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Press Hack 401: Hacker's guide to press

How we got 4 launch-day writeups using (Google News API + MTurks) + Press Farm and zero PR Experience

Background

In under $25 and ~10 hours, we were able to get 4 launch-day writeups for Hooli.io - a lean collaboration tool for teams. Hooli.io got featured on the cover of VentureBeat, and saw a few thousand users trying out the service on the launch day.

In a recent blog post we covered how we built Hooli.io using Appbase for our backend, and in this post we'd like to share exactly how we got such hot press for Hooli.io. This post is coming from someone with a hacker background no experience with public relations before, and is our attempt to break down the whole process in quantitative steps using some popular tools.

Credits: We got an assist from Customer Development Labs. Justin Wilcox provided this awesome app for quickly finding, and dowloading, articles from Google News. He also provided the method for using it, in combination with Amazon's Mechanical Turk, to effectively build a press list fast. We've outlined this process in 4 easy steps, and how we used it to get our own successful write-ups.

Step 1. Google News + Press Farm

First, we used this great tool from Customer Development Labs. It allows you to search Google News with keywords relevant to your company's area, then compiles the article titles into a spreadsheet that can be downloaded as a .csv file.

Download the list of articles from Google News

Finding journalists who've covered similar stories in the past is the most important thing. Since Hooli.io is a team collaboration tool, we searched for articles that dealt with "collaboration," "email," as well as competitors like "Asana" and "Trello." We ended up downloading more than 600 articles in our subject area, all compiled neatly in a spreadsheet.

Note: Many of the articles that Google provided are junk. The spreadsheet will require about 5-10 minutes of sifting before it's ready to be uploaded.

Second, we decided to spruce up our press list with some big names in the Tech Industry, so for $9 USD we pressfarmed a list of over 200 email addresses of journalists from such publications as TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and the New York Times. To save you both time and cash, we included the list for you here.

Note: We request not to spam the entire list, and it usually doesn't work. In our case, we cherry-picked the journalists who had written in the subject area. We sat our team down one afternoon, and all of us tackled a part of the list for 30 mins.

Step 2. Get the Journalist's Contact Info

Going through the whole list of over 200 articles (sifted from the original 600 or so) to find each author's individual contact info would take days, and the whole point of this hack is to save time. So we decided to farm out the work via Amazon's Mechanical Turk for $.03 for each email address found.

On mTurk, we set up an account as a 'Requester,' and created a 'Data Collection' project.

Create a 'Data Collection' project on mTurk

Next, we used this awesome HIT Template for our project. You can simply copy and paste the HTML right into the 'Design Layout' tab on mTurk.

Setting the project content

SUPER IMPORTANT: mTurk automatically sets the default Turkers assigned to your task to be "Master Turkers." This greatly limits the number of people able to work on your project. Make sure you click on the "Advanced" hyperlink on the bottom right side of the "Setting Properties" page to turn off for Master Turkers.

MTurk HIT settings

Since the task is so simple, we set our worker requirements to the following:

HIT worker requirements

Finally, we decided to set our price to $.03 for each email address submitted. When you hit "Publish HIT" it gives you the option to upload your .csv file.

Step 3. Monitor the Results

It should be noted that timing is really key with mTurk. Tasks are rarely 100% completed and most HITs will be collected in the first hour or so after publication. We found that publishing earlier in the day brought in a greater number of HITs. We ran our HITs until the batch began to slow, then we'd republish it again.

Copies of batches at various stages of completion

For this reason, you should plan to run your mTurk batches a couple of days prior to when you plan on sending the first email to the press.

Step 4. Enter, The Press

Now the most important part: addressing the journalists whose information you've just collected. We set up our press campaign as a series of 3 emails, spaced out to be sent 5 days until Launch, 3 days until Launch, and on Launch Day, respectively.

We also built a Press Kit, which included information about Hooli.io, our team, and infographics about the inefficiency of email.

In the first email, we introduced ourselves and the date of our launch, as well as offered a short explanation of what Hooli offers. We also included a link to our Press Kit, which is something you may want to avoid if you're worried about certain reporters jumping the gun and publishing your story before Launch Day.

Email 5 days to launch

In the second email, 3 days until Launch, we reminded them about our Launch date and offered a link to an updated Press Kit.

Email 3 days to launch

Finally, on the morning of our Launch, we sent out an email to let them know we were now live and directing them to our site.

Launch day email

Results

The days following our Launch, we giddily refreshed the Google Search of our own product over and over as we saw new press coverage appear like magic on the page. To re-cap, Google News Downloader + mTurk + MailChimp = Press <3.

All in all, the whole experiment "cost" us:

- 7 days (prior to Launch to run the experiment)
- 10 hours (most of the time sifting through MTurks)
- $15 USD for MTurks + $9 for Press Farm

Any questions? Want to know how to 'hack' the press for your app? Shoot us a message.

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Founder at Appbase, read my musings on the db world.