How Challenger Brands Can Win with PR

A Strong PR Strategy Is Key To Helping Startups Win

PR coverage is vital to a Challenger Brand’s success. Media validation, whether by way of a published article, widely shared blog post or broadcast interview, is an incredibly powerful means to drive brand awareness. Credible press builds social proof for new customers visiting your website, provides meaningful stories for social media, bolsters organic search rankings and more.

Challengers don’t have the same brand awareness as incumbents do, but this hurdle can be strategically overcome by approaching PR like an underdog.


How Challenger Brands Can Get Creative

If you want to convince the media that your brand is feature-worthy, you have to first capture the interest of the editor, blogger or producer. Your pitch is what will make all the difference and creativity is key, but there are other important factors to consider as well.

1. Know who you’re pitching to

Before you send your pitch, know that producers, editors and bloggers have different ‘beats’ and that it’s imperative you know what they cover to ensure that your pitch is not only landing with the right person, but that it will be relevant as well. The cost of a PR contact database is cost-prohibitive and isn’t necessary, but it will require that you roll up your sleeves to identify the right contacts. Searching online, scrolling through public Twitter lists, or posts on social media and even cold calling can help you find media contacts and their ‘beats’.

2. Your subject line matters

The subject line is the first thing that the media will see and if your subject line doesn’t grab their attention, it could be missed in the hundreds of pitches flooding their inbox or worse, be ignored.

For example, to pitch Borrowell — the first company in Canada to offer free credit scores — for coverage in lifestyle publications, the subject line could be approached in a couple of ways:

“Think you know your credit score? Think again”

“AI could be the new superhero to save your credit”

These aren’t generic, and actually make someone want to open the email. It’s helpful to step back and ask yourself, “How would I react to this in my inbox?” Better yet, ask a friend to take a look.

3. Your pitch is the path to success

Your pitch has to be a balance between engaging and informative. Add too much ‘fluff’ and you risk burying the message. Be too factual and you could be straight up boring.

Use your subject line to guide the tone of your pitch and be brief — just long enough to sell your contact on the idea and ensure that they have the most pertinent details, leaving the balance of your story for the press release. One way to approach the pitch is to imagine yourself talking about your brand directly to your target customers. What would you say, and how would you say it? This will answer two questions that the media will be wondering “Why should my audience/readers care about this?” and “Will this be relevant and interesting to my readers/audience?”

Use social media to your advantage. If an article or blog is shared by the author/reporter on social media that relates to your brand, respond to it and highlight how you tie in. Keeping on top of the latest news and trends could also open unexpected opportunities, carving a way into a top tier media spot — at “go time” and beyond.

For this article, wound care app Swift Medical tapped into the issue of bed sores among nursing home patients and pitched their brand as a solution. By tying into news, they showed the media why the public needs to know about their brand, and dropped a newsworthy story into their laps.


Target The Right Audiences (Yes, Plural!)

There is never only one way forward with PR. There are different opportunities that startups can capitalize on to maximize their coverage. When you have multiple pitches and angles, your brand can gain exposure in multiple beats.

Greenlight Financial for example — the smart debit card that teaches kids about financial responsibility — can crossover to multiple audiences:

Lifestyle and Parenting: How to teach your kids about financial responsibility in an era where cash is no longer king.

Finance and Business: Fintech solutions that teach kids financial responsibility with parental oversight.

Technology and Gadgets: Smart debit cards help families manage chores, allowances and spending.

Aim to find at least 2 different ways that your Challenger Brand can be pitched. You may be surprised by which one gets the most positive feedback, so be open to consistently testing and learning.


Have A Strong, Compelling Story

To snag coverage from competitors in top tier media, it’s necessary that you clearly communicate how your Challenger Brand resolves a meaningful consumer pain point or is working to establish a new industry norm. More importantly, remember that you have a notable advantage: everyone loves a ‘David and Goliath’ story.

PR for incumbents is often product-first while Challenger Brands are often human-centered, and tightly woven into an ideology. More than that, the personal story of the founders themselves — the personal journey that spearheaded the brand into becoming — is both compelling and relatable.

The story behind Fresh n’ Lean — a meal delivery service that brings fresh, organic and healthy meals to your door each week — is an example of such a story. The clean recipes that co-founder Laureen Asseo created to combat her father’s illness in 2010 — and the successful lifestyle change that her healthy meal plan delivered —  is one that hits an emotional button with readers and pulls them in to find out more about the brand’s nutritious meal delivery service.


