What You Need to Know to Get Press Coverage at Seed Stage in 2023
Every startup and investor (us included!) wants media coverage for their latest round or investment. To secure coverage, it’s more important than ever before to understand the current media landscape.
• Who covers what kinds of rounds?
• What kinds of stories are they looking for?
• How competitive is the race to get covered?
• What tactics work, and what can harm your chances of getting covered?
For advice on how to get press for your startup at Seed stage, we went to Martin SFP Bryant. Martin is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Next Web and the creator of the early-stage startup newsletter, PreSeed Now. For more than a decade, he has worked with side-by-side with European startups on their funding announcements.
Martin's guide covers everything you need to know about securing coverage for your Seed stage startup, specifically in English-language media, as this is where the majority of startups and investors hope to be featured.
The blunt truth
Before you start thinking about a press release and where you want to be covered, it’s worth understanding a few trends that have emerged in recent years:
- Times have changed. There are more funding rounds. A LOT more funding rounds—at all stages from pre-seed up to pre-IPO—than there were a few years ago. Publications can’t cover them all, so they look for the most ‘noteworthy’ rounds, as they see it and as their readers might see it.
- The teams covering funding rounds tend to be small. This means they have to be even pickier about what they cover.
- The tech industry is bigger and more important in the world than it used to be, meaning funding news is less of a priority for many outlets than the latest controversy involving Meta, Google, or Amazon.
- There are fewer journalists. Unless you’re a star columnist or very senior at a big outlet, being a journalist generally doesn’t pay as well as a job in PR. That’s why so many journalists make the leap into PR. And as small- and medium-sized outlets struggle to compete in a tough media business, the number of outlets covering funding rounds is small.
The importance of being newsworthy
All of this means the bar for what makes a newsworthy round is higher than it used to be. Journalists are looking for stories that meet their editorial goals, which are generally designed to attract readers and advertisers.
Some of the factors that can make a journalist salivate about covering a deal are:
- The round size: An unusually LARGE amount of money involved
- Famous founders: Founders who previously started a company that got a lot of media attention
- A first for the ecosystem: The first deal by a ver well-known VC firm in an unusual territory (e.g. the first European deal by a big US-based name would be particularly newsworthy regardless of the startup of deal size)
Don’t worry. Most rounds don’t meet these criteria, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t get covered. It just means they face a significantly more competitive landscape.
So how DO I get covered?
New money is a start
If a seven-figure round has a compelling story, a good photo, credible investors, and a reasonable amount of advance notice, you have a good chance of getting some coverage. But let’s break that down a bit more to increase your chances of coverage.
A compelling story
Most funding announcements follow a simple format: ‘[startup] raises [amount] to do [thing], in a round led by [investor] with participation from [other investors]’. Throw in some background about the market opportunity and the founders, a couple of quotes, and the press release is usually complete.
But when journalists have a number of announcements that they could write about in the limited time they have, they need to be selective. So these are some ways to make an announcement stand out:
- Readers are that you exist: Is what the startup does relatable to the average reader who doesn’t know anything about their sector? Can you explain why what the startup is doing matters to the world? How are they making the world better? In short: Why should the reader care about this startup?
- Your technology is truly exciting: Is there some ground-breaking technology or approach to the market that makes the startup noteworthy?
- You’re better than everyone else: Are you markedly better than your competitors?
- You have an interesting story to share: Do the founders have an interesting story behind how they came to build the company?
Related Reading: How to Write a Press Release for Tech Startups at Seed Stage
The devil is in the details
A good photo
Many publications will be more keen to cover you if you have a good photo to go with it. This could be either just the founders or your whole team. If you have a physical product or an attractive looking piece of software, photos or screenshots of your products can be useful, too. Some pointers for a good team/founder photo can be found in these articles from Sifted and Tech.eu.
Generally, journalists might be more wary of rounds led by investors they’ve never heard of. A well-known firm helps give your round an air of legitimacy.
Timing is everything
I’ll get into the importance of timing below, but the key point is that journalists inundated with funding round announcements are unlikely to be able to drop everything and cover your news if you send it to them on the day. It happens sometimes if the round size is enormous or the company is particularly famous, but it’s increasingly rare in early-stage rounds.
