed numerous clients in top publications like Forbes and CNN, I get asked this question a lot:

“I just launched my company. How do I get press for it?”

I’m going to show you my proven system for:

  • Getting your pitch noticed in the inboxes of journalists with 1000+ unread emails
  • Actually getting a story written about you

The good news is, you do not need to hire an expensive PR team. Or a huge budget.

The bad turned good news is, most people do it wrong but below I’m going to show you the proven system to secure those shiny Featured In press badges for your landing page. And the traffic, new users and glory it comes with.

Step #1: Pitch journalists who cover topics related to what your company does

This one seems obvious but a lot of people just randomly pitch every journalist whose email address they can get a hold of. But take this example: would a lifestyle journalist cover a tech gadget? Probably not.

The easiest way to find relevant journalists is looking up articles that have covered topics and keywords related to your company and seeing who wrote it.

For example, at JustReachOut, we help startups research and reach out to journalists for their PR campaigns  so general topics and keywords for us would be:

  • Startup PR
  • PR tool
  • PR service

Enter each topic or keywords into Google and toggle the Google topbar to News so it only shows news articles for the results:


Click through to each article from the past month and go to find the bio of the journalist who wrote it. It typically tells you a little more about the journalist and what beats they cover:


To keep all the relevant journalists you find in one place, create a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Full name of the journalist
  • Email address of the journalist
  • Link to the article you discovered them on
  • Link to the Twitter profile of the journalist
  • Timezone of the journalism (based on the city they live in) – this is so you can send your pitch when they are most likely working/checking their emails

Add every journalist you discover who covers topics related to your company.

To smart guess each journalist’s email address, enter the URL of the publication they write for into emailhunter.co. It’ll return the emails of some of the people who work there. Looking at the results, you can see how a publication formats their email addresses to smart guess the email of the journalist you want to pitch.

For example, entering Forbes into Email Hunter, it returns these results:


Based on their format firstinitiallastname@forbes.com, if your journalist’s name was Sam Harris, their email would most likely be sharris@forbes.com.

If you’re still having trouble finding someone’s email after using EmailHunter, I wrote an article on 6 bulletproof methods to guess anyone’s email, one of these will surely help!

Step #2: Build relationships with journalists first

While it is possible to cold pitch a journalist and get them to write about you directly from that, you’ll drastically improve your chances if you build a relationship with the journalist first.

First, follow them on Twitter. Many journalists share their own articles on there. Leave meaningful comments when they do so when it comes time to pitch them, they’ll recognize your name.

Example of a journalist tweeting a recent article they wrote:


If you have insider expertise or knowledge about a topic they cover, you can consider sending them also a scoop.

Many contributors to news sites these days run their own businesses as well so you can research its challenges and goals to provide valuable insights on it to open a conversation that way:


You can also break the ice by participating in online discussions (great places include Quora and Reddit) of topics related to your company, then referencing them to ask for the expertise of relevant journalists with a variation of the template below. This opens a conversation with them so you don’t have to cold email them to get their attention later.

Hey Journalist,

I noticed you’ve been writing about the SEO skyscraper technique a lot lately, I just answered a question on Quora about the skyscraper and I’m not sure I was able to give it a complete answer, wondering if  you have a better answer specifically around the process of determining who you want to link to your post?


I’m writing a blog post on this topic and would love to feature your answer in my blog post.

Feel free to comment directly on the thread.

Thank you a bunch ahead of time!


Step #3: Find journalists who are looking for people feature in a story they’re already working on

Instead of pitching to journalists first hoping they jump on your story, check out what story requests journalists are making first. This gives you a much better chance of getting covered since journalists are already working on that specific story.

A great place to receive journalist queries is HARO. Sign up for their email list and every day you will receive a list of journalists who are actively looking for companies and people to feature in stories they are currently working on:


Quickly skim each day’s email to see if any of the journalists are looking for something related to your experiences or the work your company does.

You can also type in the hashtag #journorequest with a few general keywords related to your company to find journalist requests on Twitter. Here are some results I got when I searched for “#journorequest crowdfunding”:


Step #4: Create and include interesting visual content assets in your pitch

Did you know humans process visuals 60 000 times faster than text? There’s a reason why Buzzfeed sprinkles images throughout their viral hit articles. So instead of sending plain vanilla text pitches, create visual assets to explain what your company does to include inside it.

