How to do PR: A guide for startups founders

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read

PR falls under your responsibilities as a founder, for at least some time after you started.

Yet you’re probably no PR expert. You only know that you can’t control it all once the ball is rolling.

On the other hand, your startup needs PR. Talking to the press - mainstream and specialized - will get your brand out there. It will confer legitimacy to what you’re doing. Good PR might also help with other aspects of the business: sales and business development (users, clients, partners, etc.), talent recruitment, fundraising, etc. Finally, and this might be the best you’ll get out or any PR work you do, it will force you to articulate your mission and impact on the society.

Here’s how to play the PR game on your terms, in full respect of the media professions and the audience.

We gathered know-how from fellow founders, in alphabetical order:

  • Alex Cardon, co-founder and CEO of DogChef, high-quality dog food, who previously built and sold Qustomer (now Joyn).
  • Kimia Namadchi, co-founder and CEO of Curvecatch, the bras that fit you and that you can order from home.
  • Dewi Van De Vyver, co-founder and CEO of Effex, the collaborative platform for all your Design of Experiments. She’s also a tech enthusiast, Inspiring Fifty Europe, ICT Women of the Year.

We also interviewed experts in the field:

  • Robin Wauters, tech journalist and founder at, also a founding member of Syndicate One.
  • Raf Weverbergh, managing partner at FINN, a strategic communication agency active in the Benelux.

Let's get started!

1. You own the story

Founders have more things to do than there are hours for in the day - this is a fact.

The good news is: you don’t need to carve out time or mental space to craft a story from scratch. "Most of the effort is minimal. You own the topic, and you care about it,” says Dewi Van De Vyver, CEO and co-founder at Effex. “You can frame your story in a way that comes instinctively. It’s also how you get the best results.”

What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who are you doing it for? You can probably answer these questions with minimal effort. Yet they provide relevant context and direction to your comms.

The other good news is that you don’t need to focus on PR all year round.

Kimia Namadchi , CEO and co-founder at Curvecatch, rightly says "there are times where you put your head down and build your business, and times where you have to come out the zone and show it to the world.”

On the one hand, find your rhythm. And on the other, map the seasonality of your business. Is there a time in the year when what you do is more visible to society as a whole? You then have more chances to catch the journalists’ attention.

Alex Cardon, CEO and co-founder of DogChef, fine-tuned his approach over the years: “You have to do this on an ad-hoc basis. You need to focus on the highlights, and the product launches.”

Last but not least, manage your own expectations and the ones you put on other stakeholders: sure, PR will nurture your brand, but you can’t always quantify the return on investment of these efforts. For B2C brands, you might see a spike in leads resulting from specific type of coverage, TV shows for instance. “DogChef was featured on “On n’est pas des pigeons” [RTBF, TV show analysing consumers products]. We definitely saw a spike in sales after that. My former company, Qustomer [now Joyn, exited to ING], was in B2B: there, press coverage would not necessarily mean an increase in leads.”

Although press can be crucial for leads, sales, funding rounds, it won’t necessarily translate into direct, measurable, results. The only thing you can measure in the short-term is the quality of your input. If you do it well, over the long-run,”you should see an increase in journalists interests”, provides Raf Weverbergh. “The inbound you get from journalists are crucial metrics and you should see them rising over time.”

We understand that, from a distance, "doing PR" may sound daunting. It does not have to be this way though. Remember:

  • You have the story in you already.
  • You don't need to blast it constantly. In most cases, you pick the times and plan accordingly.
  • You know what (not) to expect from it. You also know what success looks like.

2. Make your story newsworthy

News needs to be… newsworthy. Raising funds is not enough on its own. Having reached this or that milestone is not enough. Being the “leader,” “innovative”, “award-winning” or “disruptive”, is meaningless to journalists. Worse: you won’t look good, journalists dislike hyperbole. As per Dewi Van De Vyver’s words, “if you wouldn't read it yourself, then it has no news value.”

You need to tell something that is truly amazing. The fact that you’re awesome, growing or landing a customer is not a news. Did you disrupt a bigger company by stealing their customer? Are you the first Belgian company to raise from this well-known VC? Now that starts to look like an angle!

Give journalists an angle

The key here is to find the angles that work for you and build from there, as Kimia Namadchi does for Curvecatch. “I've noticed that the most interesting topics for journalists are in the intersection of two contradictions. That’s the sweet spot we are aiming for with Curvecatch. We’re a female topic and we're trying to use a tech angle to solve problems for half of the population - mostly women. Every quarter, we try to reach out to journalists and we give them one of those angles. We then try, if we can, to coordinate it with the seasonality.”

Same goes for DogChef, according to Alex Cardon: “We noticed that the stories related to health and our biggest product innovations are the most relevant to journalists. We build from there.”

Ask yourself the following questions - they will provide you with building material for a newsworthy angle:

   ☑️ Do you have aggregated data that is newsworthy?

