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The Step by Step Guide to Getting Free Press for Your Startup

Dmitry Dragilev
Founder at PRThatConverts
Get a pre-made project plan based on this how-to guide on
This how-to guide is based on "A step by step guide to get press for your startup without spending a penny" by Dmitry Dragilev. Dmitry is a founder of and a contributor to the Entrepreneur, TheNextWeb and Mashable.As usual, a visual step by step project plan comes with a story. 


Every week I get at least two emails from startups asking me to help them “build buzz” around their product or service. Most of them want PR help but since it’s so prohibitively expensive to hire a PR firm startups are really struggling in this space. They want and need PR buzz but can’t afford expensive agencies. What to do? For the past 8 years I’ve been doing my own PR without hiring anybody else to help me and it has worked beautifully for me.

I have given a lot of talks on the topic, written guest articles about the general approach I take and recorded a short little course on Udemy about how I do my own PR. I’ve even helped Noah back when AppSumo was just starting out get some buzz to a deal we were running with them.

So I decided why not lay out a step by step how to guide of how to do PR for your startup without spending any money. Ready? Lets roll.

Nail down your one sentence pitch

First step is to nail down your one sentence pitch. To create it use this template created by Adeo Ressi of Founder’s Institute (I’ve used this for years and years):My Company [name] is developing [offering] to help [target audience] solve a problem [with a secret sauce].

Plain and simple just fill in the blanks and keep all the jargon away. Make pure and simple. Let’s look at a few examples of a good one sentence pitch vs. bad one.
Good example #1 – AirbnbFind a place to stay.Good example #2 – AirtoAirto, is developing a web-based social seating check-in platform to help air travelers see who is on board their flight and use Facebook and LinkedIn to assign all flight seats with one click.Bad Example #1 – I won’t name the companyWe are a data integration social analytics company which helps you connect with your prospective leads, we use different data sources to aggregate data centrally and provide easy to read reports to personify each and every lead which comes to your site.Dang, that is a mouth full of a sentence and I still have no idea what these guys do. Seems like it’s a lead prospecting tool but again very hard to understand what this does and why people will use it.Bad Example #2 – I won’t name the companyWe are a web analytics platform designed to give you business intelligence to close your next deal.This is short and that’s good but it leaves me still deliberating what this thing does and who will use it for which purpose.

Test it on real people

Practice your one sentence pitch with strangers, make sure your grandmother or mother understands your one sentence and you’re golden.

Make a Hit List of Most Relevant Reporters

Ok, now create a hit list of reporters you want to reach out to. I prefer to use the old school Google Spreadsheets for that.

Find reporters by using Google News

You want to find reporters that are very much related to what your product/app/service does. In my case it’s PR. Here is how I do it. I go to Google News and type in “startup pr”. I get the following back:
I use the results as my first hit list, these are reporters or contributors to publications who have written about “PR tips for startups” which is exactly what my tool is all about. Chances are if I reach out to them to let them know about my tool they would find it interesting. 
I copy the reporter name and link to the article into a spreadsheet and keep searching.

Add reporters by using google search

Now let’s say you can’t find good results on Google News for the keyword you enter. It might happen that there are not many recent news articles about your topic. In this case use regular Google search to do the same. Here is what I get back when I search for “PR tips for startups”:
Again I add the name of the reporter and a link to the article to my spreadsheet.

Power app your list by using Buzzsummo

Now most of the time Google gives you a good hit list but sometimes you want more. In that case I like to Buzzsumo the sucker.Buzzsumo is awesome sauce since it shows you the most shared articles on the topic so thats the best! Here I am checking out results for the same term “startup pr” and my hitlist of reporters to go after:

Compile a spreadsheet with Reporters

And here is my compiled spreadsheet of all the reporters I am going to go after, I have 21 reporters here, this is a working list of course.My job is to find 5-10 new reporters a day and add them in here. Sometimes I start googling a competitor in my space “tool for PR” or actual names of companies: “PressFriendly”, etc to see who has covered them, I’ll then add reporters who have covered them to the list.The biggest issue with this approach is to figure out how often the reporter you found actually writes about the topic you found the article about. Sometimes writers get randomly assigned something outside of their beat, out of need from the publication. Other times, they decide just to cover something once to learn something new and they have no intention of covering it again.

