How to get attention for your startup on a shoestring

Getting your startup noticed is the holy grail for entrepreneurs. Coverage in the press, on blogs or on social can have a dramatic impact on sales and brand awareness. But how can you make your business stand out? We ask VSU-funded startup The Flash Pack, creators of one of the most viral photos of all time.

How do you come up with great ideas for PR stunts?

Keep up to date with the latest trends and read the news. I keep up to date with the latest travel trends by reading as much as I can online every morning - this fills me full of PR ideas and ways to capitalise on the latest trends. It’s really important to know what’s in the news too, so a quick check of the headlines and a flick through Metro on the way to work is the best way to come up with PR ideas. I used to work as a photojournalist at a news agency and we would continuously be searching the national newspapers for magazine features, so I use the same skill to promote The Flash Pack.

What are your top tips for keeping costs low?

Play to your strengths. When my partner Radha & I started The Flash Pack in 2013 we didn’t have any budget for PR so I did what I’ve done for years - photography. I literally spent days digging through my hard drives to find all my travel images from my 15 years of travelling as a photojournalist. Huge news websites like Mail Online are always looking for good photography so I traded free photography for a mention or a quote - "Lee Thompson of small group travel company The Flash Pack said…” - I also made sure they gave me a backlink to www.theflashpack.co.uk, which is crucial for SEO.

One of my ideas was to search Instagram for the best ‘plane window’ pictures which ended up as the lead story on Mail Online for an entire weekend with a back link to our business, resulting in huge amounts of newsletter sign ups and customers.

It’s not just picture features that have done well for us - we’ve done lots of Google surveys which have resulted in strong PR for us, such as ‘How much the average flashpacker carries in their backpacks’. This ended up in every major national newspaper, with great mentions for The Flash Pack and for the ‘flashpacking' trend which we’ve built our business around.

Why do you think your most successful stunt got the attention that it did?

Our most successful stunt was taking a selfie at the top of Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, which is now one of the most viral pictures in history and is often featured as one of the best selfies ever. The reason it was so successful is because we capitalised on two of the biggest trends of 2014 - selfies, and the FIFA World Cup. We got 2 million hits to our website in the first week by sending people back to our site to see our exclusive video and pictures of the climb. This enabled us to do our first six group tours and get off the starting blocks. The selfie carried our important brand message that we do extraordinary holidays.

Are there things you should leave to the experts or do you believe in DIYing it?

It really depends on what type of business you have, but in the travel industry PR is very important and lots of travel companies struggle with it. We do all of our own PR as I have the important contacts within the media, but this isn’t only from my photojournalism days - I’ve had to network hard to meet travel journalists and bloggers who I now have great relationships with.

It’s all about the contacts. One of the biggest mistakes we made was to hire a PR firm for two months who came up with an average story idea which failed to do well - they just didn’t have the contacts in travel media for it to do well.  I have since met with PRs who are extremely well-connected in the travel industry and would consider hiring them as we get busier.

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What’s the best way to leverage the opportunity and get as much coverage as possible?

Be prepared for your PR ideas to go big and plan follow-ups. If your story goes big, then send emails to magazines with follow up ideas. For example - “The Metro are talking about Flashpacking, and we can provide you with case studies of flashpackers who have taken our holidays, which would make an excellent feature in your magazine."

If you have any big ideas like my selfie in Rio, then take every media opportunity you can. I appeared on every major news website across the world in the following days and weeks, and made television appearances on CNN, BBC and many others across the world. I made sure that I mentioned The Flash Pack in every interview. A year on I still get weekly media requests based around selfies, and I only do them if they mention my business and give me a back link. The Brazil world cup went on for over one month, so our stunt kept on going for the entire time. I took every media opportunity that came my way.

Any other ways to gain attention for your business on a shoestring budget?

Enter a competition like Virgin Media Business's Pitch to Rich. We are proud to say that we made it in to the top 10 of Richard Branson’s competition last year, and although at the time it was seriously hard work getting votes we had thousands of people shouting about our brand on social media. It made me think quickly about generating PR around our campaig,n and I managed to get national media coverage as well as local newspaper coverage and travel trade media.

Two stunts I came up with with were:

'Travelling around the world in 12 hours’ - the idea came to me in a few hours over breakfast. Starting my journey at the airport, I’m then seen eating, drinking and socialising with the ‘locals’ in Germany, Turkey, Russia, Thailand, India, China, the USA, Jamaica, Ghana and Lebanon before announcing that I never even left London! The video received around 13,000 views and appeared on Yahoo, Metro and Mail Online with links to our Pitch to Rich voting page and The Flash Pack website. I made sure I got in our brand message that we find really authentic local travel experiences.

The second Pitch to Rich PR idea was to send Richard Branson to space in Flash Pack Galactic. This was a bit of fun that was produced for just £350. I found a man with a helium balloon in Cambridge and photoshopped a picture of Richard on to a cardboard cut-out and sent him 130,000 feet in to orbit and shot this incredible video with GoPro cameras. The Mail Online linked in The Flash Pack website, and again to our Pitch to Rich voting form. I worked with a great friend and talented filmmaker Jobie Nam on both videos, which helped get thousands of views and increase the reach of The Flash Pack brand.

Top tips

Other ways to get PR without spending a penny are by following journalists on Twitter - they are always looking for stories. Be quick to reply as they often find one extremely quickly after posting.

HARA - Help a reporter out - is also a great way to see what stories journalists are looking for. We get regular media attention by responding to these last-minute requests for national and international media.

If you need help with PR then Skribe London is a company ran by experienced journalists who help new businesses get in the media.