in Canada, Marketing, News

Getting Attention

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Mark Evans’ post about Do Canadian Startups Get Enough Attention? annoys me. It is not Mark, it is not Canadian startups, it is the assumption that Canadian media outlets should write about Canadian startups.

“But the fact is there are a lot of great startup stories that go unreported or receive a smidgen of the coverage they deserve. It is a situation that frustrates entrepreneurs, investors and people within the startup community who believe the spotlight should be burning a lot hotter.”

Let’s start by answering Mark’s implication that “startups stories go unreported or receive a smidgen of the coverage they deserve“. Bullshit! They don’t deserve coverage. They have to earn coverage. They are noise. And as an entrepreneur you need to learn how to rise above the noise and tell stories that the media want to share with their readers.We have many examples of Canadian startup success and failure stories that have managed to figure out how to tell media friendly stories. Sarah Prevette at Sprouter managed to become a media darling:

Why was Sarah Prevette so much more successful in getting press coverage for her startup than other entrepreneurs? Is she smarter? Does she have more hustle? Is her startup more successful? I challenge Mark’s assertion that Canadian startups deserve coverage. I think the first step is doing something worthy of coverage. And as entrepreneurs we need to understand the stories that media want to tell, and begin to hustle to take away time and space from the big players. Tim Ferriss told his story about getting on national television, From First TV to Dr. Oz: How to Get Local Media…Then National Media. You have to work at crafting a story, building relationships and being newsworthy. So rather than assume that all good startups deserve coverage, how about we as entrepreneurs go out an earn it. Aim higher. Make something newsworthy.

Resources for Getting Media and PR Coverage

  • PR Tips for Startups: How to Get and Keep Media Attention
  • Getting Press and Media Coverage for your Startup Company – Who needs a PR Firm?
  • Tips for Getting (Follow Up) Press Coverage for Your Startup
  • From First TV to Dr. Oz: How to Get Local Media…Then National Media

    1. David,
        I just launched a new Twitter based service few days ago, I would not classify it as a startup (just a new service that might become a startup one day), but there is a big buzz out there anyway. Many blogs reported on my service in the US, Britain, France, Spain and even Venezuela! Not a single Canadian media or blog reported on it, although few Canadians pointed out in their tweets that this is a Toronto based service.
        Our media is sleeping chasing media outlets down south, so they can report stale news from months ago.


    2. Our friends @techvibes:twitter are doing a great job of coverage. 

      The story of launch is meh. It’s more important to talk about why it matters, who it effects, why it changes the world. Tell interesting stories. Another startup launching, there are a lot of them. Differentiate yourself. 

    3. True, I don’t believe launching a startup or a service is newsworthy on its own. The fact that it spread across the globe in as little as 2 days is.
      My point is that I did not need to tell my story to any of the media or bloggers outside of Canada (I sent a link to one person to check it out and it snowballed after that), the rest just picked it on their own, despite having my service in English only.
      On the other hand I emailed a handful of Canadian ones and nothing happened. They are always chasing behind reporting on months old news.

    4. David,

      Thanks for the spirited response to my post. :) I do think Canadian startups should get more coverage but you’re right they have to deserve/earn that coverage. One of the big challenges with many startups is they are bad at telling stories that would interest the media, bloggers, or, for that matter, investors.  Storytelling may not be their core competence but is still important for them to figure out how to do it or get some outside help because everyone likes a good story. 

      I would argue Sarah’s success in attracting attention for herself and Sprouter had a lot to do with pro-active relationship building with the media and bloggers. She and Erin Bury were savvy in terms of cultivating relationships and telling the right stories, which helped put them and the company into the spotlight, which overshadowed the fact Sprouter wasn’t successful as a business.

      cheers, Mark

    5. David,

      You’re post is spot on. I’d take it one step further and argue that media coverage doesn’t matter at all if you’re unable to build a scalable and profitable business. Take, for example, the case of Sprouter. Sarah may have been successful in gaining media coverage but at the end of the day that didn’t help Sprouter succeed as a business. We all know that the Postmedia acquisition was an acqui-hire firesale. So, let’s focus on building large profitable businesses that the media will want to write about rather than spending our time chasing down Techcrunch and Mashable bloggers to pump up our new shiny thing which, by the way, looks like every other new shiny thing.

    6. Here, hear! Great post David! In fact startups should consider starting their business on the back of a great story (and it shouldn’t be “I wanted to get acquired by Google”). Frame the problem you’re trying to solve in a compelling anecdote and the story writes itself. The fact that you’re Canadian and generating money / hits / buzz is not newsworthy.

      Great job calling it like it is!

    7. David, I vehemently disagree with this “they don’t deserve coverage”. It’s not about the startup companies not deserving it. What’s missing is a lot more investigative reporting and journalists willing to dig below the surface and find out what startups are doing, beyond the lame headlines such “x receives funding”, “y is a hot product in this”. 

      Every startup has a story to tell, or is doing something innovative, interesting, new or unique. Every startup deserves to have some coverage whether it’s positive or critical. If the startup isn’t doing something right, let the genius reporter critique them and compare them to the competition, and say what other things they could be doing to get better. 

      Yes, we need more coverage about stories in the making, not just ones that are “successful”. Since 95% of startups are going to fail, if we only write about the 5% that succeed, we are missing a whole lot of lessons to learn about. 

