Swedish Startup Space

Do startups really deserve more media coverage?

Written by on July 24, 2014

Editor note: This post was written by Olle Aronsson, a reporter at Dagens industri. Olle also co-hosts Digitalpodden, a bi-monthly podcast about the Swedish Internet industry.

There’s been a bit of a buzz this week around startups that promise to help other businesses to get in contact with journalists and convince news organizations to write about their product.

For me, as a tech journalist, this debate is interesting because it gives me an idea about what some people in the industry believe is the key to convincing reporters like me that a certain company should be covered in Sweden’s biggest business publication, Dagens industri.

Sadly, many get it wrong.

First of all, the very idea of hiring someone else to do your early stage PR work is flawed. Journalists don’t want to talk to some consultant charging way too much money in exchange for providing questionable value for their clients (yes, this is my general opinion of PR people even if there are exceptions).

Journalists would much rather talk to you. You’re the one sacrificing money, sweat and sleep on the mission to creating a kick-ass app or hardware device or whatever. Reporters do respect this which makes them more inclined to listen. That doesn’t mean that they’ll always answer your calls or e-mails. But at least your odds improve.

I for one prefer to talk to the founders themselves because I know they have complete knowledge of the product. That way, I’m at least assured that I’m not wasting my time with someone who does not know the answers to my questions.

But what, you might ask, if I lack the skills to do a media pitch? After all, you hire consultants to do stuff you can’t manage on your own, right?

It’s true that PR consultants can help you furnish your press releases and improve your understanding of what certain publications like to write about. However, there is one group that understands this even better: Journalists.

It usually takes me about thirty seconds to figure out whether a startup is news worthy or not. It doesn’t matter if your press release looks a bit amateurish or if you sound insecure while talking to me on the phone.

Journalists understand that great founders don’t necessarily make great salesmen or media pitchers.

Which leads us to another false pretense that some companies seem to be using as a starting point for PR work: That it’s just like sales. James Pember, a very talented sales person, mentioned in an earlier post here that journalists are “notoriously hard to convince”.

I disagree. In fact, journalists are very easy to convince, as long you deserve their coverage. If your product is truly new, interesting and different and you can prove it really solves a big problem or attracts a lot of users – a good tech journalist will notice this. If the reporters says no, it’s probably not because of your pitch performance. The reason is, most likely, that your company is not ready to be covered in the publication you just pitched. If the journalist still writes about your startup, the reporter in question is doing a bad job.

The art of convincing is simply overrated.

I think this is partially because some founders still believe that the startup industry, at least in Sweden, is under-covered. This was perhaps true a few years ago but not anymore. Dagens industri, where I work, and our main competitor Svenska Dagbladet has stepped it up. So has Veckans Affärer, Sveriges Radio P3 and others. Techcrunch, even though it’s written in English, remains an important site for early stage companies in Sweden that can’t get press anywhere else (no offense) to spread the word. Swedish Startup Space serves a similar purpose but has the clear advantage of local presence.

Considering that major news companies have very limited resources these days and that we have to cover other industries as well, I think startups now get their fair share of coverage.

Anyone not getting media attention is either not trying or not deserving it.

  • jamespember

    Great post Olle, some really strong points and also key learnings to take away from a startup perspective.

  • tedvalentin

    Quote: “If your product is truly new, interesting and different and you can prove it really solves a big problem or attracts a lot of users – a good tech journalist will notice this.” – I have to disagree. That’s misleading. Sorry, but most of the time getting PR has little to do with solving big problems and actual prospects of attracting users. (I base that on having had a startup that was named the “hottest in Sweden” by WIRED Magazine, and that was also featured in your publication among many others.) Getting PR for a startup is based on newsworthy-ness. Like riding on some current trend, or having something in your pitch that is different, or quirky. A journalist will think “How can i turn this into a story, somehow.” It is not about if the PRODUCT is new or interesting – it’s about if the STORY is new or interesting. That kind of sucks, but that’s the way it is.

    • I agree completely. My startup is doing something rather revolutionary for online video. We’re the only platform not trying to control the creator’s revenue and control their audiences’ contact emails. We’re offering a crazy deal where we will give the early adopters custom built websites, life-time memberships and consulting for a one-time fee of just $300. We’ve been endorsed by the 12th largest YouTube network.

      But we can’t get any press, regardless of how many emails or tweets I have sent directly to journalists. We’ve raised almost $5,000 but it’s primarily been from my own mailing list. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/build-your-own-tv-station-from-youtube-videos/x/215096

      I’ve been trying really hard to not be cynical about the fact a potato salad troll project has got major media attention, but something I’ve already poured $35,000 into building to solve huge problems in the web video space is getting ignored.

      I recently saw the Daily Show interview with that guy from Gawker. Seems almost everything is yellow journalism these days. The news blogs want link bait, and aren’t interested in things that aren’t already trending because their goal is no longer to educate and inform, but to latch onto trends for their own site traffic.

      About two years ago I was invited to an event during SXSW hosted by the Austin City Council for startups to meet with journalists. I still recall trying to introduce myself to a guy from TechCrunch but he took one look at me and turned his back completely around to chat with the founder of a different, more notable startup in town — who also happened to be an attractive woman. I’ve had PR agencies approach me but everyone wants to charge $6K-$10K and can make no promises of actual coverage.

      It’s a tough world for genuine boot-strapped startups, because the media isn’t the same as it was five years ago.

  • Olle Aronsson

    Good point, Ted. I could have been clearer on that but then I also would have gotten ahead of things. I will in a future post expand on what I mean by “interesting and different” and how Swedish journalists decide what’s newsworthy.

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