09 May 2016

What startups can learn from journalism

Hold the front page 

Recently, we spotted an interesting headline while reading Forbes. It read:

Never bury the lead: How a lesson from Journalism 101 applies to resumes

“Don’t bury the lead” is a popular phrase used by traditional journalists. The ‘lead’ is the first few sentences of a news story, where all the most important information should be. Burying the juicy details deep within a story is likely to make a reader lose interest.

The article argues that the same principle should be applied to CVs and LinkedIn profiles: put your most important skills upfront, where recruiters and employers can find them easily.

This got us thinking – what other principles of journalism could be applied to business? Here are a few top tips we think startups could take from the media.



At its most basic, journalism is simply telling a story – something many startups forget to do.

The story behind your startup is what makes it totally different from your competitors. And before you start raising eyebrows – every business does have a story.

Think about the problem that your business aspires to solve, or the situation that sparked your creativity. The ‘human element’ is what journalists are always seeking when writing stories, so emphasise this in your business messaging.

Consider the emotions associated with your startup. Even if you think your business is quite dry and corporate, there will be something you can play off. For B2B startups, the emotion associated with your business might simply be your clients’ fears about their own business. Whatever it is, emphasise this emotive human angle on your


Who? When? What? Where? Why?

Commonly known as the ‘five Ws‘, these are all important details that journalists will include in their ‘lead’.

Likewise, these are vital bits of information that a potential customer will want to know about your business. For starters, your website copy should at least answer these five questions – this will ensure that prospects have a clear understanding of what your business does.

You should also try to include this in all your comms material – including marketing, advertising, and social media. If you are planning a press release about a business news announcement, including the ‘five Ws’ is vital for making it as easy as possible for journalists to write a news story.

It can also be helpful to use the ‘five Ws’ model when planning events and projects – just to make sure no key details get forgotten.


Target audience 

Consider your ‘circulation’ – who is going to be viewing your website, and paying for your product or services? The tone and messaging of your website should appeal to whoever is going to be making the decision to part with their hard-earned cash.

Remember, the person who pays for a product isn’t necessarily the one who is going to be using it. For example, the demographic that spends the most on male toiletries is in fact women (usually mums and partners). Likewise, while your B2B software might be designed to make life easier for account executives, it’s likely to be someone more senior who takes the decision to purchase it.



Whenever a journalist is writing a story, they need a source – verified information to inspire the piece. In the past, this would usually come from a press release or tip-off. However, as the digitisation of journalism increases, more and more journalists are turning to big data to inform their stories.

Not only does data give weight to any claims that journalists are making, it also helps to add context to stories. This is why startups should be including data in their business messaging, too.

Just as a journalist will ask for industry stats and figures, so will investors. The more original the data, the better, so if you can afford to do your own research be sure to let people know about it. If you can’t, try looking on the Office of National Statistics website for relevant facts and figures. They publish regular, independent research findings. The added bonus of using data from them is that you can be sure of a large sample size, and strict controls – all of which will help make your facts and figures more credible.


Public affairs 

Just as all good journalists need to keep one eye to what’s going on in the world, so should the savvy startup entrepreneur. Keeping abreast of public affairs means you’ll have an early view of anything that might affect your business, and the opportunity to comment too.

‘Newsjacking’ is the term given to the art of making news and current affairs relevant to your brand. For example, publishing a blog post about ‘your take’ on a current news story. Or simply using trending hashtags or topic in your social media activity.

However, there are a few things to consider when incorporating newsjacking in your startup’s comms strategy. Unless you’re really sure about it, it’s probably best to avoid making political statements – you never know who you might offend. Likewise, don’t use any sensitive events to further your business marketing; it just makes you look a bit callous. And, as always, make sure you get your facts straight.


Breaking (the) news 

While journalism may be a skilled field, it’s not all smoke and mirrors. There are plenty of simple elements that startups can implement for their own purposes.

If you don’t know where to start, keeping an eye out on your local business news is always worth the effort. Most regional papers love to hear from, and support, local entrepreneurs. Some even run events, or regular profiles to showcase small businesses in their area.

For more regular PR and comms tips and tricks, follow Luminous PR on Twitter, or connect with us on LinkedIn.