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Startups: TechCrunch (probably) isn't right for you

Posted on 20 Nov 12
By Nicholas Holmes (Twitter / Google+)

I must admit to being slightly surprised by this story, in which one PR company was found to have been selling 'pay as you go' coverage on TechCrunch for $750 a pop.

Not surprised by their business model -- because, as Martin Bryant rightly points out, PR-fed announcements are just part of the business -- but because it's shockingly disingenuous for a PR firm claiming to be "solid, honest, transparent" to allow its clients to believe that a placement in TechCrunch should be either a public relations strategy or their first goal. Because in general, it should be neither. In fact, for most cash-strapped startups, it's not even worth $750 (sorry, TechCrunch…). 

The broad argument here has been done (getting in TechCrunch isn't a launch strategy), but I wanted to take a look at why from a media relations perspective.


A niche audience profile

I like TechCrunch, it's incredibly readable. But that's mainly because, like 99% of its other readers, I love technology. My girlfriend, who's as untechy as they come, hadn't heard of TechCrunch, which made bragging that I'd been featured on there far less enjoyable (my parents hadn't done either). 

So think hard about whether a niche audience of tech and startup lovers is as valuable for you as a niche audience of cooks, or drivers, or readers, or expats, or music fans, or whoever else you want to target. Because nosy techies often don't make great users or convert to valuable customers, as several great posts have alluded to.

Harder to form long-term relationships

I'm going out on a limb here, because this won't apply to all major blog journalists. But in general, startup founders should aim to build media relationships that can benefit both parties in the long term. You're far more likely to be able to gain mutual benefit when you're talking to someone who's knowledgeable about your industry and your target market and can actually play a valuable role in the development of your product. By and large, these will be niche reporters with the time and the passion to actually get to grips with what you're doing.

A rapid news cycle

A relatively small team of writers work to a gruelling publishing schedule at TechCrunch (and other major blogs such as Mashable and TNW). That means that being featured is often literally five minutes of fame before something else bumps you from the spotlight -- on an average day, within 2 hours you'll be below the fold, within 24 hours you'll have disappeared into the archives. It's fine for an ego boost, but if you're after traffic, there are better ways.

This is what the traffic to FourEyesUp looked like for three months after TechCrunch featured the app last year.

This is what the traffic to looked like for three months after MediaBistro, a much smaller, more targeted site, featured us this year.

The moral of the story? Smaller blogs can send more high quality traffic, for longer.

It's crowded

A corollary of that publishing schedule is that large blogs write about a lot of stuff. And that makes it much harder to stand out to the percentage of their audience who might actually make decent customers for you. Even readers who love whatever it is you do can be distracted by a controversial headline, a trending article about Apple, or a piece that happens to have received 2,400 likes on Facebook rather than 35 in the same timeframe. There's so much content it's difficult to keep up with everything.

It can be exclusive

Several TechCrunch writers I know will ask for exclusives, which is all fine and dandy because TechCrunch has made a name for itself with scoops and it's what everyone expects. But before you give away exclusivity to one publication, whether it's TC or somewhere else, remember what that means and think hard about whether it's actually good for you.

First, it means that you've handed away your trump card should someone else who's potentially more valuable to you want your story.

Secondly, it means that other names will have second thoughts before they run their competitor's sloppy seconds -- and if you're wondering whether journalists are that petty, I can tell you with confidence that they are.

Those writers are on point

I hate to see the huge amount of effort (and money) that goes into targeting large blogs, for all the reasons above and one other; the writers at these blogs are good. They pride themselves on knowing what's out there before the others, being able to tell a good product from a bad one, and telling their audience the truth about the startup scene. Which means that if you've got a great product that's right for their audience, they'll likely find you. Until then, focus your efforts in places that can deliver more for your business.


One of the biggest arguments against these points for startups is that investors like to see 'social proof' - which is often taken to be a feature on a massive blog. If your investors want that, fine. But if they aren't more impressed by a media strategy that results in more visibility among your startup's potential customers, higher value signups and more sales, they're morons.


So to startups that want to drive long-term, high quality awareness through the media, I say this:

- Target the publications that target your customer

- Build relationships with people who help

- Think hard about what a PR agency is adding to your business