   ☑️ Do you do something radically new and exemplary from an operational perspective?

   ☑️ Do you have a unique perspective on a new law or a society change ?

   ☑️ Can you work with another organisation to make your story bigger?

   ☑️ Are you doing something counter-intuitive, different from anyone else?    

   ☑️ Can you prove that you disrupted an industry or bigger companies?

   ☑️ Are the founders well-known, for instance for their track record or past employers?

Give journalists data

As much as possible, use exact numbers: how much did you raise? How much did you sell? If you sold your company, how much did you sell it for? If some of the data is too sensitive to share, try to think of other relevant data: revenue, number of employees, impact… depending on your line of business.

It doesn’t need to be big. It needs to be something that journalists can compare, something tangible. And it needs to be useful.

Alex Cardon has noticed it too: “What journalists love the most is data. We make sure to share as many facts and figures as we can: the proportion of meat in our meals (vs the industry average), the percentage of satisfaction, all the data that comes out of the surveys we run internally.“

Journalists also appreciate to have numbers about the topic in general: some numbers unrelated to your company but to the industry are interesting too!

Make it relatable

Did you raise from a well-known VC? Are you the Netflix/Airbnb/… of xxx? Use these very names, not necessarily in your marketing but in your direct communication with journalists. These words will help journalists figure out what this is all about. As we know, relatability creates relevancy.

3. Get journalists interested in your story

We said it before: the primary condition is to change the game, and do something truly amazing: if you do that, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll have coverage, even if you don’t want it.

Other than that, there is no silver bullet. As Robin Wauters puts it, “Think beyond the inbox: information comes our way from a wide variety of sources, including emails of course, but also calls, text messages, social media, people I meet at conferences or events, other media outlets and blogs, hallway conversations, and so on.”

It’s crucial to find a way to stand out. If you do your homework well enough there, you significantly increase your chances at getting coverage. Here are a couple of steps you should take.

a. Get to know the journalists that are relevant to you

You probably follow these journalists - or at least their outlets: after all, you’re in the same space. Knowing these journalists means understanding who their readers are and what’s relevant to them. Getting their email address is not enough: identify where they are visible and through which channels you can reach out to them.

💡 There is no harm in asking journalists how they prefer to be contacted.This is step 1 of your homework and by doing it properly, you are already one step ahead of your competitors.

Fundamentally, founders who leverage PR the best, in Raf Weverbergh’s words, “understand that PR is about building relationships with key journalists for the long term. They think of journalists as their colleagues or peers - you'll bump into these people for the next 15 years and sometimes longer. Journalists and analysts are not a channel to push your message through, but a sounding board, a seismograph for what's happening in the world and the industry, a source of information to inform your strategic decisions. And they're also a channel to your important stakeholders, yes.”

b. Nurture a relationship with these journalists

It's not only about identifying these journalists, you need to build a relationship with them. As Raf Weverbergh says, “PR can be transactional ("I give you a great story and you write about us"), but as in all things in life, your transactions will be smoother if there is trust. You want to build relationships before you need them. Tell your story, reach out to key journalists, even at a time when you don't expect or need any coverage. Ask them who they're following in your industry. Ask them which events or fairs they attend. Get introduced in a low-stakes way, like for coffee or a beer.”

Maybe you can provide them with the expertise they need or access to interviewees even when you’re not the topic. “You can become a source, you can comment, you can share an opinion that makes us smarter: we know a bit about a lot, so if you make us smarter, we’ll be grateful.”, says Robin Wauters. Remember, it’s a two-way conversation that should last for years! You’re both there to stay.

c. Once the time comes, craft a good story and package it really well.

Robin Wauters has received quite a few pitches these last years and knows better than anyone else that “journalists get a lot of mediocre pitches, a few bad ones, and even fewer great ones - these are the ones we remember”.

To count among the great ones, you need a strong story with a relevant angle and you must package it well. We only recommend you to take Raf Weverbergh’s advice when it comes to telling that story to journalists: “Meet journalists on their terms: with a story. Start from a story that is larger than yourself: what do you see in the industry and what is your point of view on it? Having a strong sense of purpose, a compelling brand story, makes journalists sit up.”

d. Exclusivity or not?

Journalists love exclusivity. Be careful with that though: you’re likely to offer exclusivity to the news outlet that sounds the most prestigious or relevant to your audience:

  • Make sure they pick up the news or you’ll have wasted your chance of rewarding other outlets that are also relevant to you.
  • Give other media outlets a fair chance at (at least) some uniqueness. Never treat a publication as a lowish plan B. Never.

e. Understand that their time is valuable: provide detailed and usable content in your email.

Here is your checklist:

   ☑️ Logo and pictures (leadership team, CEO only, etc.)

   ☑️ Media contacts (usually you or a native speaker) and times when they can be reached

   ☑️ Reliable, trustworthy data

   ☑️ A boilerplate

   ☑️ Show why it’s relevant in the body of the email, attach the PR (max 2 pages).

