Interview with Robin Wauters, future How to Web speaker

Robin Wauters‘ professional path follows the trajectory that most of us already know: once you get involved in the startup world, you end up being part of one, one way or another. Robin has been a tech writer for some of the major tech news outlets in the world, including TechCrunch and The Next Web. But before writing about startups, he built one himself, by co-founding Talking Heads, which he subsequently sold.

Now Robin uses all his experience to advise multiple startups on the best way to conduct business in a very competitive tech landscape. Given the hundreds and maybe thousands of startups he has interacted with in his professional path, we wanted to see how a startup could improve their marketing and PR efforts in order to gain a place in the spotlight.

1. What are the criteria you used when choosing which startups to write about for The Next Web or TechCrunch?
It depends on a lot of factors, as you can imagine. How unique is the product, the business model, the go-to-market strategy? Who is behind the startup? Is there any real innovation here? Why was the startup founded, which problem is being solved, and how? Is the startup addressing an interesting market or target audience? How advanced is the technology? What does the competitive landscape look like?

It’s important for journalists to be able to fit an article about a startup into a ‘bigger picture’, such as a broader trend in technology or society as a whole, or a direct association with an actual event or another occasion. A lot of startups approach reporters with a ‘getting publicity’ mindset, which I think is wrong: try and see things from their perspective, learn about their interests and audiences, and it will give you a much better chance of picking the right time to pitch, or choosing the right topic to start with.

Journalists have a reputation to defend and an audience to serve, build and grow, so a topic needs to resonate with them before they will spend time researching and writing about it.

2. In your experience as a tech writer, what is the best way for a startup to approach an editor for a large publication that focuses on entrepreneurship?

A startup founder should approach journalists directly, unobtrusively and with common sense and courtesy, as with any dealing in a professional setting. They should have a long-term relationship in the backs of their minds, not a short-term ‘gain’ from ‘getting press’.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to not simply pass on information but also craft a story around what they are doing and building, and to be able to ‘sell it’. As I mentioned before, a pitch needs to fit neatly into a bigger picture, because a journalist needs to understand how it relates to a market or an entire industry, and how the startup they’re being pitched might be able to make a difference in that regard.

Obviously, it never helps to be pushy, overly secretive, a liar, or any other trait that tends to get you nowhere in any type of professional interaction.

3. What could startups improve in terms of PR in order to draw attention to the relevant facts about their business?

Many things!

First thing, I would say, is to actually know the facts, do good research internally and determine what the important metrics are for the business in question, in relation to the overall market or industry in particular. Then, it’s a question of creating some sort of narrative, where you craft a story around the basic facts that ties everything together clearly.

Thirdly, a startup funder needs to think about how to best present the facts, figures and the ‘story’, and make himself or herself available for requests for more information or material that can help turn all this into an article.

In my opinion, it’s always good that the founder does these things for as long as possible before hiring a professional PR person or contract an agency to help with the communication and distribution. But when they do, they shouldn’t be afraid to pay a premium for the best person or agency they can get – because it does make a difference on many occasions.

Robin will be talking about global innovation at How to Web in just one month from today, so you have every reason to book your ticket and maybe even get to talk to him in person. Also, if you’ll be picked as a Startup Spotlight finalist, then you’ll get the chance to have him as a mentor and as a jury member.

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