FYI: This post is based on a video we just did, so if you’re the TL/DR type, just click here.
Getting press can be challenging for any startup. Despite how enthusiastic you are about your company, the market may be more excited about the high rollers. But with a little time, you can figure things out. This is a subject I know well. Over the years, I have managed PR for ventures backed by funds like Draper, Redpoint and many others.
I also ran public relations for SharePoint technologies at Microsoft; that’s a multi-billion-dollar product rather than a startup, but my work has involved dealing with many startups and partners, including being part of the venture integration process and helping acquire companies. My experience has given me a clear picture of what public relations looks like; plus, I’ve written hundreds of press releases for startups over the years.
In my experience, I’ve found the important thing is to take your time. Don’t rush and put your energy into figuring out what your message is going to be. Here are some tips that, from my experience, can help you achieve your PR goals:
Fine-Tune Your Message
Take the time needed to develop your message. It should match your overall value proposition as well. These are the first steps you should take, and then you can align your public relations messaging with your marketing message.
For example, if you’re communicating your storage software has the best performance over leading products in that segment, that message should appear in your press releases, press kit, marketing brochures and other PR communications materials, including your web copy. If you lead off a press releases saying your solution is highly scalable, it creates inconsistencies in your message.
Launch your public relations campaign only when you’re ready. If your product isn’t complete or you don’t have a website yet, hold off on public relations until it can have a maximum impact. Only when you’re prepared to have a conversation will people be interested. If they can’t buy your product for at least another year, your effort will be a waste of time, energy and money.
Establish a cadence as well. Public relations announcements should be issued regularly, so figure out how often you want to make or be featured in the news. It can be every month, every two months or every quarter, but you need a regular flow of messaging. This gives you a reason to stay in touch with reporters and your website will look fresh. Big companies vary in how they handle public relations; Microsoft fills the press with product announcements every couple of weeks, while Apple issues announcements a couple times a year (but gets big attention when it does).
Bottom line: There’s no right way to time your messaging. But as a startup, set up something regular so people start paying attention and recognizing your brand.
Build Your Media List
If you’re doing public relations, connect with as many reporters, industry experts and bloggers as you can. Podcasters can be good for press as well. Basically, you want to work with anyone who can write, do videos or produce any other type of media about you. There are many outlets to choose from today; many didn’t even exist a few years ago.
A good place to start looking is your competitors. Who is writing about them? The answer will help figure out who is more likely to write about you, your product and brand. The same writer is likely looking for others in the same segment who are driving innovation, change and the latest trends. But they’re not necessarily working in your industry. For example, you may have an automotive product and they may be covering legislation about pollution; if your product reduces emissions, it can get press from sources outside your industry trade segment.
Think Carefully About Hiring an Agency
This may seem like odd advice from a guy who runs a PR agency. We’re different from the typical PR agency, however, which will often say you need to hire them on a retainer basis. This involves paying them from $5,000 to $50,000 a month. That’s not to say a good public relations agency’s services won’t pay off. It can be well worth the money. That’s unless you’re just starting out and not ready for it.
Comms Factory is sort of an early-stage public relations service. While we act like an agency, we don’t obtain clients on a retainer. We work on per-service basis. The one thing to be careful about with agencies is they can pull a bait and switch, which I’ve seen as a public relations manager. For example, you might get a Series A funding round and meet an executive at a big public relations firm. When you agree to pay, a meeting is set up, but you don’t see the same person who signed you on. The team may or may not be great at or experienced making news in your category.
Hiring an agency can be very beneficial. However, it’s not for everybody, especially at the beginning. Agencies are supposed to provide a certain number of billable hours, but often cram in the work toward the end of a deadline. What they do may not be what you need, and you find out too late.
Build Off the Momentum of Others
Work alongside others who are doing public relations. By helping them, you can help yourself, as it enables you to build off their momentum. One way to do this is to partner with someone else. A Microsoft partner, for example, may develop a software product that links a Microsoft solution to a cloud platform. This opens the door to benefiting off news related to something like Microsoft Azure, a cloud platform with an enormous public relations budget and strategy. If they have an announcement, you can issue a press release in tandem with it, and even get a quote from a Microsoft executive.
To be successful at this, you need to have a reason why you’re interesting. After all, a lot of other partners are probably doing the same thing. Another helpful strategy is to attend industry events, where you can meet the press directly. However, there may be hundreds of companies and perhaps 50 reporters, so making the connection can be tough. But pick a CEO or someone at your company who is interesting, can answer questions or hold an interview. It’s a great way to get a quote into a piece as well.
Getting you connected with reporters is one thing I do. I can call someone or send an email about how a client would be a great source and can add value to a story. That certainly gets the ball rolling.
The Fail Fast approach to public relations can help in the long run. Here’s how it works: If something doesn’t work, you can try something different.
As a startup, no one’s really going to notice when you stumble – you’re practically invisible. On the other hand, if Apple stumbles in a press release, everyone’s going to see it. But don’t worry if you make a mistake; just maintain a fair etiquette because reporters stick with their jobs for a while and remember things.
You should be OK so long as you don’t offend people. Don’t keep bugging a reporter if they say they’re not interested or give them some other reason not to like you. They could become an asset down the road. That’s why it’s important to learn from your public relations failures. Keep refining your messages because, if what you’re saying doesn’t catch a reporter’s attention, your customers may not be interested either.
Look at it as a sort of market research laboratory. When you figure out something’s not working, alter your message or value proposition. Analyze peoples’ reactions; if you pitch to 500 reporters and don’t see any interest, look at what you can change, especially in regard to differentiating yourself from the competition.
Let Comms Factory Help Your Startup with Public Relations
These five tips on public relations can help your startup find a strategy that works. Comms Factory helps startup clients with press release writing and distribution, blog writing, media pitches, media outreach and more at affordable rates. We look forward to working with you. Contact us online today to request a quote or free consultation.