Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Developing a media strategy for your startup - Part 1: The story

This article was originally published to

One of the best ways to promote a startup is to have the press write about you. In this series of 3 posts we thought we'd share our experiences on doing this with Shoes of Prey.

The single most critical factor in getting the media to write about you, and one that is so often overlooked by businesses in their boring, drab press releases, is that you must have an interesting story to tell. The media aren't just going to write about you out of the kindness of their heart, they have a business to run too which requires them to cover interesting stories that people want to read. You need to give them that interesting story.

Zappos do this incredibly well with their approach to corporate culture and customer service. Offering new hires $5,000 to quit in their first week is a great story. Having customer support staff who go so far out of their way for customers is a great story. A record 8 hour and 3 minute customer service call is a great story. All of these things have been covered by so many different media helping to make Zappos a household name in the US and a $1b+ revenue company.

Closer to home experience gifting site RedBalloon tell a great story. Co-founder Naomi Simson has made it her personal mission to change the way Australian companies treat and reward their staff. Championing this cause leads to a constant stream of speaking at events, speaking to media and her blog provides a great insight into Naomi's thoughts on these issues. She also promotes how in our age of rampant materialism, it's experiences rather than material goods which define who we are and make people the happiest. RedBalloon walk their talk consistently ranking amongst the best places to work in Australia.

Australian online retailer Kogan is another great example of a unique story. In the crowded and competitive electronic goods sector Kogan pitches itself as a great value for money, direct to consumer brand acting as the underdog in a market dominated by major brands and large, traditional retailers. To this end Kogan, and particularly founder Ruslan Kogan aggressively and often humorously take aim at large electronic goods retailers like Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi through stunts like challenging Gerry Harvey to a debate on the merits of online retail, launching a new and innovative pricing model for electronic goods and offering JB Hi-Fi customers free cables for their TVs to highlight the astronomical margins traditional retailers make on these accessories.

An important thing to note is that in all of the above examples, in addition to being great stories, each story is highly relevant and related to what the business does. For Zappos the stories all relate to offering great customer service. For RedBalloon the stories relate to gifting experiences and for Kogan the stories relate to offering great value for money in the electronic product category.

Having a story to tell was a key consideration of ours prior to actually settling on the concept of selling custom women's shoes. Inspired by Seth Godin's Purple Cow and Mark Hughes' Buzz Marketing we wanted to start a business with a unique story at it's core. Offering women the opportunity to design their own shoes online is unique and we're fortunate that we've had a lot of media coverage, particularly from the fashion media, based on our product concept. Gradually we're also adding to our story. Our blog acts as a public record of what we're working on in our business and the successes and failures we've had along the way. Few other businesses or startups are this open and some of what we write about has been of interest to business media, leading to more press about our business.

It's important to remember that a story won't be exciting and unique forever, so a business needs to develop new ones. Zappos, RedBalloon and Kogan are all constantly doing new things and creating new stories and over time as our business evolves we plan to do the same.

In the next post we'll discuss the importance of having a process for reacting to media requests.

Update: Part 2 here.


  1. Hi Michael,

    Before Shoes of Prey, both yourself and Mike worked at what many would say THE best place to work ever (Google). When I first heard you were leaving to start up your own business, I was surprised because who would ever want to leave the best place to work?

    Therefore, did the idea of 2 guys leaving Google to pursue their own dreams help build an interesting story for Shoes of Prey? Was it something that the media want to hear? Did that aspect come into the picture?

  2. Hi Irene, we've gone with that angle a few times, though it doesn't involve Jodie so we've not gone with it as much as we could have, particularly as we try to encourage stories to include Jodie as the face of the brand. Thinking about this some more, as we build the internal culture at Shoes of Prey it's an angle we could use more as we're taking a lot of the good things from our experiences at Google and applying them to our own culture... thanks for the idea!

  3. Great post M. There is a great book called 'the fall of advertising and the rise of PR' by Al Ries that covers this as well. The biggest challenge most start ups have is gaining credibility with their target. Marketing campaigns, (done well), will provide awareness, but provide no credibility as the message is coming from the advertiser. Getting the media to cover your business is akin to a referral by a 3rd party or WOM which gives the message both credibility and awareness.

  4. Great piece, getting ready to go over and read Part II. It's really surprising to me how few people try to find a really compelling hook for the media.