Introducing Your High-Tech Startup: An Irreverent Guide


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hasn’t been reported before. Don’t limit your thinking to your key corporate milestones, but look for ways to manufacture a real news event. Sponsor an event that teaches something interesting and invite reporters. Convene a group to solve an industry problem. Do something out of the ordinary and maybe a little bit crazy. Make a selfless contribution that isn’t transparently self-serving. Think Habitat for Humanity—when your employees are finished building, those houses are real.


It’s not easy to get direct contact with these gatekeepers, but it can be valuable. They make decisions that override eager beaver reporters all the time. Sometimes they show up at industry events and meetings. Consider inviting them! Your best chance to enter an editorial dialog is in the course of pitching an op-ed piece. You will probably get help from your PR firm on the writing and the message, but the pitch ought to come directly from you. A well written op-ed can always be placed somewhere. Try to get the opinion editor on the phone and look for opportunities to connect with the news editors. A good op-ed in a local paper has multiple benefits and positions you to reach out to national outlets.

Other Gatekeepers

Many, but not all, industry conference speaking slots are open to any speaker whose company pays for podium time. Xconomy, for example, eschews pay-to-play. In any case, choice positioning and showcase roles such as panel moderators and plenary speakers are selected by the gatekeepers. Find out who the gatekeepers are and get to know them before you have a specific ask. You may have to put in some time with less attractive slots to work up to premium placement—or, your PR advisors may want to preserve your status as a premier speaker only. Figure out the strategy before the question comes up. Some of the gatekeepers are working for you. It’s surprising how influential vendors to your company can be. The major accounting and law firms are often asked to supply sources for stories and speakers and they need to know your outreach objectives to effectively connect you with these opportunities.

Bloggers and Other Social Media

This new media stuff is happening faster than any of the PR firms can keep up, so press them on strategy and execution. Again. On this topic, don’t trust anyone over 30. Even me. Advertisers now think of their ad spend as the stone dropped in the water, with expanding ripples of impact amplified through social media. Tell the kids what you want and listen to them. Don’t try to micromanage this part of your outreach—it’s impossible and unproductive. Instead, keep the focus on the kernel and some core values that are shared by you and the audience. Expect lightning-fast reactions to insincerity and arrogance. Trial and error is the rule. While the stuff that gets out there can never be erased, it will be washed over by never-ending waves of comment, some of which will be your own new and improved messaging. New media strategies are your best opportunity to approximate the message adjustment that takes place in a good one-to-one meeting. Treat every exposure as an experiment. Use the rapidly evolving tracking tools to measure effect and make adjustments. Forget old-school clipping services.


Some things just have to be done in the right order. Public relations is one, even though it is a strongly iterative process.

1. Get your message right. You have to own the kernel. From the heart. This should not take months, but days. Then get clear about your company’s key milestones that will benefit from effective PR (such as a venture financing) and which will merit media coverage.

2. If you have a good message, you get to pick from strong advisors and then refine the message with their help. The milestones set the tempo for the program as well as firm boundaries on what can and must occur.

3. Tune up your website. Don’t let anyone talk you into taking months on this. Websites need to be built and changed regularly, adjusting to your changing milestones, news flow, and who is hitting your pages and why. You can measure that stuff with greater and greater precision. Don’t ignore what you learn.

4. Voraciously consume the media related to your space. Get efficient, so you can scan many relevant print and on-line publications to give you the broadest relevant exposure. Use your team to divide and conquer, so folks can have specialties related to their interests. It’s a much more effective media strategy to have several capable spokespersons in the company. Everyone involved should get media training, and retraining. It’s affordable and builds confidence all around. Yearly is not too often if you switch up trainers and emphasis.

5. Get out and give talks. Rotary Clubs if you have to. Watch the audience and adjust your pace, delivery, stories and message to their body language! Treat each speaking engagement as if every member of the audience was giving you a precious and irretrievable slice of their remaining hours on this Earth, because they are.

6. Gain media practice by interviewing with lower impact outlets, such as your very local business dailies and weeklies where misfires have less impact and it’s easier to get a correction. They need lots of stories.

7. Set goals and measure your progress. Stuff will go wrong, so keep a sense of humor and treat the entire exercise as a continuous learning process. It is.

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Leighton Read is an American serial entrepreneur and venture investor with a long track record of building companies that have commercialised important medicines and life-science technologies. His primary role now is as the Palo Alto Venture Partner of Brandon Capital Partner, Australia's leading life science VC firm. Follow @

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2 responses to “Introducing Your High-Tech Startup: An Irreverent Guide”

  1. Dan EramianDan Eramian says:

    Wise words from a classy guy.

  2. Steve Weiss says:

    Leighton’s comments are spot on target, and provide a great roadmap for entrepreneurs looking to boost their company’s visibility.

    I’ve used a similar approach in helping build several cleantech firms, including Serious Materials. We’re in the early stages of raising the profile of Genomatica, the emerging leader in sustainable, bio-produced chemicals.

    The good news is that his approach works and can deliver high value. It takes real focus and energy to do it right.