Product Hunt is brilliant. People share new products they’ve found and, in the manner of Reddit and HackerNews, the crowd of readers vote the best to the top.

You know that guy/gal you follow on Twitter who always seems to be a source of neat things? These are the secret places they spend their time.

Because there are plenty of startups watching, one category of product that shows up fairly often is PR tools.

Young companies that aren’t eager to spend thousands on a retainer still realise they need to get their story out to the people who count.

But, based on the selection of tools showing up on ProductHunt, you’d think the future of PR was press releases and spamming media lists.

Take something like the little “Find a Reporter” hack put together by PressFriendly (who genuinely seem like really nice guys, but someone has to be the example).

Input any AngelList URL and it will use simple machine learning to tell you which journalists you might want to contact. Great, right? Real timesaver.

Because most startups pride themselves on using tech in a smart way to short-circuit the old ways of doing things, to a founder this could easily sound brilliant.

But to anyone who actually has experience with PR, we know it doesn’t work like this.

If you want to know which journalists to contact about a story, why not just go to their website and read for a few minutes?

Screenshot taken from ProductHunt

It’s not rocket science, it doesn’t take anything as sophisticated as machine learning and it comes with benefits that will help your pitch and your business.

It’s only by spending a little time in the mindset of a reader that you can get a meaningful grasp of what matters to the writers. And it’s this understanding that lets you communicate with them in the only term that really matters: how does your story make their job/life/day easier and better?

Perhaps the fact that these services are springing up all over the place now shows how commoditized the old things PR agencies used to obsess over and protect have become. 

I’m a big believer that media relations is pretty democratic now – anyone should be able to look up how to do it simply and if they have a strong idea, it should get through.

But I don’t believe that the one obstacle standing between great startups and people who want to write about them is lack of over-engineered PR tools.

So, to add a positive contribution to the subject, here’s a simple guide for anyone with a great idea to get the story out there:

  1. ID the people you really want to write about you.
  2. Throw that list away, because it’s probably full of ego and assumptions. Instead, search for phrases that your target audience might actually look up and see where the results lead. Those are now publications and individuals worth considering.
  3. Write and email a short intro to your story – I’ve started collecting examples on a little site called PitchHunt.com if you want somewhere to get started. This is really important and where you probably may have a slight disadvantage over those with years of instinct and practice.

Key: Think like a journalist. Take a minute to try and write the story you want from them, based on the pitch you’re sending. If you can’t do it, they sure as hell won’t.

After those three steps, you’re going to have a good idea of whether people are lapping it up and you’re onto something – or you need to rethink your next steps.

If nobody cares about what you’re creating, there are two possibilities:

  1. The pitch wasn’t right.
  2. The actual business is flawed. Knowing this, you can take the first steps to test either theory.

Shinier announcement documents won’t get you there faster. Email addresses aren’t hard to find. And forget the bloody machine intelligence for a moment.

You just started a conversation with someone and tested whether you have a story or not. That’s the real way to do good PR easily.

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