PressFriendly Offers Startups a DIY Alternative to PR Agencies

The future of PR is in your hands.

The future of PR is in your hands.

Back in 2006, several months into launching my first startup, ZapTix, an enticing email arrived from a Chicago-based PR agency, where I was located at the time. We had a compelling back-and-forth conversation about their services, which all sounded great — until, that is, I learned about the price: $5,000 per month.

As far as PR agencies go, this, I’ve since learned, is on the low-end of retainers. In Silicon Valley, rates for reputable agencies hover around $10,000 to $15,000 per month, and only go up from there.

For the right company, in the right circumstances, this can be a bargain, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for PR professionals who go to tremendous lengths to craft stories, build momentum, and communicate effectively on behalf of their clients.

That said, the agency model often feels like a one-size-fits-all solution, flopping like a bulky sweater over the bodies of lean and bootstrapped ventures, who may need far less than what an agency provides. Often, the best pitch for an emerging startup comes not from an agent, but from the direct, authentic voice of a company’s founder.

Realizing this, a new venture, PressFriendly, offers a compelling, freemium service to help startups create their own news and share it with receptive journalists.

Founded by Paul Andren and Joel Denya, who met at YCombinator startup HelloSign, the company guides startups through a nine-step PR wizard, starting with a one-line takeaway, proceeding to various details about the release (angles, important details, type of announcement, and so on), and finally matching the story with journalists who are likely to express interest in the content.

VentureBeat reporter Rebecca Grant reviewed PressFriendly in a recent piece, catching on to their value — not to mention their disruptive potential:

As a reporter, I spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through irrelevant, un-newsworthy, uninteresting pitches. I (and I think I can speak for my colleagues here) am not any more likely to cover a startup that is pitched by a PR person than I am to cover one that’s pitched directly by an entrepreneur. In fact, I prefer the latter. What matters is the pitch has to catch my interest and contain relevant information.

Furthermore, all of our email addresses can be found on our author profile pages, so it’s not as if there is some secret, exclusive pipeline to our inbox.

So startups, with their limited resources, do not need to shell out for an expensive agency if they can get the pitch right.

Can Silicon Valley Save Journalism?

Journalism is dead. Long live journalism.

In August, 2013, the Washington Post made waves when it announced its sale to Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon. The purchase, coming at a time of historically low print circulation, led Daily Show personality John Oliver to quip, “There are now more people buying newspapers than there are people buying newspapers.”

Bezos sees things differently, foretelling a “golden era” at the WaPo, where he intends to introduce a new, startup-inspired culture of risk-taking and experimentation.

In 2012, another old media property fell into the arms of a Valley darling. This time, Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who led President Obama’s online organizing efforts in 2008, purchased The New Republic, an influential magazine reaching progressive audiences in politics and culture.

Hughes, who now serves as Editor-in-Chief, seeks to expand the publication’s digital footprint — particularly on next-generation tablets and e-readers — while preserving the high-quality journalism for which they’re known. In the eighteen months since the acquisition, New Republic print circulation is up by 20% and web traffic has tripled, following a doubling of staff and an expansion into a New York Office, branching out from the company’s traditional Washington, D.C. headquarters.

Now, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is jumping into the journalism ring, too. Omidyar’s new media venture, First Look Media, “seeks to reimagine journalism for the digital age, combining the promise of technological innovation with the power of fearless reporting.”

Since launching less than a week ago, the venture’s first in-house publication, The Intercept, stars former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose series of articles about the NSA, based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, ignited a fierce and ongoing debate about the limits of government surveillance.

With founders now donning the mantle of Editor-in-Chief (as Hughes has done), it’s no wonder that a reverse migration is happening, too. Consider Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, the magnetic duo formerly behind AllThingsD, the flagship digital publication of the Wall Street Journal. Their new venture, Re/code, places them in competition with other tech-focused news upstarts, including PandoDaily and TheVerge.

Even Bill Keller, former Executive Editor of the New York Times, is joining a new venture after a 30-year career at the so-called paper of record. His new role will make him Editor in Chief of The Marshall Project, a newly-formed nonprofit that raises critical awareness about the American criminal justice system, which, in Keller’s words, “is bizarrely horrible and weirdly tolerated.

Despite fears of an eroding press, journalism bustles with activity and innovation. New outlets are springing up regularly, while those in the old establishment await a new, experimental culture inspired by a surge of founder-driven acquisitions. The future of the media may be brighter than we once imagined.

5 Relatively Easy Ways to Run an Awesome WordPress Site

The wonderful world of blogging.

The wonderful world of blogging.

Running a blog takes work — writing the posts, reaching an audience, installing plugins, etc. — not to mention supporting it with the proper infrastructure. #sfbeta relaunched its website earlier this summer on a WordPress backend, and here’s what we advise so far:

1) Host your site on WPEngine — period.
WPEngine will pre-cache your site for faster load times, auto-update every new version, and run extensive back-end security to prevent hacks and exploits. Trust me, you do NOT want to be alone when your site inevitably gets targeted by some asshat 16-year-old-with-a-laptop in Russia.

2) Choose a responsive theme.
When a theme is “responsive,” that means it renders your content with a UI ideal for the reader’s device — whether a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. There are a bunch of responsive themes for free, and plenty for $10 – $50 on ThemeForest. Mobile and tablet traffic are really, really, really, really important, so don’t burn your potential readership with a rigid theme that renders like crap on half your pageviews.

3) Optimize for social sharing.
I recommend Facebook Comments, a share and tweet button for each post, and Facebook / Twitter widgets that show your follower count. Each of these will increase your traffic and exponentially boost your virality, while making it easy for your audience to share your work.

4) Get in the fast lane.
Optimize for speed and performance. Install a CDN, and make your site as efficient and zippy as possible with plugins suited to the task. Not only will slow pages annoy your users, but they’ll lower your standing with Google.

5) Make your site Google-friendly.
Set up Webmaster Tools and Analytics, and make sure that your sitemap is getting properly indexed. Search is a significant (if not dominant) driver of traffic, and must be accounted for.

Any other tips or tricks? Share them in the comments!