How Startups Can Use PR Successfully

One of the biggest challenges for startups is keeping in the public eye – getting the word out on a consistent basis to drive an audience, customers, buzz, etc. There are lots of marketing techniques for startups but one that I think is under used and under appreciated is PR.

Public Relations is all about getting the word out. But generally, PR is used to reach the mainstream press and a mainstream audience. So a lot of startups – especially those living in a Web 2.0 bubble – don’t focus much energy on PR. If your startup is in the Valley or another true startup ecosystem you may be able to generate sufficient buzz through the community, but for the rest of us, we need everything we can to keep in front of people, garnering attention.

The thing with PR is that it’s not just for attracting mainstream press, although that’s a good reason to use it. The press certainly looks at blogs, social media and less traditional avenues for its scoops, but they still work via press releases & press relationships as well. And even companies living in a Web 2.0 bubble – the ultra-coolest of the cool consumer apps only for the “Facebook crowd” – can still benefit from breaking into the mainstream. Ultimately that ultra-cool Valley crowd is still pretty small, and you’ll need to break out beyond it for real success.

So what can PR bring a startup?

  • mainstream press
  • increased reputation as an expert
  • speaking engagements
  • analyst interest
  • writing opportunities
  • partnership opportunities
  • customers

Tell a Good Story

The key to PR (and it’s the same with using social media and blogs) is that you need to tell a good story.

PR isn’t simply about stating facts, or announcing straightforward news. It’s about telling a good story to the right audience at the right time. A great press release is crafted to tell stories behind the words, to trigger ideas and possibilities in other people’s heads, to indicate the direction your company is going without stating it explicitly.

Before publishing a press release, ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of the press release?” Are you trying to reach potential partners, customers, mainstream press, investors, etc.? You can’t target too many audiences at once, so really think about the type of press release you’re writing and who will be interested in it.

The timing is important too. If you’re attending an event, for example, publish a press release just before to get people’s attention. It can lead to more buzz around the event. If you’re going to release a new version of your product soon – think about staggering in some press releases beforehand – to build buzz.

And PR isn’t just about posting press releases to the news wires. PR is about building relationships with your target audience (primarily mainstream press, analysts, but now also online press as well) to develop a strong reputation in your field of expertise. You want journalists coming to you asking for quotes, opinions, etc. — so that your press opportunities aren’t exclusively for news about your startup, but also for industry trend stories that journalists are writing about.

Outsource PR

I would suggest that you outsource your startup’s PR efforts, unless you’re an expert already. But even if you are, you’re probably too busy to focus on PR effectively.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. PR shouldn’t consume a huge part of your marketing budget to work. It’s an evolving process that should create a snowball effect — one press release lands you a couple press mentions, the next one a few more…then you’re invited to speak somewhere, and then some partners come knocking…

And you certainly can and should do some of the PR yourself. Every startup should have a company blog. A startup blog isn’t used exclusively for PR, but it certainly can help.

Matt Hulett suggests that you should fire your PR firm. He points out that the startup CEO should do the PR because s/he’ll get better results:

Startups will get better results when a CEO takes the time to target a writer directly. There is so much noise that an authentic conversation from an executive does punch thru the sea of press releases being stuffed into inboxes by agencies.

I completely understand Matt’s point, but most startup CEOs won’t be schooled enough in good PR to pull this off. But consider hiring a contract PR person instead of an agency. Make it clear that you’re hiring the person to execute on PR efforts but also educate you (as the startup CEO) on doing some of the work yourself. Turn it into a collaborative effort.

Don’t Forget PR

PR might be seen as blogging & social media’s old cousin (and to a degree it is), but don’t dismiss it too quickly. All the mentions on a handful of tech blogs might not be enough (although they’re great!), especially when it’s time to break out of those relatively closed circles and reach a much bigger audience. I found a Startup PR 2.0 ebook (for free!) from Brian Solis that might interest you.

Startups need every advantage they can get their hands on to stay top-of-mind with as many people as possible. And a good, constant (but still relatively small) PR effort can help.

Additional Note: I just read a post on CenterNetworks about press embargoes from guest writer Rick Turoczy. Definitely worth reading.