Visual assets are also beneficial for showing journalists that you have the glossy materials they can include in their article to prettify its presentation.

Types of visuals you can include (include a maximum of 2):

Your key features


Step #5: Pitch local publications first

Local publications are much easier to break into at first because the fact that you launched in that city can make it newsworthy. Once you have an article about your company published in one publication, you can cite it in your future pitches for credibility.

Simply type in [Your city] newspaper into Google to get a list of all your local publications (remember to include both print and online only ones!):


Pitch the journalist at each publication that covers topics most closely related with your topic. If one journalist doesn’t bite, you can also try pitching their editor and if they like your story, they may assign it to one of their writers.

Here’s a template you can reference when making your pitch:

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.


Step #6: When pitching what your company does, set it in the larger context of an issue or trend it’s related to

Flip through a magazine or read an article. You’ll rarely see a story dedicated to a single company unless it’s a truly revolutionary but you may see it getting mentioned inside a larger story about an issue or trend related to it.

To make to case for your relevancy in an issue or tend they may be covering soon, it’s important to spell out your connection to that bigger context in your pitch.

Find below a few contexts you can set what your company does in. You can reference my article on highly effective cold emails to see how to best structure your pitch:

The personal background angle

A lot of journalists may not cover a company but they may be interested your personal experiences and background in creating and running it. If you learned valuable insights because of your background as X or your experiences doing Y, mention that in your pitch.

For example, here’s an article a journalist wrote in Inc wrote about how a company an actor launched, using the story of how he found his his ideal business partner as an interesting backdrop:


Here’s a template you can reference for pitching this angle:

Hey Journalist,

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,


Set in the context of a larger trend or issue

If your company is doing something that is trending, pitch it in the context of its relevancy to that phenomenon. For example, if you are a delivery logistics company using machine learning to calculate the most efficient routes and delivery order, you can set it in the context of trending topics such as automation and what it means for human workers. Pick the issue that the journalist is most likely to write about based on their interests and articles they have written in the past.

In example, this article in Forbes talks about the how peer-to-peer apps are changing the travel industry and it describes a few trending companies working in the space:


Here’s a template you can reference for pitching this angle:

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.


Offer interesting data

If you get interesting data through your product or customer use of your product , you can also create visual assets out of it to include in your pitch. Journalists know interesting data visualizations drive a lot of traffic and interest so if you can offer that to them, they’ll be much more likely to see your story potential.


You can reference this template when pitching your data discoveries:

Hey Journalist,

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 OkCupid 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.


Top 3 key steps for achieving PR success

  1. Only pitch to journalists who have written about topics related to your company in the past.
  2. Do not just pitch what your company does. Set it in a context of a larger issue or trend it is related to, picking one a journalist is most likely to write about based on their past articles.
  3. Include interesting assets (visuals or data visualizations) to your pitch so it’s easier for journalists to see your story potential knowing you have solid materials to include in their article.

Have a question about getting press coverage for your startup? Comment down below and I’ll give you share with you what I learned PR hacking startups to massive growth, including getting one acquired by Google.

Dmitry Dragilev is the founder of JustReachOut, a simple app which helps entrepreneurs pitch press on their own without the help of PR firms. He regularly shares his best SEO and content marketing/growth strategies on his blog CriminallyProlific.

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Dmitry Dragilev
Dmitry Dragilev is the founder of TopicRanker.com, an SEO tool which finds keywords your website can easily rank for on Google due to specific problems and weaknesses in search results. Over the last 10 years, Dmitry has helped 300+ brands rank #1 on Google through PR and SEO. Dmitry used PR & SEO to grow a startup from 0 to 40 million views per month, and got acquired by Google in 2014. After the acquisition by Google he translated his know-how into JustReachOut.io, an SEO tool to get covered in press and build authority backlinks without PR firms; it has been used by 5000+ content marketers to date and was acquired in 2021. More about all his projects on his personal blog CriminallyProlific.com.