Understanding today’s media landscape means accepting that the definition of “media” is constantly evolving.

Alongside traditional news outlets, social media channels, individuals, and even brands themselves have emerged as prolific disseminators of content, contributing to an increasingly noisy news and information landscape. The lines between each medium are also becoming more and more blurred: What counts as press? What about public relations?

And what is just…noise?

As a startup founder, it can be challenging to understand what your relationship should be with the press, what a PR agency can and should do for your company, and how to stay focused amid today’s 24/7 news cycle. But the first course of action for all founders seeking media attention is to have a good reason for doing so.

“When founders tell me, ‘Hey, I think we’re ready to tell our story and engage with the media,’ my first question back to them is always ‘Why now?’’, says Greylock communications director Kaitlin Durkosh, who works with early stage founders across the portfolio.

Seeing the widespread challenges many early stage founders face when learning how to interact with the media, Durkosh and Greylock marketing partner Elisa Schreiber hosted a discussion with Forbes senior editor Alex Konrad on the Greymatter podcast.

This two-part conversation was prompted in part by a tweet from Konrad, in which he said, “I give a talk a couple of times a year about this and try to reset expectations for some early stage founders: The coverage they think they want is often not what they need. And their perspective of the process is skewed by the survivor bias of seeing who is getting covered.”

In the first half of the conversation, Durkosh and Konrad break down some media basics including when, how and who to pitch; how editorial calendars and the news cycle affect journalists’ workflows; and the benefits and potential drawbacks to working with PR.

In the second portion of the conversation, Durkosh and Konrad discuss the evolving media landscape and what founders should understand about building relationships with journalists; the changing nature of news amid a rise of company and brand-directed content; and how startup news fits into all of it.

You can listen to the first episode here.

Elisa Schreiber:
Welcome to Greymatter, Greylock’s podcast that shares inspiring stories from today’s most important company builders. I’m Elisa Schreiber, marketing partner at Greylock.

Today I am very excited that we’re joined by Alex Konrad, senior editor at Forbes and Kaitlin Durkosh, Greylock’s own head of communications. Alex covers venture capital, [as well as] cloud and enterprise software out of New York. He edits the famous “Midas List,” “Midas List Europe,” “Cloud 100 List,” and “30 Under 30 for Venture Capital.” He also recently launched the Midas Touch newsletter, which includes original reporting and analysis about the venture capital ecosystem. Alex, thank you so much for joining us.

Alex Konrad:
Thank you for having me.

And Kaitlin has been on the Greylock team since 2019. She’s our head of communications and she helps Greylock’s early stage portfolio companies with their PR strategy and media relations, in addition to support for Greylock and our investing team.

Kaitlin joined us from Uber. She oversaw comms for the company’s new mobility efforts, including things like scooters, and she also ran comms for the consumer-facing rider product. When she started at Uber, she was on the public affairs team in the East Coast. So, thank you so much, both of you for joining us on the pod.

Kaitlin Durkosh:

So, Alex, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a podcast on communications and on media strategy, especially for early stage founders. As you can imagine, Kaitlin and I get a lot of questions about this. And our marketing team is really focused on helping companies tell their stories to the company or to the people who matter the most.

So, one of the things that caught our eye recently, you tweeted something. I’m going to read it out for our listeners so that they have some context.

You said, “I give a talk a couple of times a year about this and try to reset expectations for some early stage founders. The coverage they think they want is often not what they need. And their perspective of the process is skewed by the survivor bias of seeing who is getting covered.”

So, I guess I want to start with that and say, Alex, what prompted you to tweet this?

What prompts anyone to tweet? I mean, the first answer is that I probably wasn’t thinking and I shouldn’t have been on Twitter. But that said, violating the rule of never tweeting, I do see a lot of confusion in that public forum that I think is Twitter today about startup coverage, what journalists are looking for, what startups should be reasonably expecting.

And I think in this case there was just more discourse happening about what is newsworthy, what that journalist-entrepreneur relationship should look like. And I couldn’t help but weigh in.

