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
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.
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.