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How Start-Ups Can Generate Free PR: Lessons from Dropbox, Airbnb, and Others

How Start-Ups Can Generate Free PR: Lessons from Dropbox, Airbnb, and Others

As a startup, getting your brand and product in front of the right audience can be a major challenge. The problem is, most startups don’t have the budget to invest in expensive PR campaigns. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get the exposure you need to grow your business. In this article, we’ll explore 10 different ways startups can get free PR and share real-life industry examples of startups who have successfully leveraged these tactics to gain exposure and grow their businesses.

Utilize Social Media Platforms: Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram offer a great opportunity for startups to get free PR. By sharing interesting content, news, and updates on these platforms, startups can attract the attention of their target audience, and ultimately get free PR.

Leverage Influencer Marketing: Influencer marketing has become an increasingly popular way for startups to get free PR. By partnering with influencers who have a large following, startups can get their products and brand in front of a wider audience, and build brand awareness.

Participate in Industry Events: Industry events like trade shows and conferences provide startups with an opportunity to showcase their products and connect with potential customers, partners, and investors. Participating in these events can lead to valuable media coverage and help startups gain free PR.

Use Press Release Distribution Services: There are many press release distribution services available online that can help startups get their news and updates in front of journalists and bloggers. By crafting a compelling press release and distributing it through these services, startups can generate valuable media coverage and get free PR.

Pitch to Journalists and Bloggers: By researching and reaching out to journalists and bloggers who cover your industry or niche, startups can pitch story ideas and generate media coverage for their brand and products. A well-crafted pitch can lead to valuable media coverage and help startups get free PR.

Build Relationships with Journalists and Bloggers: Building relationships with journalists and bloggers can help startups get free PR over the long-term. By providing them with valuable insights, data, and news about your industry, startups can become a go-to source for media coverage.

Use HARO: Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a platform that connects journalists and bloggers with sources for their stories. By signing up for HARO and responding to relevant queries, startups can get free PR by being quoted in news articles and blog posts.

Utilize SEO: Search engine optimization (SEO) can help startups get free PR by improving their visibility in search engine results pages. By optimizing their website and content for keywords related to their industry or niche, startups can attract more organic traffic to their website and generate valuable media coverage.

Offer Exclusive Content: Offering exclusive content like whitepapers, reports, and research studies can help startups generate valuable media coverage and get free PR. By providing unique insights and data related to your industry, startups can attract the attention of journalists and bloggers and generate valuable media coverage.

Participate in Podcasts: Podcasts have become an increasingly popular way for startups to get free PR. By participating in relevant podcasts as a guest, startups can share their insights and expertise with a wider audience, and generate valuable media coverage.

Innovative Marketing Strategies that Gave These Startups Free PR


When Dropbox was launched in 2008, the company faced significant competition in the crowded online storage market. To set themselves apart and gain traction, Dropbox decided to use a referral program to incentivize their existing users to invite their friends to join the service.

The referral program was simple yet effective: existing users would receive extra storage space for each friend they referred to Dropbox. This not only gave existing users an incentive to invite their friends but also provided a valuable reason for new users to sign up.

Dropbox’s referral program quickly went viral and became one of the most successful referral campaigns in history. By offering a simple but valuable incentive, Dropbox was able to turn its existing users into powerful advocates for the brand. The referral program led to a significant increase in user signups and helped Dropbox to stand out in a crowded market.

Dropbox’s referral program’s success can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the program was simple and easy to understand, making it easy for users to participate. Secondly, the incentive of extra storage space was valuable and relevant to the service Dropbox was offering. Finally, the referral program provided a clear benefit for both the existing and new users, creating a win-win scenario.

Warby Parker:

Warby Parker’s Home Try-On program was a game-changer in the eyewear industry. By allowing customers to try on glasses at home for free before purchasing, the company removed one of the major obstacles that people faced when buying glasses online – not being able to try them on in person. This program not only increased the number of potential customers but also generated significant buzz on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

The program allowed customers to select five frames that they liked and Warby Parker would ship them out to try on for five days. Customers could take pictures and get feedback from friends and family, making it a fun and interactive experience. The Home Try-On program also gave Warby Parker the opportunity to showcase its wide variety of styles and designs, which helped them stand out in a crowded market.

Positive reviews from satisfied customers on social media helped to generate even more buzz around the Home Try-On program. Many customers took to social media platforms to share their experiences and recommend Warby Parker to others, which helped the company to gain free PR from word-of-mouth marketing.

The Home Try-On program helped to establish Warby Parker as a leader in the eyewear industry and generated significant free PR for the company. By creating a program that removed a major obstacle for customers and made the shopping experience fun and interactive, Warby Parker was able to generate positive reviews and word-of-mouth marketing that helped to propel the brand to success.

Dollar Shave Club:

Dollar Shave Club is a great example of a start-up that utilized the power of video marketing to gain free PR. In 2012, the company released a now-famous YouTube video that featured its CEO, Michael Dubin, explaining the company’s value proposition in a humorous and irreverent way. The video, which cost just $4,500 to produce, quickly went viral, racking up millions of views and generating a huge amount of buzz on social media.

