The 4-step media hack for startups to generate effective leads

Media coverage

You have developed your product, determined the pricing strategy and distribution channels to reach your customers. Now comes the tricky part: how to create awareness, attract interest, and convert your business leads into paying customers?

Unlike the other parts of the marketing mix, promoting your business may sound the easiest but it’s instead one of the biggest hurdles for startups. Why? The outcome of your efforts is determined by how effectively you attract the attention of your target customers, manage their perception of your business, and ensure they have sufficient motivation and ability to act in the sales process.

With so many things to look out for, it can seem daunting to many startups with limited resources.

Here are four steps for media-hacking to help you along the process. Through public relations, you can establish your business reputation through credible news sources for free, and most importantly generate effective leads. In business speak, this means minimising your customer acquisition costs and increasing sales conversion.

In the first two steps, I’ll teach you how you can increase the effectiveness of reaching out to your target customers. The other two steps will focus on how you can develop compelling content to communicate and persuade your prospects to buy your product.

1) Understand your customers’ media consumption habits.

Let’s start with the fundamentals, you need to understand your buyer persona which includes knowing where and how your customers are obtaining information.

It may sound prestigious to get covered by big name media like the Wall Street Journal, but unless your customers are subscribers of the publication, or that article is reproduced in other media that your customers read, it is not an effective way to publicise your business.

Similarly, if your customers are mainly getting their information through social media, you’ll want to make sure that the media you are pitching to has a strong following online.

In countries where English is not the first language, it is also important to consider the language the media is using. For instance, if you are reaching out to Thai customers who only read Thai, it is better to target Thai instead of English media based in Thailand. If you are pitching to non-English media, there is also a higher chance of them picking up the news if it is translated to their language.

To get a better sense of which media you should target to reach out to your customers, you can check out their conversations and postings on social media communities such as Facebook interest groups or forum pages like Quora. Most media outlets also provide media kits on the profile of their readers and circulation figures.

After identifying the appropriate media platforms, you need to research who are the reporters covering the news from your industry, to increase the odds of a successful media pitch. If you are in the technology business, pitching your story to a reporter who specialises in covering culture and arts is going to result in an ignored email.

2) Identify upcoming significant events where you can participate in or collaborate with the bigger boys.

Besides researching your customers’ media consumption habits, you’ll need to find out the types of events they are attending. Are there industry events that you can participate as a speaker? This not only widens your networking opportunities and enables you to connect with your customers at the event, but also provides visibility in the form of event coverage in news outlets or on social media.

You can also consider leveraging the prominence of bigger organisations, industry associations and the local government by jointly co-organising an event or inviting them to attend your event. However, do note that organising such events can require a lot of resources and needs to fit the agenda of the other party.

The key point, as pointed out by Caryn Marooney, Head of Technology Communications for Facebook, is to ‘associate yourself with the super giants, even if they’re not in your industry. If it makes sense, they can help you tell your story and gain relevance to land that win-win situation.’

3) Developing a compelling story to share.

In general, stories that are novel, current, relevant, impactful, are of human interest, and involve prominent people/organisations are more newsworthy.

What does this mean for a startup? If you are building a creative monopoly offering new differentiated products that benefit many, you already have to the right ingredients to capture your customer’s and media attention. A story about a product that uniquely caters to people’s needs and wants, are at least ten times better than legacy systems or what incumbents are offering and benefits many people, are those that get featured in major news outlets and even go viral.

But what if your company is not the next Google or Apple or is competing in a saturated market? You’ll need to research the stories that have been covered in the media before to know how best to angle your story.

Always ask yourself if the stories you are selling to the media meet the above characteristics of a newsworthy story and can help the media get better readership or viewership. As a new business, you must also demonstrate how believable your solutions are before reporters will write about you.

Not sure what new story you can bring to the table? Start by asking yourself why you founded your business. Do you want to use your expertise to help a niche market that is currently underserved by incumbents? Or do you have a proprietary technology that makes an existing problem much easier and simpler to solve?

According to author Simon Sinek, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it." If you can build your story around your company’s ‘why’ and why your customers can benefit from it, it will be a more effective way to stand out from your competitors and get your prospective customers interested, than just communicating your product features.

There are many other tactics to get media coverage. These include newsjacking or injecting your ideas and opinions into a breaking or trending news story; building relationships with the media and being their go-to resource for industry comments; collaborating with or serving a big customer and using their brand name to get media attention; volunteering some time to a charitable endeavour; and PR stunts that can get people noticed and talking. Whenever possible, your ‘why’ message should be carried in these stories.

4) Give them enough reason to follow through the sales process

Lastly, as the Fogg Behaviour Model suggests, one must have sufficient motivation and ability in the presence of a trigger to activate a desired behaviour. One major mistake that most companies fail to do after earning media coverage (an external trigger) is helping interested prospects follow through the sales process by aligning it with the right motivator and increasing their ability to perform the sales by making the action easier to do.

Fogg highlights three core motivators in his model: sensation, anticipation, and belonging. Each of these has two sides: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, acceptance/rejection. Which of these motivators applies to your business? Is this currently communicated clearly to your customers on why they need your product?

To make it easier for customers to adopt your product, think of ways to make the sales process easier (e.g. e-payments and free delivery), simpler (e.g. providing comparative pricing or clear explanations on what customers can expect to get from the sale so less mental effort is required for decision-making), cheaper (e.g. free trials or discounts for first-time users) and less disruptive to their daily routines and social norms.


To recap, startups can use public relations to gain credibility and attention as they embark on their business. Besides looking at the right media channels, startups should also consider the quality of their content to earn media coverage and generate the awareness and interest for prospective customers to follow through the sales process.