The most important of them all (unless you're trying to get launch press): Be launched. We have spent $0 on press for Weebly, but we've gotten some big mentions (Newsweek, Time, NBC, BBC). Half of the battle is having a product that people can write about -- if you're not launched, people won't know you're there. If you aren't launched and people are still trying to write about you, although it feels good to be exclusive, you're missing out on an opportunity that might not come again.
Here are ten guidelines on how to make your story interesting for the tech blogs/press and successful in general:
1) Make your story worth writing about. First, make sure you have an angle that is really exciting. If you need to, tailor your message into something that fits with an industry trend. Make sure you have a jaw-dropping demo and a clear value proposition. Basically, make sure your startup is legitimately newsworthy.
2) Launch your news on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. There's too much news coming out on Monday, so don't try to compete with that. But make sure not to launch on the weekend, because there's so much less web traffic on the weekend than on the weekdays. Tuesday or Wed is generally the largest blog traffic day, so those are preferable.
3) Put together a short list of bloggers that are appropriate for your product. Put in some time to research this. Don't include bloggers that wouldn't normally write about your story. Add three types of bloggers to this list, in equal proportion: The large blogs, that you'd love to get coverage from, the medium blogs, that might cover you, and the small blogs, that will probably cover you because nobody really approaches them for a story. It's like applying for college: no matter what, you should at least get accepted somewhere.
Even if you don't get on the large or medium blogs, the medium bloggers generally read smaller blogs, and will pick up good stories they find there. Likewise, the larger bloggers read a certain amount of medium blogs, and the story can bubble up if it is newsworthy.
4) Contact the people on your list a week or two before the launch. Make your email very personable, from the founders, but straight and to the point (their time is valuable). Your goal is to meet with the blogger in person. If that's not possible, you want to talk to them on the phone. If that's not possible, as a last resort, let them have an online demo of your product. Why? An idea and mission is much more convincing when delivered in person or over the phone by a passionate founder. You'll also have adequate chance to rebut any of their arguments against it, and you're much less likely to wake up to an article that completely missed the point of the company, or where the reporter ran into some bug in your system.
If you're just starting, though, and don't have any connections to get de-facto attention, you'll want to make it as easy as possible for the blogger to try out your software: this means you should have a direct link that requires no log-in or sign-up with pre-populated data that the blogger is able to play around with in 5 minutes or less.
5) Set a clear embargo date. We've found that sometime in the morning works best for blogs, like 10am PST. What is an embargo? It's a time after which the press is allowed to write about a story, but they're forbidden to write before then. Why set an embargo? If you don't set one, you'll end up with the grave shift post on Friday at 11pm, where no one will see it. The goal is to keep your post on the front page as long as possible.
Embargoes are actually a solution that works well for bloggers (even though some love to hate on it). Nobody likes to write about a story that is old news -- and old news can mean just a few hours old. You need to set an embargo to co-ordinate all of the major blogs, so that nobody scoops anybody else, and they all post about you (instead of just one). The way that Techmeme works, they all get to ride on the coattails of the story this way, too.
Don't feel the need to volunteer an exclusive -- if your story is newsworthy, everybody will write about it. Either way, you're much better off with coverage from 4 blogs than coverage from just one. Your goal is to pop up in every feed people read: then they can't miss your story.
6) Make yourself available. Before the launch, make yourself as available as possible. Give out your cell phone number, and always answer it -- even late at night or early in the morning. You might not get another chance to catch up with this particular blogger/reporter.
7) Make sure your product is ready. It's difficult to tell when a product is ready, but now that you're going to be receiving all of this press attention, make sure it's ready for the load. It's very likely that if your product isn't up to par, you won't get a second chance for coverage or attention. Not to say that you shouldn't launch early and often (you should), but as Paul Buchheit says, "launch your product if it's better than anything else out there."
8) Sit back, relax, and enjoy the attention. Congratulations! A large portion of the tech world's attention is focused on your startup. Expect to get emails from ridiculous people, and a few thousand sign-ups.
9) Don't panic when the attention dies. It's always tempting to fantasize that the traffic spike will stay. Except for in rare circumstances, traffic will die down and form a spike. That's ok -- you should at least have more people/day signing up than you did before the attention.
10) Cultivate relationships for next time. This is good life advice in general. If you meet with press people, work on cultivating a relationship at the personal level. A good friend doesn't only talk to you when they need something, and treats you like a normal person. I'm not advocating being fake with people, but showing a minimum level interest in them personally, sending emails when they change jobs, saying "Hi" when you bump into them at social events, etc, goes a long way. At best, you might become really good friends with them.