Rainier CEO Steve Schuster discusses The Wall Street Journal and why a startup’s time and PR dollars may be better spent targeting industry media.
Among technology startups, it’s a pretty common phenomenon to say they dream of getting published in high-level mainstream media. CEOs often list off publications like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post. Actually, they rarely offer any other examples, because for sure, these three famous names represent the pinnacle of the mainstream media world.
For the sake of argument, let’s just lump them all together as a single category we’ll call “The Wall Street Journal.”
So you want to be in The Wall Street Journal, and it seems like your investors and your board of directors ask you every month, “Why hasn’t your high-priced PR agency gotten you INTO THE WALL STREET JOURNAL yet?” Our amazing disruptive technology and our recent funding must be of intense interest to the big world of high finance, right?
But the questions that really need to be asked are the same ones we should ask ourselves about any and every media strategy. Why? To what benefit? Does this story that align with The Wall Street Journal’s readers – their customers to whom they have to deliver good content? And finally, are you willing to forego all other coverage in favor of the Journal’s insistence on an exclusive?
As stated on its website, “The Journal doesn’t feature businesses just for the sake of writing about companies.” They continue, “Every story needs a fresh thematic element that brings it beyond one narrow company or product. Since it’s an international newspaper, the story has to have wide-ranging appeal.” The Journal drives the point home by telling companies and their PR agencies, “Make sure your pitch focuses on something universally important.”
In other words, they only accept a story if they’re convinced it brings significant and compelling value to their customers, the readers of the publication.
We also have consider the ROI of trying to get into a single publication that for most technology companies does not serve as an information source for decision-making customers. Compare that to pursuing a far bigger number of technology influencers in market-facing publications.
Look, I’m confident that your investors and your board of directors have made it crystal clear that the number one thing they care about is customer acquisition and revenue traction, full stop.
And in fact, technology investors do not perform due diligence through publications like The Wall Street Journal. Instead, they study articles appearing in the trade media and industry analyst reports to try and get a good idea of whether or not a company they’re thinking about funding has a real story to tell to the market, to your potential customers.
Palo Alto-based Maven Ventures gives one line of advice to tech investors: “You want to be current on industry news – the universe of industry-relevant sites and newsletters.”
Crunchbase tells tech investors to immerse themselves in the industry. Crunchbase says “Industry knowledge helps investors better parse out which companies are ordinary and which are truly remarkable. They advise investors to “Read trade magazines and industry-specific articles, and they conclude by saying: “When learning how to find a startup to invest in, it’s important to have a pulse on the industry.”
There’s no question about it – it’s very, very fun to tell people at a dinner party that your company was recently in The Wall Street Journal. Why? Because most people have never heard of market-facing publications like TechTarget, EE Times, Network World or RCR Wireless but they’ve all heard of The Wall Street Journal!
So, while I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a goal, I’m advising that for the vast majority of the time and the vast majority of privately held companies, The Wall Street Journal is a pretty serious uphill battle, and your time and PR dollars would be better spent targeting industry media where your customers and your investors get their decision-making information.