Growth Marketing

The Ultimate Guide to Shameless Self-Promotion for Startups

Startup PRThis week’s post is written by Heather Anne Carson of Onboardly, where startups flock for PR help.

Hint of the genius that follows: Heather doesn’t think promoting your startup should rest entirely on pitching TechCrunch. Learn loads and share a tweet o’ thanks

For most startups – especially those who are bootstrapped or not yet funded – when it comes to Startup PR, you’re prepared to take the long road alone.

But tackling promotion solo doesn’t have to be a challenge.

In fact, it’s a lot easier than you may think! Here’s how you can promote the hell outta your startup – and get the media attention you need.

You’re So Vain – You Probably Think This [Story] Is About You

The first step to shameless self-promotion is knowing your story.

This may seem easy – I mean, your story is essentially about you. So why wouldn’t you know it?

The reality is, identifying your story (your WHY) is one of the most common challenges we see startups face. How do you differentiate what you do from everyone else? Not everyone is comfortable singing their own praise or admitting to their successes and failures.

But the fact is, your triumphs and pitfalls, not to mention your dedication and hardwork, have gotten you to this point – it’s time to tell others how.

Some products are ridiculously sexy from the get-go. Getting people to talk about them isn’t a problem. But those are the exceptions – the Instagrams, the Pinterests, the Mailboxes.

For most startups (read: everyone else), your ability to sell yourself lays in telling a really great story. Once you’re comfortable talking about yourself – you’re halfway there. (Find your story)

Put Your Story on Paper… and Don’t Be Afraid to Gloat

So you’ve got your story down. And it’s more than likely amazing. Most startup stories are!

Now it’s time to turn it into something you can use to get your startup noticed.

Start by crafting your message. Whether it be in the form of tight two-liners (short value props that deliver a good punch) or a media release (bonus points for using laidback language and creativity), you will require a vessel to shamelessly promote yourself.

Traditionally, if you’re looking to pitch a journalist, we suggest creating a media release – even if it may not be used. While there’s a chance your pitch email may pack enough punch that they won’t ask for one, we recommend ensuring that you always have the necessary, journalist-friendly PR assets in your pocket just in case.

Media releases typically include the who, what, where, when, why with a side of whoop-ass: your value prop. Keeping in mind that most journalists won’t read it but ensuring they’re glad they did if they choose to, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn in it.

Why are you awesome?

Why are you about to change the world?

Why is your idea a now thing?

Why is your product the only product your audience needs?

A great example of someone not afraid to shamelessly self promote themselves is our friend and one of our favorite marketers in the world, Saul Colt. Self-promotion varies according to the individual, mainly depending on your comfort level when it comes to talking about yourself. Saul executes this process brilliantly (and shamelessly) when promoting his personal brand, having once hired a mime as a side-kick at SXSW and a magician to help network at an event in Vegas. As a result of his unconventional tactics, he’s been able to generate some massive wins for the startups he’s represented.

While Saul’s approach may seem a bit out of left-field, it’s certainly memorable, and that’s what matters most. It’s less about the specifics of what you’re telling the media and more about how you make them feel. If you can exude passion and excitement about your product, chances are, they’re likely to as well.

Onboardly Tip: Do play nice. While sharing comparisons between yourself and the competition can be helpful for journalists and can often help paint a better picture – do so tastefully. Don’t bash the competition, but do use them as a benchmark. Tweet this wisdom to your followers

Build Your Own Vanity Kit
(A Checklist!)

Alright. So what I’m actually taking about is called a media kit… but if you think about the items that belong in it, you’re really stockpiling this press asset with a bunch of reasons why you’re awesome.

That’s the whole point. Allow me to repeat:

Stockpile your media kit with a bunch of
reasons why you’re awesome.

A media kit can be as basic or as all-encompassing as you’d like. Home to the media release, we also recommend adding any assets that help back your startup and share insight to your team product. This can include:

  • Stats
  • Case studies
  • Founder bios and headshots (smile!)
  • Team photos
  • Hi-res product screenshots
  • Supplementary product info (sell sheets, testimonials, etc.)

For many of our clients, we’ve noticed that candid photos of team members strategizing or working in the office are a favorite with journalists and usually end up in the article.

