The Washa co-founders Karim, Max & Jannick + team

Here’s our secret startup recipe to getting media attention

GUEST ENTRY: You might have asked yourself how to gain media attention with your startup. We’ve asked an expert on the topic, Karim Ben M’Barek, from media darling Washa.

Blog from #CPHFTW:

My name is Karim Ben M’Barek and I’m co-founder and Managing Director of Washa, the biggest online laundry & dry cleaning service in Scandinavia.
You’ve probably seen Washa appear in various media during the last three years — if you haven’t, you surely don’t read enough newspapers. 😊 Joking apart, and without bragging too much, we have actually been rather successful with our PR-strategy almost since the beginning, which is what I want to talk about in this blog post.

Before sharing my knowledge regarding our successful PR strategy, I must give you a recap of the first half year of Washa’s existence as this period is essential to our work with PR.

The launch

In February 2014, I launched Washa with two friends, Jannick Christensen & Max Børglum Stripp. We established the company with a total equity of 10.000 DKK. For that amount we bought an old Mazda 323 from 1996, a luggage hand weight, and around 30 Ikea bags. We made our website in Paint and were ready to take in orders.

We started doing the laundry in Jannick’s apartment. We washed the clothes in the single washing machine that Jannick had, and dried the clothes afterwards on a regular drying rack from Ikea. Finally, shirts were ironed before returning the clothes to the customers.

As you can imagine, we were a quite primitive startup. We didn’t have the resources to invest more in our business. We simply had to work hard to gain orders and new customers. The first month, we only generated three orders, the following month we generated 11, and the one after that we generated 19. It was a quite slow start, but as you can see from the numbers, we still experienced a steady growth which was a huge motivation. We generated most of the orders simply from regular Facebook posts. Everything we earned from our orders was spent on fuel, detergent, and food for ourselves to survive. 😊

Five months after our launch, we reached full capacity of the number of orders we could take in and handle in Jannick’s apartment. Therefore, we had to team up with an external partner that could liberate us from the operational work.

We gathered a list of all local dry cleaners in Copenhagen that potentially could be our partner. And went out to talk to the dry cleaners — one by one. At first, we were quite optimistic about our plan. However, despair quickly replaced our optimism…

To the first 15–20 dry cleaners, we pitched the idea of a 50/50 split of the orders generated. We would handle the pickup and delivery on all orders, the dry cleaners simply had to clean the clothes. We thought our proposal was quite generous as the dry cleaners didn’t have to do anything to get additional customers other than continuing their operational work. But every time we left empty handed — the dry cleaners hilariously laughing and telling us how stupid we were to believe that our “project” one day would become successful.

After several weeks of experiencing the same pattern; pitching, laughing, leaving, we finally met a dry cleaner that agreed to team up with us. He instantly took over the treatment of all the clothes that we took in from our customers.

The Washa Team.

Promoting our “startup-story”

This situation naturally gave us more time to focus on how to grow our business. However, we still didn’t have large sums to invest in marketing. We were still living exclusively from our facebook posts as well as a couple of sponsored ads that generated most of our orders. We had to do more to grow faster and increase the number of orders.

During the first six months, we had experienced that people would get very excited when we told them about Washa — how we started, and washed the clothes ourselves at home and ironed all the shirts. Many people told us that our business was a true entrepreneurial story. I think our service is something that it very easy to understand, and the fact that many people hate doing their laundry and ironing, made it even more easy for people to relate to our business.

All the reactions made us realize that we should exploit our story more proactively to gain awareness. So, we began by making various press releases primarily about the establishment of Washa, however, with different approaches to the story. We thought that having different approaches to our story would make it easier for us to direct e.g. the humoristic version to a media like EB (Ekstrabladet). With great expectations we then sent out all the press releases to the different media they fitted.

The following weeks we didn’t get any response. A journalist from a media I don’t remember the name of then contacted us to hear more about our story. We were excited! However, after talking to the journalist, the excitement immediately vanished. The journalist had told us that our start was cute, but we hadn’t achieved enough yet, and therefore he didn’t want to publish it.

The beginning of a new era

In the middle of September 2014, laundry giant Berendsen A/S contacted us. They had been monitoring us almost since the beginning and wanted to talk. We were invited to their office to a chat about our business. Naturally, we were curious about their intentions.

