3 things I learnt about PR by getting my “startup” mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Times, Business 2.0, RollingStone and Forbes.

OK after that title – enough showing off! I truly know nothing about PR.

I was lucky enough to get some good PR experience while I was developing Mefeedia (which I sold since, and it’s doing great actually, so everyone won there), so I thought I’d share some bits. And before we go on, let me say I suck at PR. I stutter, I don’t get my message across, I’m too honest and so on. But also: that’s ok. PR isn’t necessarily about being slick.

The press exposure was documented in the Mefeedia blog, we got interviews/mentions in:

The “best of the web”-type mentions were partly due to there simply being very few video websites back then.

I also got in some smaller newspapers like the Denver Post (link died), but really, very few. Mostly mefeedia got mentioned in the big publications. To prove that press begets more press, we got a mention on the early Techcrunch too.

What was also cool is that Mefeedia got prominently featured in all 3 of the first 3 books about videoblogging. And by prominently I mean about 10 pages worth. I believe (although I have no proof) that that’s been the cause of at least part of the ongoing user growth.

In any case.

In 2004, I was lucky to be in the original, pre-Youtube, pre-anything wave of videobloggers. I also started the first video aggregator (pre-Odeo), which I called mefeedia. It was fun days. Somehow however, Mefeedia was being seen as a “startup”, when it was really just a hobby. A time-sucking hobby, true. And money-sucking. Out of my pocket. But still, a hobby. But mostly time sucking. I took off months from my consulting job, more than once, to work on it. I learnt a lot, which was always my goal, and in that sense it was incredibly successful.

I started to believe a bit in the “startup” idea, I even talked to some VC’s (they called me). Crazy days. I remember talking to the AIC guys in their office in NYC after they called me, I think they wanted to see if they could pick some ideas for Bloglines. I wasn’t really looking for funding, and I don’t think they were looking to invest, but I gave them a presentation anyway. They were impressed with an experimental feature I had where you could quote a specific part of a video. (I removed that later because it wasn’t stable.) I went away thinking I shouldn’t bother with this investment thing, and I’m glad I didn’t go down that path.

At the same time, the press was liking this videoblogging phenomenon. And as journalists did their homework, they’d come across mefeedia, and they would get in touch. They’d call me, I’d try to be quotable. Usually, after a call, I’d get at least mentioned in the article.

Which brings me to the first thing I learnt: access. I put my email and phone number on the homepage of Mefeedia. When a journalist is writing a story, they don’t have a lot of time. The press revolves around a quaint concept called “deadlines”, because they have these physical things called presses that start working at a specific point in time. Old school! Sometimes they’d call me when I was in Belgium, in the middle of the night, but I’d make time.

Anyways, access. Whenever a journalist would call, I’d drop everything and try to help them with their story. Which brings me to my second point: it’s their story. Not yours. So you try to help them.

For example, at the end of every call I would offer to get them in touch with other people in the industry. After the call, I would also send a follow-up email with more information (that I forgot to mention during the call), links, stats and so on. Anything they might be able to use for their article.

I don’t really believe in what PR people call “staying on message”. Supposedly you just have to keep telling them what you want them to write. How annoying is that?

So the journalists would get in touch. Sometimes I would talk to them about videoblogging for a while, helping out with links and stuff, and I wouldn’t be in the story, but they’d get back to me for another story. For example, this is a typical email from someone from the WSJ: “Hi, this is X from the Wall Street Journal. We’ve spoken a couple times in the past about videoblogging. Circling back to you for another story I’m working on …”.

The point is: be happy to talk about your expertise to journalists, and they’ll rely on you for their research. And then you’ll get quoted in the stories, sometimes. Help the journalists get their story right. Be their expert.

Also, share the love a bit. I would always try to point them to videobloggers that were not so famous yet. It’s good karma.

Since it’s their story, I also soon realized mefeedia had a strong attraction to them for 1 specific reason. They were writing about videoblogging, an emerging phenomenon, and they needed numbers and sources. And since mefeedia was the first videoblog aggregators, the nr.1 question they would want an answer to was: “How many videoblogs are there, and how fast is it growing?”. If I had made that information available even clearer (with graphs and such, which we could have done), I’m sure there would have been a lot more press still.

So the lesson: it’s their story, you’re there to help.

Here’s a trick to end the story, btw. In those early days, when a journalist would write about videoblogging, I’d send them a bit of happy feedback on their story (and include what I was doing with mefeedia). Journalists are people too, after all, they appreciate some honest good feedback. Here’s an example of an email I got back after an email like that: “Thanks very much for the great feedback. We mentioned Mefeedia in today’s article.”

Finally, the last lesson I learnt from this: PR is better than advertising, but a large part of the value of being featured in the NYT, the WSJ and so on, is being able to say “as featured in the NYT, the WSJ etc.“. The second part is that press from big publicatons begets more press. If I had played it right, we might have hit that moment where you become the de-facto mentioned place in articles about a certain topic. Next time! In any case, the traffic bumps from these articles were rather negligable compared to what a popular blog sends. Really, don’t expect a lot of traffic from the press.

Here’s some more stuff on DIY PR.

One thought on “3 things I learnt about PR by getting my “startup” mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Times, Business 2.0, RollingStone and Forbes.

  1. Hey Peter, cool to find you here. Actually, very awesome posts and tips I really enjoyed reading the first page here and will add to my rss.

    I am also amazed at your PR7, pretty nice!!

    Congrats about Mefeedia, very interesting and quite advanced thinking, really cool.

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