In short: get to the point fast, yet give journalists what they need.

“Don’t make us go back to you for additional information. If we have no way to test your product, see a demo, get a feel of what you’re building, we won’t talk about it”, as Robin Wauters puts it.

f. Be a good human

You probably very much want this coverage. Don’t let it drive you to misrepresent facts or data.

Don’t lie, even by omission or exaggeration. For example, if you say you operate in 20 countries, you need to be active in these countries and not only have partnerships there.

Don’t talk badly about your competitors, ex-partners or suppliers. It will only reflect poorly on you. Last but not least, avoid hyperbole, journalists filter it out.

Of course, show journalists that you respect their work: they serve their audience, not your purposes. You don’t want to burn the relationship by acting as if they were a free advertising machine. As Robin Wauters puts it, “we’re in to build a two-way relationship. We’re not yet another tool”.

Download our example of PR (Syndicate One Companies only)

Download our contacts list (Syndicate One Companies only)

4. DIY… or not?

Sales and PR have this in common: great founders do it themselves, at least at the start. Who can best talk about your product than yourself? This is an evidence, for both founders and experts.

“PR is founder-led”, says Alex Cardon.

“The founders need to be involved”, adds Raf Weverbergh. “As the CEO of a tech company, you need to familiarize yourself with the sector you are in. You need to be an expert. The CEO of your clients should go to you for questions. You need to be a McKinsey for your industry.”

This is part of your homework as a founder. As we said earlier, some of it should come naturally to you, i.e. the sector knowledge, the vision for the brand.

Yet, not every founder is a born storyteller nor has the necessary bandwidth. It is perfectly fine, you only need the right help at the right time.

  • “For big milestones, like a Seed Round between 250 and 700k, you need to do a good job on communication and have the right material. You only have one chance to start a relationship”, according to Raf Weverbergh. "You might need someone who can help you prioritize, knows the processes, and above all, can serve as “a sounding board.” Are you too grandiose in your vision? Is your story properly stress-tested? Does that make sense in mainstream media?” warns Raf Weverbergh.
  • You probably like to have a good copywriter, someone who understands the pain, the customer, the product and can write about it in the relevant languages.This is ad-hoc work, part of a broader role in-house or on a freelance basis, better done by someone who cares about the product and its users.
  • If you decide to hire an agency, pick a really good one and pay them really well, because it’s worth it. The difference between a bad and a good agency is smaller than the difference between a good and great agency.
  • 💡 Do you need a retainer? You may prefer to work on an ad-hoc basis, rather than on a retainer, and map together the times in the year and the topics for which you’ll need coverage. According to Raf Weverbergh, “For a retainer to be worth it, you need 6 to 8 topics a year. You need a pipeline of content that is fit for PR, i.e. data, opinion, insight and internal capacity to manage that. The best results we have seen are with scale-ups where someone in-house dives into the data and gives an opinion. Think of it as a chief economist in your sector. ”
  • Further down the line, you can decide to hire a PR person. As for every hire, it is a strategic decision based on your resources, lines of business and alleys for growth.

5. How to handle media when you’re the topic?

Press is a magnifying glass - that’s why you want to be in it. It also makes it a risky exercise. Here’s how fellow founders handle reading and talking to the press.

Kimia Namadchi, about seeing other success stories: “we sometimes take PR into account too much.  It can lift you up and and make you work harder, but at the same time, it's also not the full picture.”

On that note, Alex Cardon reminds us all that, although press is crucial, your daily work matters even more. "Congrats, you made it. Now, you’ve got to get back to your desk, and work. At the end of the day, the press won't save you. Focusing on your core business will.”

Dewi Van De Vyver knows about exposure to journalists: as the CEO of Effex, she is also the face of the company. Here’s her recommendation to navigate interviews: “it's very important to stick to your message and to not let yourself be enticed to answer other questions. Else, you need to have your answer ready for those questions. That way, you only share what you want to share.”

You play the game on your terms, of course, but only as much as you understand the rules!

At Syndicate One, we help Belgian founders build for success. We provide them with the know-how and the networks we wish we had when we were in their shoes - with PR, and more.

Watch this space for more insights from Belgian founders and from Syndicate One members.

In the meanwhile, we gathered resources to help you go further. Check them below.

6. Additional resources

Library of links

Curated by our very own Robin Wauters, founding editor at

🎧 Podcasts

Get Known - Robin Wauters from Tech EU

Pursuit of scrappiness

📊 Slideshare

PR Hacking with Robin Wauters

🎥 Videos

TEDx - How your startup can get press coverage

Tell your story or die trying

Growth Hackers Amsterdam - PR Hacking with Robin Wauters

How to pitch media and bloggers

How to get max visibility for you and your portfolio through earned media

Press Releases Unleashed: startup success with Robin Wauters

🦄 Other pros to watch and follow

Black Unicorn PR

How can startups and scaleups tell media-winning stories? from Cathy White