The day for the meeting came. Berendsen were represented by a couple of their top executives. We told them about Washa, our numbers so far, and about our dreams, ideas, and expectations for Washa. This was the beginning of a positive dialogue with the corporate giant which now is our strategic partner, investor, and supplier.

After our first meeting with Berendsen, it was like something magical happened. We contacted MetroXpress with an updated press release of our story, which now included our dialogue with Northern Europe’s largest laundry company. The story immediately caught their attention and a few days later they brought the story.

This was our first news article in a big publication. It was obvious for us that our dialogue and negotiations with Berendsen was the last part that completed our “startup-story”. This was the achievement we needed before the press found us interesting enough.

Washa’s first headline in a Danish newspaper.

Our PR strategy

Following the article in MetroXpress, it was much easier to get in contact with journalists from all kinds of media. This has naturally helped us to get our stories published later. However, we realized that we had learned a lot from our focus on PR. Moreover, our knowledge about PR has increased throughout our journey with Washa as we have been persistent with our strategy.

The very foundation for our PR strategy today is, as we learned from the beginning, that all people must do their laundry and almost everybody hate doing it. Therefore, it is easy to understand and relate to our business and why we started it, which makes it more interesting to people.

Our PR strategy is built around two types of press releases. The first one accounts for 20–30 % of our work with PR. These are the press releases that must be published such as news about a new investment in Washa. The second includes everything from random information about people’s laundry habits to how we plan to deliver clothes with drones in the future. We put most of our work into this type of press release.

So, what we do is: our marketing team gathers for a workshop every third month. The first objective with the workshops is to generate a list of about 50 headlines to possible press releases. Once 50 headlines are made, the best 10–15 headlines will be chosen. Subsequently, the team decides who will write the different stories and which media they will be directed towards. Our PR-workshops enables us to be agile and flexible in an ever-changing media landscape.

Today, we collaborate with the PR agency Help PR. Help PR has really helped us to step up to the next level. They have contributed with great experience from the industry and a valuable network to distribute our stories.

Another important aspect for our PR strategy is that we are not limiting ourselves to be present in the big papers only. We strive to be present in all kinds of media — small local ones as well as the bigger national media but also various trade media. Being present and active in all kinds of media provides us with the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas that go beyond our often product-oriented stories.

Why focus on PR?

All businesses might not have the same approach to PR. However, we might all agree that having a great article published about our business is good for awareness.

At Washa we use PR as a kind of marketing tool. We believe that good publicity leads to new customers and thereby more orders. Naturally, PR doesn’t convert the same way as sponsored facebook ads or newsletters. However, PR is a great way of building brand awareness and promote your business in a more indirect manner.

Moreover, as I recently read in Børsen, an increasing number of people believe that the traditional salesman might become extinct within few years. People are generally tired and have less time to talk to salesmen. If this is true, then an increased focus on PR will become even more relevant to reach potential customers.

Washa recommends

To end my blog post, I briefly want to give you our recommendations, which hopefully will inspire you and your business to your work with PR.

Firstly, if you are a startup, you’ve probably been asked a hundred times about your establishment — how did you come up with the idea and how did you launch your business? This might be the first thing you communicate to new people that asks about your business. Therefore, make your “startup-story” interesting for people. Preferably, make your story either humoristic or dramatic — people love these kinds of stories. Additionally, make your product or service easy to understand — this is important.

Secondly, arrange workshops to generate ideas to possible press releases about your business. In this connection, think about the different media and what content they post or publish. Write press releases that are focused and directed towards a specific media. This will increase your chances of having your press release published.

Thirdly, if your business possesses data that are interesting to the public, you should use it for your press releases. At Washa, we possess huge amount of data about clothes and people’s laundry habits. Use data to bring interesting stories!

Lastly, consider collaborating with a PR agency. As co-founder of Washa, I’m not a professional PR specialist. Admitting this has improved our work with PR. As I explained earlier, PR agencies can contribute with great experience and knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work. The right PR agency will enhance your chances of being exposed in the media.

I hope my thoughts and recommendations will improve your PR-activities in the future. Your journey towards increased public awareness starts by signing up to Paqle or another tool that can monitor your PR-activity. Paqle is free and enables you to track whatever company or person that you find interesting.

Karim Ben M’Barek

This article has also been published at https://medium.com/@cphftw/heres-our-secret-startup-recipe-for-getting-media-attention-d8550fb9f975

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