And I think I was trying to be a little positive there and note that I have for a few years helped a couple local startup accelerators in the New York ecosystem, which is where I’m based, giving some of that advice at the very early stage, hopefully setting people up to succeed better there.

Well, let’s start there then. A lot of early stage founders are the folks that are listening to this podcast right now. And they’re curious about how to engage the press to tell their story. What advice did you give the folks in that accelerator in terms of what should be their first step? And maybe, Kaitlin, we can start with you on that.

Yeah, sure.

My first question back to founders when I hear, “Hey, I think we’re ready to tell our story and engage with the media,” is particularly, “Why now?”

So, are you looking to maybe ramp up hiring? Are you hoping to increase your brand awareness in terms of adding new customers to your roster?

Sometimes I get these vague, “Because we’re ready for some publicity”-type answers, which I don’t love and, obviously, is not super helpful. So I also encourage founders to really think about the why in a principled way. What pieces of your story are you ready and do you have available to tell?

So, for instance, do you have a fundraise that you’re ready to announce? Are you coming out of stealth and finally signaling to the world that you’re working on this problem, you have a great solution? Do you have a new product that you can bundle a fundraise with?

And then in particular, for enterprise companies I always ask the question, do you have any customers? And if so, who can you reference? And are any of them available and willing to go to bat for you and talk about how they’re using your product with the media?

So, Kaitlin, as you describe, it sounds like you really encourage early stage founders to think about what’s the total package that they can present to a reporter in terms of their story.

And I guess my question to Alex, then, is: How early do you think is too early?

Yeah, I think the first challenge for an entrepreneur is that they are so close to what they’re building, and they are so excited about it, that everything that they do is oriented towards this being a huge deal. And so, everything they do feels newsworthy to them.

They would read about it, they’re living it, and they want to talk about it with people. And I think the problem with that is it can become a little bit like showing your baby photos, your dog photos, in my case, to other people. A stranger might say, “Oh, cute dog,” after one photo, but they probably don’t want to look at 20 photos, and then a five-minute video, and then another video.

I think similarly with entrepreneurs, they have to just remember that the press especially but also just that random stranger isn’t bought in yet to the story.

So, I think the question is, when do you have enough momentum or technology or something that is really tangible that can get that stranger and that reporter, who might be trained to be skeptical, excited about what you’re building. Because they’re not going to be inherently buying into everything that you say the same way that an investor or a team member or their parent might.

It’s interesting, it occurs to me that there’s probably different outlets or different types of reporters at different stages of the company’s journey that founders or CEOs should be thinking about targeting.

So, I’ll turn it over to you, Kaitlin. How should founders go about identifying the right outlet at the right time and the right reporter at the right time?

Yep. OK. I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier. The company should really figure out, what do they want to achieve from the announcement?

For instance, are you looking to ramp up your hiring and you really need a bunch more engineers on the team? Or, as I mentioned, are you looking to increase your brand awareness so that you can reach new customers, and you have a great story that you can send them so that they can read case studies and see how other companies are using your technology? Or are you interested in something like a partnership if maybe you’re more of a consumer brand.

And once you figure this out, it’s much easier to think through the right outlet for you and then from there, find the right reporter at that outlet.

Time and time again, I hear from seed and series A founders and even sometimes series B, “Oh, we want a big feature story in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal.” And to be honest, rarely do I see early stage companies covered in either of those outlets. Unless it’s a super significant founder or a really hot new piece of consumer tech.

So, I encourage founders to do their research and their homework and truly ask themselves, is this something the reporter would really cover?

Most media that I see earlier stage startups engage with are, you have the tech press, which if you think that’s something like TechCrunch, or maybe The VergeVentureBeat. You have more of the business publications like Forbes, or Axios, even something like a Fortune or a Business Insider.

And then there’s trade publications as well. So, for instance, if you’re a fintech company, you might want to engage with something like Payments.com or Modern Retail if you’re in the commerce space. And then for deep consumer companies, there’s also consumer press, which can range from anything like a Men’s Journal to a POPSUGAR to all of the morning shows that tons of people watch every day.

Let’s say you’ve ID’d all those folks. I think the next big question that founders would have is how do you then go about reaching out? I’d like to start with Alex on this. How do you prefer folks get in touch with you with story ideas or with intros?