The video was a perfect fit for the company’s target market of young, male consumers who were fed up with overpriced razors and the “pink tax” that often accompanies female-targeted personal care products. By using humour and a direct-to-consumer approach, Dollar Shave Club was able to stand out in a crowded market and create a brand personality that resonated with its target audience.

The publicity from the video didn’t stop at YouTube, as it was covered by major media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and Forbes. It also helped to launch the company’s subscription-based model and establish Dollar Shave Club as a major disruptor in the personal care industry.


Airbnb’s “Neighborhoods” program was an innovative campaign that aimed to create more personalized and localized experiences for travelers. The program featured hyper-local guides to different neighbourhoods around the world, providing visitors with insider knowledge about the best places to eat, drink, and explore in each area.

By highlighting the unique qualities of each neighbourhood, Airbnb was able to tap into the growing trend of experiential travel, where people are looking for more authentic and local experiences when they travel. This also helped to differentiate Airbnb from other accommodation platforms, such as hotels or traditional vacation rentals.

The “Neighborhoods” program was a hit, generating a lot of free PR for Airbnb from media coverage and social media buzz. By showcasing the program on their website and social media channels, Airbnb was able to reach a wider audience and build brand awareness.

The campaign was also successful in building trust and loyalty among Airbnb’s user base. By providing valuable and personalized recommendations, Airbnb was able to enhance the user experience and encourage repeat bookings.

Airbnb’s “Neighborhoods” program was a great example of how a startup can use innovative and localized marketing campaigns to gain free PR and differentiate itself in a crowded market. By understanding the needs and desires of their target audience, Airbnb was able to create a campaign that resonated with travellers and helped to build a strong and loyal user base.


Toms, a shoe company that was launched in 2006, became a hit among consumers with its “One for One” program. The program was simple yet innovative – for every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of shoes were donated to a child in need. The program was a huge success and it quickly became a talking point in the media and on social media platforms.

Toms’ “One for One” program was unique and it appealed to socially conscious consumers who were looking for ways to make a difference. The program not only helped those in need but also created a sense of community among Toms’ customers. Consumers felt good about their purchases and they were proud to be associated with a company that was making a positive impact on the world.

Toms’ “One for One” program received widespread media coverage and social media buzz, which helped the company to gain significant free PR. The media coverage was largely positive, with journalists and bloggers praising the company’s innovative approach to giving back. The coverage helped to increase brand awareness and attract new customers.

The success of the “One for One” program also led to other companies following in Toms’ footsteps and creating similar programs. Toms’ innovative approach to giving back has become a benchmark for socially responsible businesses and has helped to shape the way companies approach corporate social responsibility.

Toms’ “One for One” program was a huge success, not only in terms of giving back but also in terms of gaining free PR. The program helped to create a loyal customer base and attract new customers, while also inspiring other companies to follow suit. Toms’ approach to social responsibility has become a benchmark for other companies to follow, and it has helped to shape the way that businesses think about their impact on the world.

Action Plan: How Start-Ups Can Achieve Free PR Success

Here is a general action plan for a new start-up looking to gain free PR using some of the tactics employed by successful companies like Dropbox, Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, and Toms:

Identify your unique value proposition: Before you can start generating free PR, you need to identify what makes your start-up different and compelling. Take some time to consider what problem you’re solving, what sets you apart from competitors, and what your brand values are.

Create a referral program: Like Dropbox, you can create a referral program to encourage users to invite their friends to join your platform or use your service. Offer incentives such as discounts, free access to premium features, or exclusive content to users who refer others to your start-up.

Launch a viral marketing campaign: Dollar Shave Club’s viral video is a great example of how a humorous and irreverent campaign can generate a lot of buzz. Brainstorm creative and attention-grabbing ideas for a marketing campaign that will resonate with your target audience and encourage social sharing.

Offer a unique program: Warby Parker’s Home Try-On program is a unique offering that sets them apart from other eyewear companies. Consider offering a similar program or promotion that allows potential customers to try your product or service before committing to a purchase. This can help build trust and encourage positive reviews and word-of-mouth marketing.

Tie your business to a social cause: Toms’ One for One program has been hugely successful in generating free PR and building a strong brand reputation. Consider partnering with a social cause that aligns with your company’s values and mission, and launch a program that donates a portion of your profits or products to the cause.

Create hyper-local content: Airbnb’s Neighborhoods program is a great example of how hyper-local content can generate free PR and build a loyal following. Create content such as city guides, insider tips, and curated lists that are specific to your target audience and location. Share this content on social media and partner with local influencers to amplify your reach.

Leverage media coverage: Finally, keep an eye out for media coverage opportunities that can help boost your visibility and credibility. Monitor relevant industry publications and look for opportunities to contribute guest articles, participate in interviews or podcasts, or speak at events. Use your free PR successes as a launching point for further media opportunities.

Remember, generating free PR requires a combination of creativity, strategic planning, and persistence. By following these steps and staying true to your brand values, you can create a successful free PR campaign that helps you stand out in a crowded market.


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