With their limited budgets, most startups can’t afford to hire a PR officer, let alone an agency. The return just isn’t there, especially for seed and early stage startups. The PressFriendly platform is designed to be a PR tool for startups that can’t afford to spend on PR (i.e. all of them.)
“I spoke with 150 startups,” says PressFriendly co-founder Joel Andren. “Not one of them said, ‘I’m glad I hired an agency.'” Andren cites the examples of one startup he knew that spent $25,000 a month without getting any coverage, and Everpix, who spent $109,000 on PR before going under.
“For most startups, there are no tools to help you,” says Andren “It’s either PR which is too expensive, or doing it yourself, which is really difficult.”
What it is
Andren created PressFriendly as a DIY tool that young startup founders and entrepreneurs like himself can use to do their own PR. He describes the platform as a virtual PR agency or a “Turbo Tax for PR.”
Users can use PressFriendly’s pitch generating feature to help them write a press release or an engaging story pitch for journalists. However, the real power in the tool comes from its ability to learn and target journalists according to their body of work, greatly increasing the chances of a response.
How it works
Users can create an account with PressFriendly for $99 a month. To create a pitch or a press release, the platform walks you through a series of steps designed to hit all the important points in a story. You start with picking what kind of news you want to announce. For example, a product launch, reaching a milestone, a funding round, etc. In subsequent screens, the platform asks you to type in specific element, while giving you examples of what they should look like. Here’s what some of the templates look like.
At the end of the exercise, you are now equipped with the bare bones of a press release, or a pitch to send to a reporter. While you obviously end up doing the writing yourself, what makes PressFriendly useful is the template that narrows your content down to exactly what will resonate with a reporter, forcing you to think of the proper angles and the most emotionally appealing parts of your story.
Where PressFriendly become really interesting is its archive of journalists and their contact lists. Not only does it have the information on who the best journalists to reach are in different publications, but it also “learns” information about the journalist’s body of work. PressFriendly’s algorithm tracks the journalists articles, going back five months at a time, to create a fairly accurate profile of what that they are most likely to write about. It then matches the pitch or press release to that writer, increasing the likelihood of it getting picked up.
Users can then choose to send that pitch directly to the journalist, and they also have the option to tweak certain things they want to mention in the final email, to make it more personalized.
What this creates in essence is a “smart list” of journalists, instead of writers who receive pitches that aren’t relevant to them, which (as I can testify) is pretty much why journalists hate press releases most of the time.
“When journalists see an email coming to them from PressFriendly, we want them to think “these guys aren’t going to waste my time,” says Andren. It also cuts down on the process of obtaining press lists from peers or agencies and having to hand sort them into relevant and non-relevant contacts.
At $99 for basic access to the platform, it’s definitely affordable, compared to a full-time PR pro. Plus you every month you get two hours of PR consulting from PressFriendly’s team of PR advisors, which includes the heads of communications from Foursquare, TiVo and Betable, so you’re not completely on your own. More consultation hours are available every month at higher tiers of the product.
PressFriendly only launched this week, so it’ll take a while to see how effective it is. While it can’t replace the relationship building skills of a professional, PressFriendly does go a long way in giving company founders a start. Plus with its in-built algorithms for matching journalists to stories, and recommendations for the best times to send out pitches, it provides much of the institutional knowledge that a good PR pro always has. In the future, Andren hopes to add an analytics component and refine the tools to the point where it could even become useful for mainstream agencies.