Well, first, I want to say I think Kaitlin either has studied my presentation, or I’m not nearly as original as I thought because I would give the exact same advice.

I do think that the answer to your question, Elisa, is dependent on how the reporter sees themselves in that framework, and also what the entrepreneur is looking for as well. So, if they are looking for a business story, they may need to offer more lead time. Or for more hard news, perhaps a more evergreen-type human interest story about themselves. Trade publications might be moving really fast.

So I think, first off, there has to be the sense of, Which of these goals and which of these types of media are we targeting? For someone like me, I don’t write that frequently. And anyone can just go to my author page, if they Google my name, they find it at Forbes.com, and they can see, OK, Alex is writing maybe once or twice a week.

So, I’m going to have a very different process than someone, like a friend of mine at TechCrunch, who is writing every single day. I’m probably going to need more lead time. I’m probably going to need a bit [kind of] different outreach.

I don’t think that any journalist wants to be transactional, but if you have a high volume of stories you probably want a more to-the-point, quick-turnaround type offer. So, I’ll pause right there. But I do think for example, with me as more of that long-form writer, any pitch that says, “Hey, we have news tomorrow,” is basically immediately a no for me.

That’s interesting. Can you describe a little bit about how you and your team are structured and what it means to be the senior editor as opposed to maybe like a beat writer? I think that would be a helpful definition for our listeners.

Yeah. So first up, I would say a lesson of media is just like how everyone is a partner in venture capital, a lot of people are editors in media whether they are editing or not. At Forbes, for example, our most senior writers are our senior editors.

And what that means is that I help oversee some of our coverage. I do assign ideas or provide sourcing to help our more junior reporters with their coverage, but it’s more a signifier that I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve written a lot of big stories.

I’m still a reporter in the sense of what I’m doing, just like a general partner or a more junior partner are both investors in that sense. So, that’s just a little terminology help.

Then I would say if you look at, again, the type of work that reporters are doing, I’m always working on one or two long-form, potentially print-feature type stories. These are 2,000 or 3,000 words. You’ve talked to a lot of different people for them.

And so, that means that the embargoed or quick-turnaround type news is only a piece of what I do. There are beat reporters, and they are often the more junior reporters at Forbes. They might be called a reporter or a staff writer. But there are these different terms everywhere. And they are often writing more frequently. I started that way myself.

I think the easiest way to tell what someone is really doing is to look at their output, the types of stories they’re doing, and how in-depth they are. Because we all probably make some progression there towards the slower, bigger stories over time, much like anyone at a company is going to specialize as they move up the ranks as well.

So, you mentioned, Alex, an embargo. And I think we’ve used that term a few times already on the pod. And I think it might be helpful to just clarify what it means when a reporter is offered an exclusive, when they’re offered an embargo. What that means.

Perhaps we can just set some definitions about what each of those things are and when to use them, and why are they important? And maybe, Kaitlin, we can start with you on that.

Sure. So, an exclusive is when you work with only one reporter on a story. And then an embargo is when you share news with one or more reporters, who if they’re going to cover [it] will agree to hold and then publish the story about your news at a certain time.

So, personally, I always encourage early stage founders when it makes sense to do exclusives. I believe that exclusives help to deepen relationships with reporters, and that it’s better to put effort towards trying to get one quality story than a bunch of smaller pieces of coverage that may not move the needle.

Sometimes I hear from founders, “Oh, I’m worried about putting all my eggs in one basket.” Or, “How do I know that the reporter is going to do right by me?” Which I totally understand. But I’m a firm believer that if you have a good story to tell, an exclusive is going to be a great option for you.

And it’s also going to incentivize the reporter to care and often give you a piece that you’re going to like that’s going to be evergreen that you’re going to be able to send to potential recruits, potential customers, and that will just be very helpful to you for the next several months.

I guess, one other thing on embargoes that I think is worth flagging, since I’ve seen a lot of Twitter chatter about this recently, is you need to get the reporter to agree to the embargo first. You can’t just send something in an email that says embargoed until Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. Pacific.