March 27, 2008 Posted in Marketing by

  • http://SoftwareSweatshop.com Raza Imam

    There was an article in one of the WSJ blogs about small business and startup PR. It profiled a small, 5-person chocolate company. It showed that a majority of press came from the CEO’s own PR efforts (she did have a PR firm as well)

    Guy Kawasaki has a good post on why DIY PR is better than working with an agency on his blog. Definitely work checking out.

    Raza Imam
    http://SoftwareSweatshop.com

  • http://SoftwareSweatshop.com Raza Imam

    There was an article in one of the WSJ blogs about small business and startup PR. It profiled a small, 5-person chocolate company. It showed that a majority of press came from the CEO’s own PR efforts (she did have a PR firm as well)

    Guy Kawasaki has a good post on why DIY PR is better than working with an agency on his blog. Definitely work checking out.

    Raza Imam
    http://SoftwareSweatshop.com

  • http://www.etavitom.com etavitom

    Great post! I find creating buzz is the most important aspect to focus on for start-ups, assuming you have a great concept. All the best, “Wizard of Buzz”

  • http://www.etavitom.com etavitom

    Great post! I find creating buzz is the most important aspect to focus on for start-ups, assuming you have a great concept. All the best, “Wizard of Buzz”

  • http://www.gettingmorevisitors.com James Shaffer

    Yes, creating buzz is a must for new startups. A good way to get PR in the non-traditional sense of the word is to do something controversial. Many sites will link to you and you will enjoy “web PR.”

  • http://www.gettingmorevisitors.com James Shaffer

    Yes, creating buzz is a must for new startups. A good way to get PR in the non-traditional sense of the word is to do something controversial. Many sites will link to you and you will enjoy “web PR.”

  • http://startupwhisperer.com Matt Hulett

    Really good post. I am a proponent of DIY PR. I didn’t mention in my post that its important to be consistent with your PR efforts. Its really a marathon with PR; building the right contacts and constantly staying in-tune with the editorial of your PR targets is really important.

  • http://startupwhisperer.com Matt Hulett

    Really good post. I am a proponent of DIY PR. I didn’t mention in my post that its important to be consistent with your PR efforts. Its really a marathon with PR; building the right contacts and constantly staying in-tune with the editorial of your PR targets is really important.

  • http://www.epiphanylabs.com Andrew Huff

    Thanks for the excellent tips.

    Having just started a small company, I have to say determining the PR and marketing strategies has been the most challenging part of the process so far. I’m glad there are so many resources out there to help those of us without much experience.

  • http://www.epiphanylabs.com Andrew Huff

    Thanks for the excellent tips.

    Having just started a small company, I have to say determining the PR and marketing strategies has been the most challenging part of the process so far. I’m glad there are so many resources out there to help those of us without much experience.

  • http://www.pcenclosures-direct.com Graham

    Brilliant post, thanks for the insight into a succesful Press Release, I am going to implement some steps for my new product launch in September 2008.

  • http://www.pcenclosures-direct.com Graham

    Brilliant post, thanks for the insight into a succesful Press Release, I am going to implement some steps for my new product launch in September 2008.

  • http://www.propertystampede.com Chris Mancini

    Great article. Being a co-founder on a startup, I am learning all I can about pr, marketing and organic growth while my partner works on the nitty gritty code and product development. You confirmed my efforts though of a company blog as I have started writing on it and we do not even have a product yet.

    Chris

    http://www.stampedeblog.com

  • http://www.propertystampede.com Chris Mancini

    Great article. Being a co-founder on a startup, I am learning all I can about pr, marketing and organic growth while my partner works on the nitty gritty code and product development. You confirmed my efforts though of a company blog as I have started writing on it and we do not even have a product yet.

    Chris

    http://www.stampedeblog.com

  • http://www.bhutanlive.com/jippy Jigme Phuntsho

    Great post. I also liked the “how to create the perfect company blog” post.
    Thanks for the tips.

    Jigme Phuntsho

  • http://www.bhutanlive.com/jippy Jigme Phuntsho

    Great post. I also liked the “how to create the perfect company blog” post.
    Thanks for the tips.

    Jigme Phuntsho

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    @Raza: I agree that a lot of PR can and should be generated by the CEO and other top folks at a company, especially a startup. Much of a startup’s success can be built on the reputation of the founders. But, if the founders aren’t experienced at PR having a helping hand to guide them is important.

