Cathal Morrow


January 17, 2024

The problem with doing PR for startups (Spoiler alert: It’s you)

You love your startup. Really love it. That doesn't mean everyone else does

Cathal Morrow

5 min read

You love your startup. Really love it. You love the way it laughs, flicks its hair and picks you up when you’re feeling a little down.

You tell all your mates about it in the pub, all the time. And I mean all the time. And let’s be honest, by now they don’t really give a damn.

You: “We’ve just launched V3.2. It’s a massive step up from V3.1.”

Your mate: “Your round.”

You: “Did you hear me?  V3.2. It’s a gamechanger!”

And that’s the majority of press releases sent out by startups, alas: love letters to themselves.  

The launch of V3.2. And just like your bored, in-need-of-a-drink mate — journalists, on the whole, won’t give a damn.


But all is not lost — because your PR, and possibly some of your most important relationships, can be saved. Because I’m going to tell you what your long-suffering mates won’t.

You need to accept that the problem with your PR is you.

Elvis is alive

Let’s start with you. Are you Elon Musk? Bill Gates? Elvis risen from the dead? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the above, then it’s unlikely anyone will care about you, or your past glittering middle management corporate career.

That doesn’t mean you’re not interesting, of course. 

In reality, a lot of PR is about trying to satisfy the client’s ego (or your own).

Did you have a particular challenge you needed to overcome? That perhaps made you create your startup? Or one during the startup’s journey? Please, please not one that begins: “I failed,” but is just about your heroic journey. 

Which resulted in you creating the game-changing V3.2.

Understanding PR

To do PR well, you need to understand both journalism and PR.

Journalism first: Journalists get a lot of press releases. And most of them are crap.

Now PR: PRs send a lot of press releases. And most of them are crap.

A PR’s job should be to make journalists’ lives easier, by giving them great stories. If you’re not using a professional PR, that’s your job too. Great for you and the company — but great for the journalist too.

But in reality, a lot of PR is about trying to satisfy the client’s ego (or your own), which leads to really crappy press releases.

So what should you say? Great question. Well, imagine you’re going to the pub with your mate. One you haven’t seen for a while. (You lost all your regular drinking buddies in the run-up to the launch of V3.0).

And you want to tell them something about your startup. Something genuinely interesting. Properly interesting. That isn’t a sales pitch masquerading as a story. That means they won’t ignore your calls afterwards. What would that be?

Interesting to your mate. Interesting to Sifted readers. To a Sifted journalist.  Because they’re your first audience. Think of them as your new best mate, albeit one who probably doesn’t care about you at all.

So make them care. Make them care about your business. 

Be honest with yourself. When you get a spammy email from someone claiming to get you on the first page of Google, do you believe them? Of course you don’t. 

So why should a journalist believe everything they’re sent? Even if it’s about you.

Journalists are human, on the whole, so they need to buy into the story on a human level. They’re the gatekeepers to what their readers will find interesting and useful. And also, much to many people’s disbelief, what’s true.


Engage them. Know their publication, their stories. Ask yourself is this something they really want to hear? Journalists will be getting 200 or more press releases a day. So don’t make yours as crap as all the rest.

So what makes a story?

Another great question, thanks for asking.

If you raise £10m, that is interesting, for sure.  For Sifted readers, it could give them hope if they’re a startup themselves. Or pique their interest if they’re a VC or possible partner.

Perhaps something you’ve discovered about the current market — good or bad. A genuine struggle you’re going through.

“I hear you, mate.”

Or perhaps you have some data, data that’s of real interest (not crappy surveys with a sample size of 12). 

How does your business tie in with some current world events? How will your business genuinely help people? Is there a problem you’re solving, for me, the reader? 

The launch of V3.2 of an app no one has ever heard about?

“Your round.”

Pro tips for successful startup PR

  1. The philosopher, Socrates, knew a thing or two about PR. He said: “All I know is that I know nothing.” So ask yourself, how much do you really know about PR? If the honest answer is “not much”, then consider getting help, either by using a freelancer or agency, or by attending one of the many excellent courses and seminars on PR, available either online or in the real world.
  2. The best PR happens through collaboration. Between you, a PR, if you have one, and the journalist. None of us knows everything, even Socrates, it appears. Although he undoubtedly crushed it in the Pub Quiz. As did Elvis, to be fair.
  3. Be realistic about timings. Understand journalists are busy people who didn’t wake up that day desperate to love your startup — and your startup alone. Getting quality coverage can take time, but if the story is good enough in the first place, you’ll rarely fail. Good luck.

Cathal Morrow

Cathal Morrow is global CEO and sole employee at Quingenti PR.