Onboardly Tip: Want to ensure your media kit is easily accessible at all times? Upload it to Dropbox and share the link as needed. Make sure to keep it updated – you never know when someone may request it! Tweet this tip

Hey You! Let’s Talk!

The last step in shamelessly promoting one’s self is to get talking about one’s self. To everyone. But most importantly, to those you trust to share your story.

While this can seem terrifying, if you’re willing to do a little work, you can confidently identify the right journalists to share your news and story with the world.

But where do you start?

First, identify what we like to call your media verticals.

In short, these are your target audiences that will eventually become your customers. An obvious vertical for any startup is technology media (TechCrunch, The Next Web, Mashable). Got a product aimed at businesses? Then you definitely want to consider a business vertical (Business Insider, Inc., Forbes). In addition to identifying verticals, ensure your pitches are crafted for the vertical it’s intended for; use keywords that resonate with each specific audience.

Next, choose the outlets best equipped to tell your story.

It’s important to make sure that they have in fact covered something similar (to a degree) in the past. You wouldn’t pitch an Apple only outlet on a product only available for Android. Nor would you pitch a fashion app to a gardening magazine.

Be wary of vanity outlets. We’ve talked about how TechCrunch doesn’t pay the rent – the same can be true no matter how big the celebrity endorser.

Here’s an example. Thanks to our connections, we managed a tweet from a best-selling author, sharing a client’s piece that paid homage to an iconic character from her wildly popular novel; however, these (erotica) fiction readers didn’t exactly convert to paid customers for our clients B2B product. While the client saw an influx of traffic unlike anything prior, it wasn’t the kind of traffic to stick. It wasn’t the right outlet.

Lastly, once you know the outlets, find the writers.

It’s easier than ever to get to know writers before the time comes to pitch them. Here’s what you should do today:

  • Build a media list
  • Start interacting with them on social (follow them from your startup and personal accounts)
  • Comment on their recent articles

Be a blip on their radar so that when you’re ready to pitch them – they’re already familiar with you. Send along a tight pitch (short, to the point, powerful, kapow!) requesting their time to chat further and permission to send along some press materials. Keep the technical jargon to a minimum and focus on sounding human and not salesy. Just be cool.

Onboardly Tip: While mainstream media is great, don’t forget about the lesser known outlets that speak directly to your targeted users. These niche outlets are often the secret to getting great traffic that sticks.

You Got This – Now Close It

Here’s the thing. Once you’ve received a response from a writer, your odds of scoring media coverage just skyrocketed. Unless, of course the answer is no. In which case, don’t burn a bridge. Always thank the writer for their time and consideration. You never know when you may want to pitch them again in the future.

This is where it’s important to build “friends” instead of contacts. You’re forging the way for a relationship in the future that can and probably will be reciprocated eventually.

For example, thanks to networking and back-and-forth with one particular writer, we were able to get a great piece on a client in The Atlantic. It wasn’t the first pitch from us he received, and he’d passed on others before it. But on account of our continued appreciation for his time (despite rejection), when the right story clicked – our clients reaped the benefits.

On the flipside, if they say yes, be ready to offer the writer whatever they need to get their job done and well!

  • Make yourself easily accessible for an interview or to answer any questions they may have.
  • Do they want to try your product? Let them.
  • Have something you can give their users (promo code, free trial, etc.)? Do it.

Give them whatever you can to ensure that they not only get to experience your product to the fullest – it’s about how you make them feel, remember – but they make their readers feel it too.

The major difference between doing it yourself versus hiring a PR agency is that you must build your own so-called “rolodex” of contacts. While PR pros can call in a favor and are already friendly with journalists, this is your chance to build your own list of contacts. Make it a valuable one.

There’s No Shame in Being Shameless

In the end, the key to DIY Startup PR is to be willing to talk about yourself and talk about yourself a lot. For some startups, that can seem both overwhelming and terrifying – which is where we at Onboardly step in to help and remove some of the pressure. We work with amazing startup companies that have a product their customers love. Our goal is to help our clients attain visibility and more customers through strong content marketing, PR and social media strategy. An outsourced PR and marketing firm, if you will.