    @James: I’m not opposed to stirring controversy. It is a good way of generating buzz, and we see from the regular “web sh@t storms” that A-listers launch out there – mostly for fun I think – that controversy is a good way of staying top of mind.

    @Matt: I agree. It’s definitely a marathon. PR isn’t like an email marketing campaign where you hope to close a percentage of business. You have to put down the building blocks of good PR, build relationships, and go from there.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com Ben Yoskovitz

    @Raza: I agree that a lot of PR can and should be generated by the CEO and other top folks at a company, especially a startup. Much of a startup’s success can be built on the reputation of the founders. But, if the founders aren’t experienced at PR having a helping hand to guide them is important.

    @James: I’m not opposed to stirring controversy. It is a good way of generating buzz, and we see from the regular “web sh@t storms” that A-listers launch out there – mostly for fun I think – that controversy is a good way of staying top of mind.

    @Matt: I agree. It’s definitely a marathon. PR isn’t like an email marketing campaign where you hope to close a percentage of business. You have to put down the building blocks of good PR, build relationships, and go from there.

  • http://www.betterforbusiness.com Terra Andersen

    Great write-up on PR! I especially liked the part about telling a good story. This is SO true. With my own clients, they often gain free media attention and free PR when they tell a story.

    Great work!

  • http://www.betterforbusiness.com Terra Andersen

    Great write-up on PR! I especially liked the part about telling a good story. This is SO true. With my own clients, they often gain free media attention and free PR when they tell a story.

    Great work!

  • http://promomanagers.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/at-last-finally-some-good-looking-organics/ Green

    I think what most of us have to realize is the percentage of press releases picked up is infinitely small. The PR release firms will never tell us the real numbers but it has to be really low as there are thousands of PRs issued each day and only so much room mainstream. As the author says tell a good story, write it in language the readers can understand and relate to and have reasonable expectations. Start with the free services before dropping a bundle on the paid services.

  • http://promomanagers.wordpress.com/2008/04/02/at-last-finally-some-good-looking-organics/ Green

    I think what most of us have to realize is the percentage of press releases picked up is infinitely small. The PR release firms will never tell us the real numbers but it has to be really low as there are thousands of PRs issued each day and only so much room mainstream. As the author says tell a good story, write it in language the readers can understand and relate to and have reasonable expectations. Start with the free services before dropping a bundle on the paid services.

  • http://lawyerlegalchat.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-to-pass-bar-exam.html Joe

    This was a great article on PR. Lord knows I need help with it. I just tend to ignore PR, and that’s not very smart is it?

    Writing a good story that pulls people in is huge. We all love a good story. I think that’s what the best PR does.

    Joe

  • http://lawyerlegalchat.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-to-pass-bar-exam.html Joe

    This was a great article on PR. Lord knows I need help with it. I just tend to ignore PR, and that’s not very smart is it?

    Writing a good story that pulls people in is huge. We all love a good story. I think that’s what the best PR does.

    Joe

  • http://stanleybronstein.com MrPositioning.com (Stanley Bro

    I’ve often found that we are our own best PR agents.

    Unfortunately, many people have no clue how to do PR properly, so they must get help from outside.

    My one suggestion (based upon my own personal experiences) is to choose your PR person carefully. Only hire someone through a referral and after you’ve checked them out. Don’t make any long-term commitments in the beginning.

    Otherwise, you may wind up spending a lot of money and getting little in return.

    Mr. Positioning
    Stanley F. Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author & Professional Speaker

  • http://stanleybronstein.com MrPositioning.com (Stanley Bronstein)

    I’ve often found that we are our own best PR agents.

    Unfortunately, many people have no clue how to do PR properly, so they must get help from outside.

    My one suggestion (based upon my own personal experiences) is to choose your PR person carefully. Only hire someone through a referral and after you’ve checked them out. Don’t make any long-term commitments in the beginning.

    Otherwise, you may wind up spending a lot of money and getting little in return.

    Mr. Positioning
    Stanley F. Bronstein
    Attorney, CPA, Author & Professional Speaker

  • http://www.bathingape.com.au Rick

    Hey great article with some very useful information. The company blog info is espescially good. Will put to good use. Thanks a million.