Fill notes to get context

You see the notes section in my spreadsheet? That’s where I add in details about them after I look at their profile. What types of articles have they been writing? What’s their usual beat? Who are they? My research helps me write my email to them.Here is an example. I add this article into my spreadsheet: I read through it I know this is spot on to what I’m doing with my tool, but is this typically what this author covers? This is a blog for a VC firm. So I start digging a little more into who this person really is.1. I google her and check out her past articles on VentureBeat: her articles on HuffPo: Slideshare: I look through her social media:LinkedIn:’m starting to get a sense of who she is. She is not a PR person, she is a startup person. She loves to cover startups. She used to do just news and now her beat is more of how to build successful startups since she works at a VC firm and runs content for them.

Guess Reporter’s Email Address

Most emails are in the following formats:


Enter the publication URL into and it spits back the emails of employees they can find. Looking at the results you can tell that formats their emails as so you can guess your target journalist’s email accordingly.


Search for the publication on to find out which format the journalist’s email is most likely in:
You can use these free tools to verify if your guessed email is accurate:

If you’d like to skip the manual work of guessing emails entirely, give SellHack a try. Simply install its browser extension for either Firefox, Chrome or Safari, go to one of your prospect’s social profiles and slam on its button. It does all the work for you to find a good email match.

Note: It doesn’t work 100% of the time so if it can’t find anything, revisit the steps above to unearth their company’s email format.
If you have a personal website for the journalist, pop it into WHOIS. In most cases, it returns the personal email address of the site owner.

An email sent to their personal email address has a much higher chance of being read than one that is sent to their business address where it has to fight for attention amongst the hundred other pitches that flood their work inboxes.
If none of these tactics above worked to help you find an email address go ahead and install Datanyze Chrome Extension and register for an account with them. Once you’ve got it installed just right click on a reporter’s name on the webpage and click Datanyze Insider:
Datanyze pops up a dialog to confirm it has the correct information about the name and the website this person writes for and finds you the email:


Developers of the "Startup Toolkit" -, would like to add their method that they have used, when promoting Startup Toolkit:
One way you can search the web for emails is by analyzing people’s twitter accounts. By following this method, we’ve managed to find dozens of legitimate emails. Here’s how it’s done:Step 1 - find the Twitter account of the person you are looking for (journalist, VC, expert, etc.)
Step 2 - go to Advanced Search in Twitter

Step 3: Simply enter the Twitter account of the target person in "From these accounts" tab and in the "All of these words" tab enter words like “at dot” “email us” “me email”, like so:
When you press search, you should get results that look like this:
Hence, you’ll be able to determine the email of your target, using his Twitter account. It’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t work every time, but if you are looking for emails of people who are active on Twitter, you can easily hit 50% hit rate or more.

Figure Out The Best Time To Reach Out

When is best to email a reporter? I say 6:30am or 7am their local time.
  • 69% of journalists prefer to be pitched in the morning. So the goal here is to make sure you’re the most recent email in their inbox when they check their email.
  • What I do is look at their tweeting patterns, how early do they start sending out tweets? If they are sending tweets out they for sure have checked their email at least once that morning to make sure there is nothing crazy urgent they need to attend to. Usually if you’re tweeting you checked your email.

Write a banging email pitch

First off, why pitch over email? Why not Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? shared a kick ass study conducted of 500+ journalists from top sites like BuzzFeed, TIME, Lifehacker, Scientific American, TechCrunch and more about what they want in a pitch.

Here are some key findings:

81% of journalists prefer to be pitched by email
Most writers publish one story per day, 44% of them get pitched a minimum of 20 times a day.
39% are looking for exclusive research to publish
64% said it was moderately to very important to establish a personal connection before pitching
69% prefer to be pitched in the morning

Here is the entire slidedeck detailing the findings:

Think of an angle you can present your company from or a context you can place your company in.

Company: Car sharing app
Angle: People are much more comfortable about sharing items with strangers these days
Context: Sharing economy
Most journalists don’t just write pieces about your company and what it does. That’s ad. What they will do is use your company as the jumping off point into a story about the space you operate in or what implications your product/service has for your audience and society at large.
OK, here is the moment most of you been waiting for as you read thus article, here are some PITCH TEMPLATES WHICH I LIKE TO USE (some of these come from a good dear friend of mine over at ArtOfEmails):

If your company does work in an exciting space which has been in the news lately:

Subject: Re: The title of their related article from your contact spreadsheet 
Hey X- 
My name is [first name] from [company name]. After reading your article {{ story.title }} I thought your readers might be interested to hear more about [topic from their article which relates to what you’re pitching] since the subject of [general topic from the article] has been in the news lately as you’ve probably seen. Looking over your bio and past articles sounds like you cover [topic from the article] a lot. 
We developed a technology that... 
We have some insert your news/study which relates directly to your interests and I wanted to shoot over info/details for you to review/check out. Let me know if you’d be interested? 
Your full name 
contact info
If your company makes a product that can be used in articles or websites
 When I did marketing for Polar (acquired by Google), I pitched journalists on embedding Polar’s opinion polls into their breaking news articles to significantly boost their audience engagement. It went quite well, Polar was acquired by Google as a result of this type of pitching. Here is the pitch angle I used:

