I put together last night’s “Secrets of Power PR” panel to help hard-working startups learn how to get their projects the attention they deserve.

If you couldn’t make it, here are some of my notes.

The panelists

Alana Semuels – LA Times

Brian Deagon – Investor’s Business Daily

Nicole Jordan – Rubicon Project

Ray Doustdar – TeamDating.com

My notes
(They’re incomplete because I took them while moderating.)

Know your message. Nicole says you need to be very clear about what you do, what separates you from your competition and who you serve.

Have sound bites available. Ray says that before he contacted the media about TeamDating.com, he wrote down a few sound bites. When reporters asked him why they should care about TeamDating, he was quickly able to pull one of his pre-written bites out and say something like, “We’re the safe and fun online dating site.” There’s usually no time to think up an answer on the spot. You have to have them pre-written.

Have customers ready. Nicole says when reporters are ready to write about you, they’ll usually ask to interview some of your customers. So have some loyal, articulate customers available for press inquiries. Articles tend to get written quickly, so don’t wait till you’re interviewed to look for those customers. Have them prepared ahead of time.

Know who to target. Ray sets Google news alerts to tell him when someone writes about online dating, social networking, or anything related to his site.

Write to the reporters. When you find an article related to your business, contact the reporter directly and give them more insight into the story. You live in your industry, so you may know more than the reporter. Share your knowledge. Don’t pitch. Just let them know you can be a resource. Alana says getting short emails like this can be helpful.

Put it into a larger trend. Reporters aren’t nearly as interested in your company as as they are in the bigger trends. So attach yourself to those trends. To use YellowBot.com as an example (because they were in the audience). Instead of asking reporters to write about YellowBot being a great replacement for the yellowpages, they should explain that there’s a growing trend of people are abandoning the yellowpages and using the Internet.

Talk about your competition. Alana and Brian agreed that if EduFire.com (whose founder, Jon Bischke, was in the audience) wants to get into the media, instead of pitching themselves, they should pitch their industry. They should say that learning online is a growing trend. Then they should list some companies that are growing the in the space, and explain how EduFire fits within this growing trend.

Be original. Brian says every week he gets hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls from companies pitching themselves. To break through that clutter, you have to be original.

Start with the trades. It’s easier to break into the trades than into newspapers like Brian’s and Alana’s.

Network. Everyone agreed that you’re better off building a relationship first and then pitching your business.

Do NOT call first. If you don’t know a reporter, email them first. Don’t call, don’t use Facebook. When you email, personalize the subject line and keep your email short.

Go after online influencers. Nicole said that Rubicon Project got hundreds of new registrations after ShoeMoney.com blogged about them. Those online hits may not be as exciting as holding up an article about your company in the local paper, but they deliver more business.