  • http://www.bathingape.com.au Rick

    Hey great article with some very useful information. The company blog info is espescially good. Will put to good use. Thanks a million.

  • http://www.newsvetter.com Andrew Fowler

    I was in PR before I launched my own startup. I agree, PR can be a cost-effective way to generate interest in your activities. I want to reiterate the importance of sending “quality” stories to the media. Reporters/bloggers are inundated with press releases/pitches each day most which end up being ignored or deleted due to irrelevance or poor quality. If you’re not a recognized brand you’ll need an especially good story to cut through the noise.

    I’m also a proponent of DIY PR. In that spirit, I’ve created a simple news vetting process (see web site above) designed to help people build high quality stories for the media. Feel free to test it out.

  • http://www.newsvetter.com Andrew Fowler

    I was in PR before I launched my own startup. I agree, PR can be a cost-effective way to generate interest in your activities. I want to reiterate the importance of sending “quality” stories to the media. Reporters/bloggers are inundated with press releases/pitches each day most which end up being ignored or deleted due to irrelevance or poor quality. If you’re not a recognized brand you’ll need an especially good story to cut through the noise.

    I’m also a proponent of DIY PR. In that spirit, I’ve created a simple news vetting process (see web site above) designed to help people build high quality stories for the media. Feel free to test it out.

  • http://www.repossession-stoppers.com Sarah

    I have recently started the marketing for a new online property business – and one of the directors has started a blog hhttp://repossession-diaries.blogspot.com/ but as they want this just to feature case studies / feedback etc I was going to set up a 2nd blog as I am a firm believer that good PR can not be over done.

  • http://www.repossession-stoppers.com Sarah

    I have recently started the marketing for a new online property business – and one of the directors has started a blog hhttp://repossession-diaries.blogspot.com/ but as they want this just to feature case studies / feedback etc I was going to set up a 2nd blog as I am a firm believer that good PR can not be over done.

  • http://giftsuppliers.us Erik

    Blogs and professional PR should work in tandem, with different goals. Whether we like it or not there is a huge segment of the professional population that doesn’t pay attention to blogs. A PR strategy, in-house or outsourced, is a must for any startup. The more important question is who is contacting the leading bloggers in your space? It may make sense to keep those relationships for yourself and have the PR pro focus on traditional media.

  • http://giftsuppliers.us Erik

    Blogs and professional PR should work in tandem, with different goals. Whether we like it or not there is a huge segment of the professional population that doesn’t pay attention to blogs. A PR strategy, in-house or outsourced, is a must for any startup. The more important question is who is contacting the leading bloggers in your space? It may make sense to keep those relationships for yourself and have the PR pro focus on traditional media.

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  • http://hyemunar.blogspot.com Hye Munar

    Hi Ben.

    So do I. I don’t actually focus so much on PR. As ling as my blog is indexed in search engines, I am happy. Thanks for the post.

  • http://hyemunar.blogspot.com Hye Munar

    Hi Ben.

    So do I. I don’t actually focus so much on PR. As ling as my blog is indexed in search engines, I am happy. Thanks for the post.

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  • http://www.civicseo.com Search Engine Optimisation

    Press releases are something that has a lot of potential and it has got to do with the amazing reach it has, we have the entire users of the net as audience.

    But on the other hand, too much of PR can result in a negative influence for the brand that writes it. Press releases are something that when used properly can yield you a gold mine, in terms of recall and traffic.

  • http://www.intellionics.com Intellionics Seo Services

    Press releases if controlled the right way can make your start up or any organization of yours a success.

    It is a cost effective tool and also has an amazing reach with so many websites accepting PR’s. I think for start ups this is very useful as they are completely new and press releases need not be fact based it has to be flamboyant.

  • http://www.industrial-computer-systems.com Tony Bradley

    Just used a PR for our company and got 5 new customers form it, it was unbelievable. Thanks for a thread that actually delivers.

  • http://www.webhostingbreak.com web hosting nerd

    hey it was a great post.. i didnt knw the time passing..

    it was really great thanks a lot..

  • http://www.gadgetadvisor.com chris

    It is a cost effective tool and also has an amazing reach with so many websites accepting PR's.

  • increasewebsitetraffic

    Good Informative Post!

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at GoInstant (acq. by Salesforce).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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