I’ve seen embargoes go wrong where folks break them. So, it’s really important that you make sure if you’re going to send news under embargo, the reporter agrees to that embargo time first.

I think that’s true for any kind of agreement that you have. I think one thing that sometimes folks don’t realize is when you’re making an agreement to have an interview, for example, and you decide this is going to be on background, or if you want to send a response to an email inquiry, and it’s on background versus off the record versus on the record, all of those things need to be mutually agreed to in advance prior to firing something off.

It’s actually… In my opinion, it’s quite disrespectful to the journalist to send something that says, “This is off the record,” without getting their approval on that first. I don’t know if Alex, you have any thoughts on that. But I know it comes up quite a bit on our side.

Totally. I think another comparison point here could be the controversies [that arise] occasionally about NDAs when entrepreneurs are meeting with potential investors. I think both sides need to be comfortable with how the flow of information is going.

Otherwise, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. If I send my pitch deck to an investor, and then a week later I say, “Oh, and by the way, I sure hope you didn’t share that with anyone,” it’s probably too late. That is probably circulated around either inside the firm or to other investors. And you can’t undo that.

Similarly, you can’t say something to a reporter and after the fact say, “Hey, but that was between us,” right?

So, obviously, if an entrepreneur has a close relationship with a reporter, and they’re meeting in perhaps a social setting, there might be some level of trust there.

But especially if you’re meeting a journalist that you do not know well, you don’t have that rapport with, you have to assume that you are on the record, and if you want to say something not for publication, you need to clearly say that.

Similarly, with embargoes we do get annoyed when we get emails saying, “We are raising $115 million embargoed to Thursday morning at 10:00 a.m.” Because what you’re saying to us is that either you don’t believe that we have the teeth, and the inclination to just lead with the news. That we are basically already implicitly part of your marketing plan, which no journalist gets out of bed, and says, Hey, I want to help the PR launch of a startup.

That’s just not why we’re doing it. Or similarly, just as bad, honestly, you’re implying that the news is not newsworthy. It would be like if Greylock was like, “Well, hey, we are hiring this person as our next partner, embargoed for two weeks from now. If the person is exciting, you want to be careful about who it is. You’re not going to just put that name out there.

But I think, unfortunately, we live in a world with such a high volume of information that people almost get too transactional too fast. So, if you’re going to say something off the record, you have to say it upfront. And that means the journalist cannot use it in any way. If you’re going to say something pegged to a timing, they have to agree to the embargo first.

Otherwise, these things are not honored. And the journalist could theoretically just tweet it out that second.

That’s right. Well, I think that’s a good segue into the pitches that you get. So let’s assume someone’s playing the game right, and pitching appropriately. What makes a good pitch? What’s the thing that catches your eye?

Great. Well, I’d say on the journalist side, the number one thing is we love when people have done a little bit of homework. I think this is probably true in other areas of business as well. And I think that can reflect in the personalization of the pitch.

Unfortunately, we do see founders try to cut corners, or they’re told to cut corners, and do fake personalized emails. But this could be something where the person has actually read the last couple stories I wrote, and can give a credible case for why this might follow that theme or riff off of something that I wrote.

They might say, “Oh we see that you haven’t written in a while and might be busy on a big project. But we would like to get on the runway with you.” Just a little bit of empathy revealed by seeing what I am spending my time on.

Now, again, that can easily go the wrong way, and we do live in a sort of hack-the-world-type place where as a New Yorker, let’s say, I’m a Knicks fan. That doesn’t mean that emailing me like, “Hey, tough loss for the Knicks, or great win,” is going to make us best friends.

And we do see a lot of people think like, Oh, I did that one personalized piece, and that makes us simpatico. That’s not how it works, of course, just like it wouldn’t work in a business context, right?

A little thoughtfulness and a little sense of why plausibly the journalist might find this intellectually interesting, or why their readers might, is going to go a long way.

The last thing I would say on this front is that for journalists, their true north is their readers. And why their readers would be informed or interested or find something debatable in whatever the journalist is writing. If we can’t share a business lesson or a trend or something that is informing our readers, there’s no point in us covering a company or a piece of technology.