Subject: Got a poll for you: Which Foursquare logo do you prefer? 
Hey Chris- 
Made a poll for your article asking which Foursquare logo people like the best, check it, might be fun to get your readers more involved to get more to come back to the article: 
Here are how these polls look like live: 
The personal angle pitch
Got an interesting backstory? Share it. Even if you think you’ve had a pretty ho-hum life, journalists eat up details like the formative experiences that inspired you to create this company. 
Personal details make the perfect hook for articles so the by teasing you’ve got a life’s worth of Kodiak moments, it really helps the journalist see your story potential.Subject: Got a good story for your article about the extremes entrepreneurs go (involves not showering much) 
Hey X, 
Saw on Twitter you’re writing an article about the extremes entrepreneurs go to bootstrap their startups. 
I’ve got a good one for you. I actually slept in my car while I run around pitching investors. 
My gamble (and slightly less frequent showers!) paid off. I secured a $100K lifeline, giving my company enough runway to takeoff. 
 Happy to provide a few solid insights about how to decide if a big sacrifice like this is worth it. 
If interested, I can provide the rest of the details, 
The innovative product angle
This angle works if you just launched an innovative technology which solves a complex problem that affects a substantive number of people. By complex problems, think cheap to launch satellites, algorithms to automatically approve/reject small business loans. If your product is not innovative in this regard, fret not. There are plenty of other compelling angles you can pitch your company from.
Subject: [Just launched] Our software tracks serial killers 
Hey Journalist, 
Really trust you as the go-source source of nuanced explanations of recent STEM breakthroughs. Really liked your recent article on the potential of Theranos to revolutionize blood tests without short shifting the scepticism surrounding its proprietary tests. 
I’ve got another interesting breakthrough for you to chew on. I recently created an algorithm that helps police narrow down where repeat offenders live by calculating distances between the locations of their crimes. My software Rigel assigns the highest probability percentages to areas where the serial killer is most likely to live or hang out in. 
Police have used Rigel to help catch serial killers including: 
the Suffolk strangler 
the M25 rapist 
Exciting new applications I’m exploring: 
Tracking illegal immigration patterns 
Think this will be a good fit for your audience? Let me know how I can make the writing process seamless for your team. 
The interesting data angle
This approach works if your data on user behaviors gives you interesting insights. Develop a script that regularly mines your data trove for trends and see if anything fascinating pops up. 
Bonus brownie points if you can tease out a trend runs counter to prevailing wisdom or tackles a hot topic.
Subject: Juicy data about racial bias in dating preferences – interested? 
Hey X, 
Been following your articles for a while, great insights into social trends. 
Your recent article about rising reports of people feeling lonely really resonated with me. I think with the declining popularity of several institutions that traditionally provided opportunities for people to regular meet each other such as church, there hasn’t been many replacements that has brought people together in the same way. 
I also have a few juicy social trends to share with you. Our whizzes at OkCupids have been busy crunching some numbers and our data paints a pretty sobering portrait of racial bias in online dating. 
The highlights: 
Black women receive the lowest number of messages 
Asian and black men receive fewer messages than white men 
Most races still prefer to date within their race 
Some interesting questions this poses: 
Are these patterns played out in real life dating choices? 
Or are online daters, who can so called window shop a lot of options, more selective? 
Think this will be a good fit for your audience? Find attached an overview of the report. 
Interesting context angle

If your company is working in an interesting or trending space, spell out the connection in your pitch.

While some journalists may not wish write an article solely about your company, they may mention it as an example of a broader phenomenon.

For example, a hot button issue right now is online privacy so let’s say you make an IP mask tool. You can bring up people’s growing anxiety over who is collecting their data and how it may be being used.

: Startup about matching you with a personal tour guide

: In the age of mass consumption and automation, people are increasingly seeking one-on-one connections with other human beings and experiences customized to their interests.