What is an embargo?
An embargo is an agreement with a journalist that they won’t cover your news until a set time in return for receiving the details in advance.
Positives of an embargo
- You get to set the date and time for coverage of your funding round.
- You increase your likelihood of getting coverage. The busy nature of funding round announcements means journalists often like a few days’ advance notice to write an article, rather than rushing to write something on the day (when they’re probably busy writing the next day’s embargoes anyway).
Negatives of an embargo
- There is a slight risk someone will accidentally publish early, or in very rare cases deliberately publish early (although with most early stage rounds there’s not a lot to be gained by doing this). Once the news is out, it quickly becomes ‘old’ in the eyes of journalists who have a lot to write about, and you could very well lose out on coverage.
- If you set an embargo date and then need to change it for some reason, it can be tricky to align with every journalist you have shared the press release with in advance.
Pro Tip: Due to the potential for things to go wrong and the need to quickly resolve them when they do, it’s always best to leave setting up embargoes to people who have handled them before (PR pros).
Related Reading: How To Build a Brand | Tips and Best Practices From an Expert
What is an exclusive
An exclusive is like an embargo but only for one journalist or publication. This is often accompanied with giving the journalist/publication more flexibility about when they publish the news. Once the story is published you can then send your press release to other publications.
Positives of an exclusive
- It can sometimes help you get that one journalist or publication you want to pay attention to you
- Exclusives are particularly useful if something about your business or technology is complicated and you know one journalist in particular will understand it and do it justice. For example, I often prefer to give quantum computing announcements as exclusives to one of a small number of journalists as most journalists don’t understand the field at all and won’t understand why a particular announcement is newsworthy
Negatives of an exclusive
- Exclusives alone will not make a journalist excited. The points above about newsworthiness still apply
- If they have flexibility about when they publish, some journalists will forget about it, or become too busy with other things and never write it up - especially with so many funding rounds that they *could* write about
- Even if you get a piece published as an exclusive, it might not be the glowing, in- depth piece you expected. If your exclusive article ends up as a cursory, indifferent three paragraphs, remember that other publications might not cover your news (because now it’s been covered elsewhere, it’s ‘old news’)
- For more thoughts on exclusives, please read this piece by my former colleague Alex Wilhelm, who is now an editor at TechCrunch.
Pro Tip: As with embargoes, talk to a PR professional for advice about exclusives and how to most effectively use them in your specific case.
A final note on timing
Let’s use TechCrunch as our example. Having been one of the most important publications in tech for 17 years, TechCrunch is often a place entrepreneurs and investors want to see their news.as
Just ask TechCrunch editor Alex Wilhelm…
In June 2021, Alex received six pitches for funding rounds (across all stages) in one hour! That suggests he could get around 50 pitches during each working day. And he might end up covering none of them, depending on whatever else is happening in tech that he might have to write about that day.
Now consider that TechCrunch’s European team is very small at a time when funding rounds have been increasing drastically. In a world where huge, eight-digit rounds have become a daily occurrence, you can see why they simply don’t have capacity to cover many rounds at Seed stage. Granted the economic landscape is quickly changing. Even with the downturn, it’s still impossible for TechCrunch, or indeed any tech publication, to cover every funding round that comes across their desk.
Any PR company that guarantees you TechCrunch coverage is lying to you.
A few last tips
Get sector specific
You might also find interest in sector-specific press for a market you serve. If you serve the marketing industry, for example, some publications covering that industry might be interested in your news. But bear in mind most sector-specific publications out there simply don’t cover tech startup funding rounds, even if they’re relevant.
If you’re in the UK or Ireland, your local or regional business press might also be interested in your English language news announcement to give it more of a boost. If you’re based somewhere else in Europe, consider which publications might cover your news in your local language, but take professional PR advice about the timing of this. If it comes out in your country’s language first, you might lose English language coverage as the news will be ‘old’ no matter what language it’s broken in.
As you grow, so will your newsworthiness.
As you move to Series A, Series B, and beyond, and you start to shake up the market you’re serving, the more naturally newsworthy you’ll be. So no matter what coverage you get for your Seed round, focus on growing your business and the more you make an impact, the more likely it is that journalists will be excited about covering you in the future.
Build it and they will come!
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