We’re not trying to just cover every startup we can. There has to be a point to it.

So any extra effort the entrepreneur can make to imagine themselves as our reader, or their friends as our reader, or their peers, and just think, This is what’s going to be interesting, or this is what’s going to be compelling. We are going to be so much more grateful for that. And we will at the least have a much harder time saying no. But of course we may still have to say no because this is just an insane news cycle.

I think that’s an interesting point that goes back to where you started, which is founders get so excited about the thing that they’re building and are just living and breathing the company and what they’re doing.

But really, when you think about external-facing communications, and specifically trying to get a reporter interested in your story, you really need to root it in what’s happening in the world around you. It’s bigger and more vast than any one company. So how do you fit into a trend? Or how do you fit into the way the world is moving? [That] is a very important step to take as you’re trying to think about the story you’re going to tell.

Kaitlin, what are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, so going back to what Alex said about personalization. Time and time again, I see reporters post on Twitter screenshots of emails they received, and they’d been called the wrong person. There’s really silly typos in the email. Just don’t be that person. It’s super embarrassing.

And you want to start out on the right foot with journalists since it’s going to be a long relationship. So it may sound really basic, but just double check things and make sure you’re actually calling the person the right name.

But beyond that, I’ve seen a lot of times [where] consultants in particular, they draft a press release, and then they send an email that’s like, “Hey, Alex, please see below, company X is announcing their $20 million series A.”

And then they just paste the press release with no additional context expecting that the journalist is going to just read through that and be super excited. I mean, what I’ve learned is no one wants to go through a press release. I recommend something else instead:

Pull a few paragraphs into an email where you talk about your differentiators, lean into what makes you unique, give some high-level context on why you matter now, and why your product or your solution is important today.

If you have any business momentum you’re willing to share, be upfront about it. Say, “We can give you valuation,” or, “we’ve seen 10x revenue growth the past year, and we’d be happy to give you some metrics like that, that you can include in the story.”

And then I often lay out who exactly the reporter can talk to. So, “You can talk to our company CEO, you can talk to the VC that led our latest round. We have two customers available to talk about our product as well, if helpful.”

And I think if you can just be clear, concise, and really show what matters and what they’re going to get full-picture, I think I’ve seen that tend to work best.

All right, so you land the plane. You get Alex Konrad to reply back and say, “Sounds interesting. What are our next steps?” Let’s talk about the interview process a little bit.

How does it work? Especially, I guess, we’re in a pandemic age, so I’m sure you’re doing a lot more on Zoom and a lot more virtually. But what are some tips for founders on making sure that the interview goes well?

Well, I myself had to go through media training, as reporters do, because we are interviewed on the other side. I was recently in a documentary about WeWork and the filmmaker had me on camera for over six hours. And I was terrified afterwards because, did I stay on message for six hours? Who knows? Was I losing my mind after three hours? Perhaps. And so, I was definitely nervous myself. So this is not easy.

But that said, I do think that, first off, personality is always a good thing. Try to relate on a human level. That doesn’t mean you have to say things that are going to get you in trouble to try to please the reporter. But I do think that the more you have a sense of the person, and you want to at least walk away feeling like you know that person better, that’s just going to make for a better meeting.

And I think that’s true, even not in an interview context, but it does apply as well unless we’re talking a seven-minute interview for the radio, which I’ve also done, where it’s just very to the point, and you catch your breath at the end. That’s usually not most meetings, especially a 30-minute Zoom or a 30-minute in-person with a reporter.

I would say try to convey the excitement about your products, try to convey why you are actually spending your time on this startup or this idea. So that, at the least, the reporter understands what you’re passionate about. They may not find that as exciting as you do. But at least you can walk away saying, “I did give my best shot at conveying that enthusiasm.” Then you can talk about the news or the product launch or the funding or whatever it is.

But for me personally, as an interviewer, I will often only get to that so-called news peg [with] 10 minutes left in the interview, or 15 minutes left in the interview because I spend so much time just trying to understand the technology or the person trying to really have all the contexts that I need, so that I’m not just being force-fed.

