How to win free media for your startup – Part ONE


I had no money for my startup, so I used the free media. Later, I worked in media. Here’s what I learnt …

These days we are faced with a wide range of media channels. More than ever before. It’s a minefield. But there are ways to cut through.

When I ran my own startup, we had no money left over (after spending far too much on the technology, and not enough on sales) for marketing. If I had had any money left over, I bet I would have spent it. It’s easy to buy things. But would it have done us any good? Doubt it.

Over 10+ years running that tech business, then another one after that, then a media business, I learnt a great deal about how to win free media (from both sides of the fence).

In this and two subsequent posts, I will try and distill what I learnt.

It’s tough!

Firstly, perception switch.

Think of things from the media’s point of view. Not yours.

Media has become a very tough business over the past decade or so, having undergone immense disruption and change. You can pretty much assume that most media organisations are running very thin indeed with very few resources. Barely clinging on in fact.

No one has been immune – everyone from the local newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio channel and every other form of media has been struggling for a shrinking pie.

A couple of years ago Google and Facebook earned an extra $1B in annual ad money in Australia. Not a $1B total. An EXTRA billion. In the same year, the total ad market in Australia only grew by $300M. This meant that everyone else (TV, radio, outdoor, print, online, cinema…) were scrambling around for $700M LESS in ad revenue.


OK, so it’s not easy running an Aussie media business. But therein lies the opportunity. Be their friend. More on this later.

Think before you leap

If you want to get your message out via the media, you have to be far more subtle than merely bashing out a press release to the local paper (although that can still work, to a degree, if done correctly – my third post will deal with this subject).

Some startups feel (understandably) a bit shy or nervous about gaining media attention, but if you research and then select the most appropriate journalists, control the interaction between yourselves and the media channel, and have a clear goal in mind, things need not be problematical.

It is fairly easy these days to gain positive media coverage if you know a few ‘tricks of the trade’. The ideal is to have a drip feed of positive stories about your business over time. This all adds to your brand and name recognition, which can be helpful in all kinds of ways.

Remember, the rule of thumb is that having an editorial about your business has about four times the value than a paid for promotional ad of the same size.

Share your cake and eat it

However, the media is not there to give you free promotion.

Most of their business models rely on them gaining a significant readership in their local area or niche, then charging advertisers for publishing promotional messages to that audience.

The media understands all too well that businesses would love to circumvent their advertising models and receive free exposure in their online and offline media, and at their events.

Therefore, be aware that your message should not be too ‘self-promotional’. It should be informational and targeted at the specific audience of the media in question.

Put yourself in their shoes.

Before you approach any media, make sure you have answered these questions:

  • Why is your story of interest to their readers?
  • What is the ‘angle’?
  • Is the story given exclusively to this media source, or is it for general release?
  • Why is this particular story relevant to this particular media source?
  • How can you help the media organisation towards their own goals?

Treat journalists like clients

With a little research, you can find out which writers, journalists and online influencers are relevant in each local media source (the daily newspaper, the business journal, the local free paper, various online news sites and blogs…)

Think about your local media contacts as if they are clients of yours. Contact them, take them out for a coffee or lunch. Send them a personally written Christmas card each year (yes, really.) Or muffins. Especially if they write about you. Any maybe even if not. Be the better Roman.

Ask journos what kinds of stories they like to write about, and then, when the time is right, feed them this story. Don’t overdo it, but have enough stories and writers to keep you in the lime light over time.

A steady stream of positive news stories does wonders for your company’s credibility, brand awareness and positioning.

Plus your staff, shareholders, board, management team and clients will love it too.

You will also find that this reputation will precede you, so that it will easier to attract higher quality staff, clients and investors as well.

It’s all ‘hidden’ to some degree, but it adds up and it is real.

Imagine someone (a potential client or employee or investor) researching your business online. What will they find? If they discover a good deal of positive news stories written by independent media, this will only enhance your brand in their eyes.


NEXT WEEK – Part Two in this series gives you 15 pieces of advice for approaching the media.