      The problem remains that the mainstream media is still dominating the media waves in Canada, and their audience isn’t interested in startups as a main thing. It’s a fringe for them. So their writers are drive-by-shooters when it comes to reporting on startups. They don’t have the time nor the willingness to go deeper than the obvious headlines. And the audience that this matters to keeps going to US media outlets for salvation and satisfaction. There are only 3 outlets that I know who are writing seriously about Canadian startups: StartupNorth, Techvibes and NextMontreal. Still, all 3 of these pubs could raise the bar even further on what they are doing.

      We do need more media stories. The fact that there are good and bad startups doesn’t negate the fact that there can’t be good journalism to report on them. 

    8. I couldn’t agree more – this notion of “deserve” is really problematic; by this logic, startups deserve to have better products, deserve more funding, etc.  Really?

    9. “deserve” is such a great term…it’s meaning IMHO is that you not only need to break thru the clutter – but that after the click (hey a new acronym – ATC!) there is value in same….


    10. I think Canadian media should pro active in term of promoting Canadian Start-up. We sent our press release to most of media outlets in Canada about the launch of After Classroom and didn’t get any information from them. 

    11. Scott – I agree with you. When we created our new start up is was because Facebook is a pain in the ass for businesses and it keeps changing. I think we can all relate to that story!

    12. As much as I agree with your point that startups need to earn attention via a great product and story, I feel this stance leans a little to the product centric side of the startup ecosystem and marginalizes other important components.

      Sure, not all companies will need the coverage but for the betterment of the entire industry, it would be good if there were more channels for startups to surface their product/story – 3 regional blogs is not enough.


    13. Dave – did you really just use Sarah Prevette as a success story for Canadian startups? I mean, really? Did you? 

    14. Maybe your release was uninteresting? Maybe you should hire a better PR firm? Why is it the fault of the media outlets that your news is un-newsworthy?

    15. Mark thanks a great topic. I had been stuck in a rut.

      Storytelling is at the heart of your experience. Even PR firms get story telling wrong. I think working to craft strong brands, strong stories and great experiences is eventually why companies win. Your argument/assessment of the Sprouter situation is exactly the point I was trying to make. It is not as simple as a launch and release strategy. You have to actively plan, court and engage the media as part of your audience. Sarah and Erin and team did a great job at that. Unfortunately the were building a PR engine not necessarily a business, though PostMedia seems to think there is some value in the audience and traffic. 

    16. David,

      I wasn’t meant the fault of media outlets, but at least they acknowledge upon the receive of our email or some sort of guidelines relate to the news that to be covered etc.. Hope to see you on the 12th at Democamp.

    17. Another blog is not the answer, I’m speaking to the bigger needs of the system….not bitching about lack of coverage for an individual startup. I think looking at how Quebec promotes its culture within Quebec is a great example to take cues from. It seems to be an ecosystem where creation and promotion leads to embracing. It may not be perfect but it helps. I think a bit of msm spotlight on promising startups could do the same….plus it would be a nice change from the typical stories they publish.

    18. Taking off entrepreneur hat and putting on “reporter/journalist/blogger” hat.  

      To re-iterate David’s point, let me explain what happens when we get bad press releases and actually cover them:-NOBODY reads it, we get about about 200 hits vs thousands…
      -NOBODY cares, there are no comments other than the founders of the company saying something like “thanks”
      -long term readership dies because we are boring and suck
      -you get no traffic boost, no conversions and nothing
      -you look lame as well, cause you issued a dumb press release that said “the market leader in their industry is leveraging the new framework to transact on monetization” and other PR gobbledeygook

      WE ALL LOSE when the media posts boring news about things that don’t matter.

    19. So writers sit waiting for releases? That’s a bad writer. I won’t want to read them. The writer’s job is figure out the interesting parts about a release, a story, something new. Go investigate, and generate your own original articles about startups, not about individual companies, but about trends, segments, lessons, etc… So much to write about. 

    20. How is it misleading? Media success and awareness is not a predictor of startup success. And it is a great example that you don’t have to have a successful startup to be successful in the media relations.

    21. Agreed that getting media attention is not related to success. We could think of 4 classifications:
      1) media attention, successful
      2) media attention, not successful
      3) no media attention, successful
      4) no media attention, not successfulIt’s #3 that needs to be addressed. A vibrant media community that writes a lot about what is going on is part of the desired startup ecosystem. You have to write a lot about that stuff in order to elevate and expose what is going on. I’m sure there are dozens of quiet startups that are doing their thing, getting clients, growing, innovating, etc. and they aren’t getting enough media attention. That’s my main point of contention. The Sprouter example is misleading because it fell in the #2 category and it received a disproportionate amount of coverage primarily because most of these articles were about Sarah as a woman entrepreneur, a rarity which deserved all the media attention it could get.

      Let’s take this discussion on-stage during a panel. 

    22. I guess with this same logic should we discount the Canadian Content requirements that radio and broadcasters are bound to, since it’s irrelevant where the content was made but more important that it’s “Newsworthy”?

    23. Some might argue that CANCON requirements haven’t produced very many world class hits but a subsidized culture of entitlement that fails to deliver content that even Canadians don’t want to watch.

    Comments are closed.


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