Want to know more? Our methodology is here and we’d love to hear from you anytime. That said, if you’re looking to do it on your own, I’ll leave you with these last words of advice: Let your guard down and trust yourself to be the ultimate storyteller. After all, no one knows your story better than you do.

disqus iconGot a great shameless self-promotion story?
We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below! Leave yours now.

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Tell Heather Anne by tweeting this to her

About the Author
Onboardly startup promotion for startupsHeather Anne Carson is the Co-Founder of Onboardly. A company that works with venture backed startups to help them with customer acquisition. Heather’s focus is all things PR and Promotion – helping introduce Onboardly’s portfolio of amazing startups to a wide variety of media outlets, influencers, and networks. She believes that good PR is all about good ideas and a ton of hustle; not a hefty Rolodex like your typical PR agency claims. As a result of that approach, she has helped her clients secure coverage in publications like Inc, Entrepreneur, Shape Magazine, New York Times Magazine, BetaKit, TechCrunch, PandoDaily, TechCocktail, and Mashable among other industry-specific outlets.

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • Kiran K

    Nice article Joanna ! Onboardly looks promising.
    There is free list of 130+ directories at
    I think it will be helpful to many !!!

  • Thank you for those true words! We are also “doing in-house” persons!
    We had this idea and we created a list of 190+ places to submit your startup in order to get publicity! You may find it useful: Let us know what you think!

  • After building your list of what you need to market your startup effectively. You can get a complete list of Directory and review sites

  • Hi, great tips. A great resource to promote a startup is There are also many other sites, like,, etc.

  • Have you tried Small Business Forum

    another place to promote your startup business

  • Matthias Gutsch

    also here you can promote your startup

  • Great tips, Heather. I really like Onboardly’s blog and love reading about startup PR. We just featured a post about how to build that media list you talked about. Thanks for sharing your tips 🙂

  • Guidora

    Thank you for the tips – we’ll use them in our launch and let you know how it goes 🙂

  • Great tips. Something that I really needed as I am getting ready to launch a site that I have been working on for some time. You won’t believe it, but tomorrow I am attending my first local meetup and I am sure some of your tips will come in handy. Thanks for sharing.

  • JackieBernardi

    “There’s no shame in being shameless.” Music my ears–taking the first step has always felt like too much. Telling my story as my value prop seems so obvious, but I was not doing it. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Liz Froment

    This was a great post, I’m in the middle of doing this now for a site I am working on, thanks for the tips, lots of actionable advice.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That’s fantastic to hear! Thanks, Liz. Good luck!

    • Heather Anne Carson

      Hey Liz!

      So happy you found this helpful. Any other questions do let me know!


  • nickmarshall

    Helpful advice but talking about oneself fluently and fearlessly does not come easily to many of us. Others just won’t shut up when it comes to talking about themselves! A great site for seeing how great raconteurs can tell a great story are some of the marvellous TED speakers. Sure, I know that talking to a journalist one-on-one is not quite the same thing but it always helps if you can wow someone with the panache of a great story teller.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Totally! Storytelling is so often easier said than done — especially when you’re telling *your* story. We’re taught all our lives not to talk about ourselves, not to brag, etc… and then we find out that we need to do exactly that! We don’t have the tools to brag. We never got the chance to develop that side of ourselves.

      Breaking down HOW to talk about ourselves is the subject of another post entirely… but I love that Heather lays it on us straight: you need to talk about yourself.

      Simply being told what to do can go a long way in our education as startups, methinks. After all, before you get to how to do something, you need to know what to do. 🙂

      • nickmarshall

        Hi Joanna, I’m reading your terrific Long Form Copy book at the moment. You have some great stuff in there about storytelling. We all love a great story and I guess we all have a great story within us. Heather’s post is an inspiration for us reluctant story tellers to find our own tale to tell.

    • Heather Anne Carson

      Hi Nick !

      Couldn’t agree more. The foundation needs to _always_ be the story. Without it, you can promote all you like with little (no) results.

      A quality product paired with feedback that its something a customer needs and wants us key to starting the story. From there, it’s all about finding a creative way to put it into context. Stories add context!


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