OK, well you raise X from firm Y on date Z, or whatever it might be. You launched a new product. We need to understand the why or we’re not doing a good job as a reporter. And so, if the founder can help me understand that I’m going to be really grateful, and I’m just going to have more fun.

Kaitlin, are there any tools that you suggest founders use to address some of the things that Alex described?

Yeah, to Alex’s point, it’s really important to help the reporter understand the full picture, how exactly you work, who is the team, and all of the pieces that go into the story beyond just the fundraise, or a launch, or whatever it might be.

So, something that I’ve seen work quite well is I encourage founders to do a slide deck that helps them guide the conversation. And typically, what I recommend since it’s often already created is just do a paired down version of your latest fundraise deck, since there’s usually 90% of what you need in there in terms of your story, how your product works, the team.

I’ve found that founders are typically pretty comfortable with that deck already since they’ve given it a bunch of times when talking to investors. So it helps to minimize the prep and the stress of maybe your first media conversation.

And then just another thing I also recommend is — you should have already done this as a founder when you’re identifying your targets and writing your pitch — but reread some recent coverage or coverage that would be similar in terms of maybe a fintech company [that] also launched recently, and you’re a fintech company. Or Alex may have covered another series A company. So read a couple stories from the reporter that would be similar to the stage and type of story that you have, and understand the information that is included in that story.

For instance, I know Alex always loves to include valuation and some of his fundraise in startup coverage. So know that that’s probably coming. Have a plan on how to tackle that, and be prepared to address some of those questions.

Pretend you have a really bad internet, and just the Zoom is ending right as I’m asking that question. Oh, sorry, I can’t hear you, Alex. I can’t give you the valuation. No, we will get the valuation. I think Kaitlin is so right.

A Greylock company that I wrote about, Common Room, the CEO, Linda did an amazing job showing her pared-down pitch deck or slides. I do think it is a great flex when an entrepreneur can show a product demo, or show that presentation very fluidly and comfortably. Reporters will love that.

I just had a Zoom earlier this week, where the CEO was describing things to me and then was like, “You know what, I’m just going to share my screen and just go through the product with you as we talk.” I wasn’t going to say no to that because it really did help my understanding.

Yeah, for sure. I just think it’s hard to remember all of your talking points and all of the information you want to share if you’re just spitballing. And if you go into a media conversation, and the reporter just dives in with questions, it can be a little intimidating if you’re not used to it.

If they were asking you stuff and then you can’t remember if you already shared this, or you forgot a point, so you want to work it in later. So just having some basic slides, [and] your pitch down just makes life much easier for all parties involved.

Here’s a slightly controversial question, which is PR agencies. Should founders hire a PR agency or not? If you do, what type should you work with? What’s the best way for a founder to connect with the reporters that they want to connect with? I’ll start with you, Alex.

Yeah, my perspective on PR firms is that they are often not the best use of a founder’s resources. But I also want to stress that this is not me dissing PR firms.

I think that PR and getting press coverage is something that founders probably worry about too much. In general, I don’t think that many startups have failed because they didn’t get enough press coverage.

I also don’t know many startups that had a bad product that succeeded only because they had lots of press coverage. Press coverage can be an amplifier of the good or the bad, but it should not be changing the course of history for a company. If it does, you should be asking yourself why that is the case.

All of that said, we talked earlier about, you know, why a company would want press. I think Kaitlin gave some great points about the different types of outlets that could be getting different coverage to an entrepreneur. And I think similarly, one should ask, what is the PR agency going to do for us? Are we doing a big product launch? Are we going wide? Are we just trying to get that one exclusive? Or are we really just trying to build relationships?

Because I think based on that answer, a PR agency might be much better suited to provide that value, that return on investment, just like in the venture game folks talk about ROI.

Similarly, with a PR firm, what you don’t want is to start paying a big monthly retainer, have a honeymoon phase where you get a little bit of coverage, and then within six months you’re sort of, Why am I paying this money? Why am I shortening my runway of my company’s life to basically have the promise of coverage and then be told reporters don’t care?

I’m curious, Kaitlin, how often that comes up for you that you are finding startups in the portfolio thinking about this. But I generally say unless you have a really good reason to need the PR firm, it’s probably a cost that shouldn’t be a top priority.

