launch PR: New York Times vs TechCrunch

This post is inspired by a similar post by Udemy – I’m trying to add useful information for all the folks who are working hard and trying to get their products noticed.

Bynamite | Internet By The PeopleWe launched our beta product at Bynamite about a month ago, and were lucky to get covered in the New York Times.  I wish this post could be about “How To Get Covered in The New York Times,” because that would be some really valuable information for the startup community.  But we were simply very lucky – a friend introduced us to a potential business partner who was really interested in our story, who introduced us to the Times reporter, who had been thinking and writing about related issues for a long time.  Everyone in the chain was very thoughtful and patiently dedicated to understanding what, if anything, is interesting about what we’re doing.  Sometimes the pieces just fall into place, and that’s what happened here.

Before that series of fortunate events, we had been preparing a more traditional scrappy startup PR strategy, which I learned from the interwebs.  Balsamiq‘s marketing advice and launch homework are invaluable; in particular I was focused on the 10 PR tips from Weebly.  We had identified about 45 blogs, big and small, that I intended to contact one by one, with the holy grail being coverage in one or more of the major tech blogs – TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM and VentureBeat.  Just as I was starting to reach out to the list, the Times reporter confirmed that his story was very likely to go forward in the Sunday business section.

At that point, we had a decision to make.  On the one hand, the TechCrunchosphere is the place to launch consumer tech products – the audience is intelligent, opinionated, and early adopting.  This is an audience that understands that startup companies launch “unfinished” product.  It’s not a good idea to get mainstream press before your company is really ready for it.  On the other hand, our product goes contrary to the tech orthodoxy that had largely proclaimed that no one cares about privacy.  Would TechCrunch readers be the wrong audience for our more mainstream message?

Although these are complicated concerns, we didn’t take long at all to decide, and we were swayed for one irresistible reason: it’s the New York freaking Times!  As much as I’m with the punditocracy that declares newspapers dead, I just couldn’t help myself – I grew up reading the Times, and I really wanted to see if we could get in the paper, the good ol’ physical, dead-tree paper.  So we saved the blog efforts for a later time – hopefully after we’ve learned our lessons from the beta and are ready to relaunch with a more complete product.  It’s sort of a topsy-turvy press strategy, and there’s probably a whole ‘nother post in whether or not it’s stupid, but that’s not the point here.  The cool thing today is that we get to compare results from different PR launch paths.

Here’s the Visits graph from Udemy’s launch:

Udemy Screen-shot-2010-05-24

Here’s a similar graph from Bynamite’s launch:

Bynamite Screenshot 2010-08-13

Here’s the referral chart from Udemy:

Udemy referral chart

And the corresponding chart from Bynamite:

Bynamite referral chart

Now, the point here is NOT to say that Bynamite PR is any better or worse than Udemy PR!  That kind of comparison would draw all sorts of wrong conclusions, not least because I’ve cheated here by including 30 days of data to Udemy’s 23 days.  Also, note that Bynamite is a browser extension that records a page view when the extension bar pops up (that’s why the Avg. Time on Site is absurdly high).  Different products are going to have lots and lots of reasons for different metrics.

But the conclusion I’m willing to draw is that getting covered in the Times is roughly equivalent to coverage in the major tech blogs.  Not an order of magnitude higher, and certainly not smaller.  So for anyone hoping to confirm the relevance of mainstream media, I suppose that’s a victory of sorts, though it’s just as accurate to be amazed that media sources that barely existed 5 years ago are now equivalent to the “paper of record” that’s been around for 150 years.

It’s also interesting to note that both Udemy and Bynamite got a secondary bump 5 or 6 days after the original coverage.  In Udemy’s case, that bump exceeded the initial coverage, and was almost entirely driven by a mention in one source, Thrillist.  Bynamite’s secondary bump was smaller than the first, and was a result in pickup by many smaller sites that focus on covering downloadable apps.  Also like Udemy, our traffic has settled down to a much quieter pace, though significantly higher than the near complete obscurity prior to the press coverage.

I’m still digging through the details – and by the way, could use some help, if anyone reading this wants to drive through Google Analytics with me, let me know!

google killer

By my own admission, I’ve become a complete hack, for using the term [blank]-killer.  A lot of people are asking whether News Corp would really block its content from Google’s index, and make a deal with Microsoft for exclusive search access.  And if they did, and others followed, would this represent a serious threat to Google?

The tech-über-alles crowd would have you believe that “de-indexing” from Google would be suicide for any publisher.  The assertion there is that Google drives the majority of web traffic, so if you’re not findable through Google, you might as well not be on the Internet.

But that assertion flies in the face of another observation from the technoscenti – social media like Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly important as traffic drivers (though this importance may be overhyped).  We may be heading towards a future where the links are shared through social media are more valuable than search links.

More importantly, and against the prevailing wisdom in some circles, content still matters.  People use media services because of the content on it.  Other factors are important too:  the features must be complete, the UI has to be easy, the price has to be right, yadda yadda yadda.  But would any of those other factors make up for terrible content?  No, content is, if no longer king, still the jewel in the crown.

If Bing is able to be the exclusive search partner for the right content, Google is dead.  Of course, what’s “right” can vary quite a lot from person to person.  For me, it’s as simple as two publications:  If the New York Times and Wikipedia are de-indexed from Google, I’m going to stop using Google in favor of the search engine that has those two.  I might think it’s unfair, I might think it’s a triumph of soulless MBAs over tech heroes, I might think it’s the desperate grasping of dying empires.  But I want the content I want, and those principles aren’t enough to prevent me from switching.

Bing doesn’t have to make deals with every content provider, just a dozen or so critical ones that will cause another 40% market share gain (they’re at 10% now).  Sure it’ll be expensive to acquire the best content, but Microsoft’s got more cash than Google.  Once it’s 50/50, it’s anybody’s ballgame but the advantage goes to the one who has the content.

I’m pretty sure that Google is not going to sit back and smugly assume that Murdoch’s gambit will fail.  They’re going to get involved, they’re going to try to start locking down their own partnerships.  If I were them, I’d start with Wikipedia, one of the most important search result destinations on the web – it’s in the top five results of just about any search you do.  Sure, they’re a non-profit, but non-profits need money too.