Engage The Right Influencers

With influencers — whether via social media or otherwise — building relationships can, at first glance, seem daunting (and expensive) for Challenger Brands. Mega-influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers may be the stuff that startups dream of, but the associated price-tag can be quite overwhelming, and with no guarantee that the endorsement will actually move the needle. All influencers are not created equal and not all influencers will be the right fit for your brand.

Quantity and Quality are of equal value

When seeking out Influencers, the number of followers is important, but not as important as the quality of followers. If only a fraction of a mega-influencer’s followers would have interest in your brand, there will be little return on your investment. On the other hand, if the majority of a micro-influencer’s 5000 followers are a fit for you, you’ll likely see a better response.

That said, when researching potential influencers to approach, taking a close look at who is following them to ensure they can deliver what you need: influence.

Messaging is important

The voice and values of an influencer and the Challenger Brand should match as much as possible to ensure the brand is strengthened by association. You can assess this by researching the Influencer’s posting history on social media to ensure that there is nothing that goes against the Brand’s morals or ideology.

Use your resources wisely

Understanding what an influencer expects in return for their endorsement is also essential. Some influencers, especially those with a large following, may require a sizeable cheque for their endorsements. If your startup is tight on resources this can be discouraging. This is where all of that careful research comes into play to determine if the cost is worth the influence. For other influencers, start by building an authentic relationship instead of leading with something transactional. Find points of commonality in values and then offer to give them some of your product or service in hopes that they write authentically about your brand. Other ways you can collaborate with Influencers for little-to-no cost are:

  • Offer a product discount to their followers

  • Run an exclusive contest for their followers

  • Organize a follower-exclusive event with the Influencer

  • Offer exclusive content like infographics, videos, special articles, etc.


Seek Out Alternative Opportunities

PR doesn’t have to be limited to media attention. Keep an eye out for opportunities to amplify awareness of your brand through:

  • Panel discussions at a festival, consumer shows, or conferences

  • Partnering with a retailer, co-working space, incubator, or VC to host an event or workshop

  • Thought-leadership at conferences or networking events

  • Offering to guest blog for Influencers

  • Hosting an Instagram TV segment with similar-minded entrepreneurs

Public events may not generate cross-country awareness like national media, but it can still be an incredibly effective tool. By focusing on a small, yet concentrated pond, you’re not only drawing attention to your brand among your target demographic, but they are also establishing your Challenger Brand as a credible authority in the category.

Challengers can also leverage all of their channels, and those of the events they attend, to drive further exposure for their brand. Promoting your speaking engagements on social media, writing a teaser blog post and tagging the event to share, arranging for a meet up with your team following the event, and wearing company-branded clothing during your event are just a few ways that you amplify an event opportunity.

To draw attention to a speaking engagement at Web Summit while simultaneously promoting the brand to noteworthy attendees and followers alike, Answerable tweeted an informative infographic with a shout-out to the summit as well as to a high-level attendee.

#Answerable empowers #advocates to authentically engage with their peers at critical moments during the purchase journey to ensure all questions are answered and improve bottom of the funnel conversion. I’ll be sharing more on the future of #commerce at #WebSummit tomorrow at 11am. @websummit 

This checked off multiple boxes: the nugget of information promoted the brand as an authority on the topic, the post could be easily shared by the summit and the called-out attendee, the tags made the tweet visible to other attendees at the summit and the tweet promoted the speaking topic.


Have The Right People In Your Corner

Challenger Brands can be tempted to leverage the same tools and strategies as the incumbents – paying a big retainer to a large PR firm. But they are expensive and often use standardized playbooks that require big budgets. At 5&Vine, we help Challengers win. We understand the challenges they face, and that resources are limited. We are also fiercely aware that PR is a cornerstone to a Startups growth and so we provide highly experienced PR professionals at affordable rates.

Challengers that are aligning their business with the long-term health of society and the planet are needed. They have a compelling story to tell, a market to disrupt and customers to engage. With creativity, a fresh outlook and a tenacious spirit, Challenger Brands won’t only win media attention over their competitors, they’ll earn them.


Ready to challenge the
status quo and win?

👋 I'm Rahul, founder and CMO at 5&Vine. Reach out to schedule an intro call about your marketing challenges and let's assess how 5&Vine can help your brand win.

Get in Touch