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, time and time again, I’ve seen startups that do hire bigger agencies get all this promise of coverage, and then the agency under delivers.

[The thing] I tend to drill into with early stage founders is, what exactly are you looking for? Are you just looking for someone to parachute in, help you with messaging, help you figure out your strategy, launch your company, and then that’s the end of the project?

Mainly, I’ve seen startups have success with either boutique agencies or individual consultants who can really dig in and do the work for them. And agencies or consultants that are okay with doing one- to two-month retainers versus six months or a year.

To your point, Alex, I agree in that I think hiring a big agency with a big price tag is not necessarily going to result in results for the company, and agencies are a lot of work to manage. You have to keep feeding them information that they can then go out and use in terms of pitching. And if you don’t have someone that has the bandwidth to be able to do that, the agency also can’t be successful in terms of helping you out.

For early stage founders, just to recap, I would definitely recommend if you need help with the launch or an announcement, connect with somebody that’s more of a consultant or a boutique agency that’s OK with helping you for the interim and then ending the contract. Then maybe you’ll pick back up with them if you have your next round. Or if you have a new product you’re launching, or you have more pieces of the story that you can go out there and continually tell.

And then my one last thought on the agency is just always remember, they’re a reflection of you and the business.

You want to make sure you’re working with someone that’s reputable. Definitely reference check them; ask for referrals from your VC and other founders who you know that may have had launches. Because the last thing you want to do is hire an agency that either has not great relationships with reporters. Or is known to pitch things under embargo without actually getting embargoes or offering exclusives, that they’re maybe doing that to multiple people at once.

So definitely reference check and make sure you’re hiring somebody quality that’s going to be a good reflection of you and your business.

Although I will say on that point, I avoid trying to do those very specific call-outs on a place like Twitter now of that pitch email that is a disaster, because I do feel sorry for the folks sending them.

And often these PR firms are not being set up to succeed. Often the most egregiously annoying emails reporters get are because of clients with unrealistic expectations. And that inability to make everyone happy is forcing the PR person to do something desperate or against their own best instincts.

We can tell when we get emails that are basically just fishing for a no. And it’s so that they can go back to the entrepreneur and say, “Alex Konrad said no,” because unless they say that, if they just say, “Oh, Alex would say no,” sometimes people don’t believe them and they want that written no from me.

But it’s very painful to have to send me multiple emails for something that you know in a million years I’m never going to cover. It’s not even an area that I write about because your client won’t take your word for it. That sucks for the PR people too. They’re not bad people. They’re working hard just like the rest of us. But I think the more everyone’s expectations can be aligned, the easier it is for all three stakeholders.

Yeah I think in each of the areas, whether you’re the founder, the PR agency, or the PR rep, and the reporter, it can be a little bit opaque what each person is dealing with.

Yeah, I also think if you’re hiring a good consultant that you’ve reference checked, that has delivered good stories and all of that type of stuff, you should fully trust their opinion, and their recommendation.

If you say, “I really want Forbes to cover this.” And the consultant says, “I think this is too early for Forbes. I also know the reporters are really slammed working on the “Midas List” or a big feature, so I know they’re not going to cover [it] on this timeline,” trust your consultant, it’s much better to not. To Alex’s point, [don’t] put them through the wringer and make them do the outreach anyways just so that you can see a no.

Nothing is worse, or more cringy, in my opinion than when consultants or PR people are sending things that are just totally tone-deaf. And remember, it is a bad reflection on you and your business.

Another thing to remember is that the VCs, the PR people, the journalists, they all have relationships that go way beyond that one startup. And so you have to remember that you’re a piece of the puzzle.

For all you know, they may be saving a bullet for a bigger story and it’s not personal, but they have another client, or the VC firm may hope that that reporter is writing about a company that’s maybe further along in its journey. And so, you don’t always have all the information. Just like the journalists never have all the information and our job is to try to get some, right?


Elisa Schreiber


Elisa helps Greylock’s portfolio companies shape and tell their stories, and leads all marketing for our firm.

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