Subject: How our product plans to replace food 

Hey Journalist, 
I’ve been following your articles for a while – very cutting cultural analyses. Loved your recent one about eating insects as a substitute for meat protein – think all it needs is an image makeover to overcome the ick factor. 
Wanted you to introduce you to another food substitute we recently launched – in the form of a nutritional drink. It provides 2600 healthy calories a day and makes eating super affordable and convenient. Step 1: blend with water or milk. Step 2: Drink up and feel full.  
For the average four member American family: $154.62 per month on Soylent versus $584 on groceries. 
Interesting angle to explore: Soylent’s role in the life hacking movement. 
If this is a good fit, let me know. 
The local angle
As mentioned above, local publications are much easier to break into because
a) the limited scope of their coverage means they are always on the hunt for more news and
b) the addition of your product/service can be relevant and impactful for the community.
Frame your pitch from this angle first when you’re first starting out to get your feet wet and test reactions to your pitch and one sentence hook.

Hey Journalist, 
Really interesting coverage about the lax security at VIP lounges. It’s that old truism – money talks. 
Thought you may be interested in something my team and I just launched. Ever been stuck at work and you’ve just dying to eat favorite chipotle taco? But snag, they don’t deliver? Well, imagine a world where every restaurant, even your favorite hole in the wall that can barely keep up with the crush, does deliver. We’re making it happen! With our team of meal heroes on scooters. 
Basically you call the restaurant to order and then call us to arrange the pick up and delivery: [link] 
Let me know if this is a good fit for your audience? We can throw in an exclusive coupon for them – first delivery free. And suddenly a few more people just became employee of the month at their workplace.  
Relationship building emails: Giving the journalist a scoop
These emails are primarily for building a connection with a journalist before you pitch them so when you are ready to, they are more likely to at least open your email and consider it.
Subject: Re: Article title they recently wrote 
Hey name #1- 
Respect your writing a bunch, I’m an old acquaintance of <insert name #2> of <publication for which name #1 writes for>, love you blog and tend to check it every other day. Saw something you’d dig, wanted to pass it on... in relation to your post on webcams from Feb: 
I saw this little hacking guide/video on how to “actually look good on webcam” which was just published, figured you’d dig, wanted to shoot this over: 
Curious to hear your thoughts about it, I thought they bring up pretty good points, no? 
Relationship building emails: Implementing their adviceRe: Loved your article about radical honesty – here’s my results after a week 
Hey X, 
I’ve been following your blog for the past 3 years, so many great insights! 
Your recent post about radical honesty really resonated with me. I followed it step by step and I found it dramatically reduced my day to day stress levels. 
You can read my post about it here: URL 
If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to share it with your audience. 
Thanks for sharing your can’t-find-anywhere-else tips with the community. 

Tailor your pitch to each journalist

Make a separate table for personal pitch to every journalist you are about to reach. It can take some time, but you will need to have a personal pitch for every single journalist. 

Start emailing!

Aight you ready? This is it. You have a list of relevant reporters based on your topic. You wrote a good email, you know the best time to reach out to them (around 6:30am or so). You have their email address. Go ahead and do your thing.

Track your email pitches to know if they're getting opened

There are several tools to track your emails to see if the journalist has read your email or clicked on your link. My favorite is MixMax for Gmail it works like a charm and the free plan includes unlimited email tracking!
I can set the default setting to track all the emails I sent out. Or I can select the individual emails I prefer to track:
I can then just search for email or go to my sent folder to see if anybody has opened it or read it. The lightning icon with a number next to it indicates someone has opened it and the number of times they opened it.
I can click on the lightning icon to find out the details:
Some other good alternatives are YesWare and Mailtrack 

Continually improve your pitch by tracking open and response rates

You should start by pitching to lower traffic publications to perfect your pitch first.

Continually tweak the following parts of your email: 
  • your subject line 
  • how you describe your differentiating factor 
  • the angle you pitch from
Tweak the email until you consistently start to get over 2 email opens from a single email pitch (it goes without saying that you should only send one pitch to each reporter). 

Don't forget to follow up!

I’d say 90% of responses I get from journalists are to follow up emails I send. Some journalists may be intrigued by your pitch but may not act immediately. You must follow up! Check your email tracking logs. If a recipient opens your email 2-3 times, it generally means they have some interest in your pitch. In this case, send them a follow up email 3-4 days after your initial one. Say something simple like: “Hey
 We just did [recent interesting development].
 Let me know your thoughts about [our company]?”

Finall words

So, that's it! No big deal. If you have any questions or a feedback please drop me an email at or visit my blog

For those of you who are interested in further knowledge of how to build relationships with journalists there is a course on Udemy just for you!

P.S. Another way of attracting attention and traffic to your product is to be an active member of various online communities. Check our how-to guide about this topic.
Story by
Dmitry Dragilev
Founder at PRThatConverts
Dmitry Dragilev runs a growth hacking consultancy helping startups acquire customers through unconventional ways.