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The Winding PR Path to a New York Times Quantum Startup Story

Securing a major article in The New York Times for a client is every PR professional’s – and client’s – dream. The ‘newspaper of record’ might be headquartered in NYC but its reach and influence spans the globe.

HKA was happy to recently secure a NYT homerun for its quantum client Q-CTRL.

Those unfamiliar with public relations may think a story like this happens overnight. Let me assure you, it does not. While on rare occasions you may be lucky and zoom past the rungs of media hierarchy, this is usually not the case.  

This is especially true if you represent startups in a nascent, highly complex industry. For Google and IBM, a top-tier piece on their quantum computing initiatives may be a slam dunk because of their well-established brands. Not so for startups, and especially quantum startups. There’s a reason PR professionals call it earned media coverage.

Every major media hit has its own back story but there are general principles always at work:

  1. Enlist relevant PR counsel early in your quantum or deep-tech startup history

Many challenges confront quantum startups beyond just being new and unknown. The fact is, this fledgling industry is also largely unknown, or at least not well understood. Closing that awareness gap requires an enormous amount of time, effort and cleverness to educate media and other influencers on why they should care in the first place. When you start this education process early, the time spent will pay dividends later.  

Whether in-house or with a qualified agency, your PR counsel will ensure your messages are compelling as well as comprehensible for media, gradually building your company’s narrative and credibility from the ground up.

  • A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Adages can be trite but this one is appropriate. In starting a PR program for a quantum startup, the first step is creating compelling media messages that can continually evolve over time according to the company’s growth, industry trends and market changes.

Once the messaging is in place, the storytelling can begin. However, a quantum or other deep-tech startup often will emerge from an academic research lab without a single client, or perhaps a single customer that requests anonymity. An industrious PR person must look for other ways to tell their story and gain that all-important awareness even without validation from a third-party source. That means telling the story by leveraging pre-print scientific papers, creating thought leadership/opinion pieces for media placement or blog posts, offering quotes for breaking news, securing award recognitions, etc. – whatever it takes to get the company into the industry conversation.

  • The PR ‘snowball effect’ is real

I’m always amazed how the ‘snowball effect’ of PR works time and again. You obtain early coverage in the industry trades, and then secure a quote in a major technical trade, and then another. When a critical mass takes shape, higher echelon media, including top-tier outlets, start paying attention.  

Larger circulation media for broader audiences tend to wait for smaller publications to validate the truth and significance of a quantum startup’s claims. Then, when there is a relevant news story, they have confidence in the company and jump in.   

This happened with our media outreach for Q-CTRL in Australia. One influential business publication held back coverage of the company for some time. But after seeing smaller media outlets in the region regularly cover Q-CTRL’s news and feature its CEO, the top-tier business publication recognized their news value and today features the company regularly in its quantum industry coverage.

  • Have something to say – then say it often

Coverage from major media outlets like The New York Times obviously takes more than a savvy PR agency. The client must understand the importance of media coverage and be willing to do what it takes to secure enviable earned media placements.

In this case, Q-CTRL founder and CEO Michael J. Biercuk had spent years discussing industry topics that went beyond his own company’s technology and products. His thought leadership has been a key to Q-CTRL securing top-tier attention. This willingness to offer deep background and commentary makes you more valuable to media who are seeking business leaders that take public stands on major issues pertaining to their industry. 

  • Timing is everything

Years of explaining Q-CTRL’s technology to media and securing coverage from quantum trades to regional business media from Australia to North America built a strong foundation of awareness and credibility. It was a major reason why The New York Times responded immediately to HKA’s pitch tied to current news. Of course, we had pitched the NYT previously, but this time there was a strong US-Australia ‘news hook’ and the Sydney-based editor was ready to dig into a great quantum story.

It just makes sense from their point of view. There was likely no company more well-suited to comment and no one more in the public eye on the issue than Q-CTRL’s CEO. The Times could trust that Mike could speak informatively and understandably on quantum from all the previous coverage that had been achieved.

We believe it was an important story for readers as well as another significant breakthrough for the quantum industry’s visibility in mainstream media.

Kudos, of course, to our client, Q-CTRL, and to the HKA team who made it all happen.

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