How to get started with PR

How to get started with PR

Create Effective Public Relations For Startups

One of the most important things to remember about public relations is that for a startup, it isn’t the most important thing.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but many people in the startup world will be the first to tell you that focusing on your product or service and making sure that it is as amazing as it could possibly be, is what really matters.  The best marketing campaign in the world cannot save you from the customer backlash that will inevitably occur if you don’t deliver the right product.

You may be motivated on some level by the press and media.  Similarly, many people get into the startup world because they wish to be wealthy.  However, one theme you will see recurring in Silicon Valley is that the ones that truly succeed are working hard to solve real problems, rather than become “tech celebrities”, and brag about their money or fame.

In the beginning stage of your startup, the best thing might be to have founder-led PR.  This allows the founder to at least establish a relationship with the media, and for the public to get a chance to see the founder, who will presumably be taking a more public role the more that the startup excels.

The founder should already be able to “pitch” investors, and so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to translate these skills in an interview, for example.  Of course, tech CEOs often are not the most sociable people – and that’s fine.  No one needs for a founder to be a rock star, as much as be a knowledgeable resource when it comes to their field.  In fact, this may prove to be an edge for your startup.  Often times, media is searching for experts in a certain field.  The founder may not be needed this month, but if your startup focuses on, let’s say, cyber-security, there are reporters who may need to contact your startup founder the next time there is a high-profile hack, which could be very soon.  This allows the startup founder to establish a genuine relationship with the media based on his expertise, rather than anything else. 

 A story always trumps a relationship.  There will be media reporters that want to meet with you, whether it’s to grab drinks or lunch, if you are a startup founder.  However, that doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed a story in any sense.  News is ever-changing, and a more important story can break or take the stage immediately. 

 Startup founders should also take note to constantly be aware of the news, because this helps them be the expert of their field, which could lead to a great relationship with media.  However, as stated before – this should not be the focus of any founder.  The goal of any startup is to make their product or service as effective as possible, and more often than not, this will lead to media reaching out to the startup, and not the other way around.

At some point in your startup’s development, the idea of hiring a PR firm will emerge.  This is part of the natural evolution of a startup, and definitely can prove to be extremely beneficial.

There are many things to consider when you do take that crucial step to hire a PR firm: understand your startup and its identity.  Who is your typical customer?  Are you marketing yourself as an every man startup?  The startup that is attempting to be the go-to dating app for millionaires isn’t trying to market to blue-collar workers in the Midwest, so their entire message will have to be tailored a certain way, in order to appeal to the demographic that they need.  Of course, it’s not only about the customer.  What is your origin story?  Why exactly were you compelled to start this business?  Was it because of a personal story that you have, where you saw a gap in the market?  Why are YOU the person that is going to fill this gap?  What makes you uniquely qualified to be the one to bring this product to market? 

If you are a startup that is B2B, or SaaS, does your technical jargon override any actual effective public relations campaign that you are planning?  What good is hiring a PR firm when the average consumer can barely understand what exactly it is that your company does?  These are the kind of pressing questions that every startup should be able to ask, before they even CONSIDER hiring a public relations firm to guide their way into the public eye. 

It’s also important, no matter what stage you are in of your public relations stage – to really understand the media that you are engaging with.  If you are reaching out to a podcaster that discusses startups but wanders into more light-hearted topics, it may not be useful to send your most rigid or technical-thinking spokesperson to the podcast, only to feel out of place.  If you are engaging with a magazine that only wants to speak about the creativity of your startup rather than the financial aspects, it may not be the right move to send the guy at your startup that is responsible for all of the fundraising.  It’s small moves like this that could really save your startup some bad publicity, as the outlet will want to feel like there is a natural flow to the conversation.  This may sound like a minor detail, but it could lead to future interviews, which of course could lead to more people reading, which could lead to more consumers. 

Using PR More Effectively and Creatively

The bottom line is that startups should look into using PR more effectively and creatively than ever before.  It doesn’t take a remarkable person to issue a boilerplate press release about their app being in an Itunes store.  If you are the founder of a startup that wants to disrupt the banking world somehow, you may want to reach out after you see an interview with a prominent banker who made a point that you disagree with in a popular magazine, and refute his argument.  This isn’t to simply appear petulant, but be an opportunity to eloquently debate your point on a medium that will potentially hear you out, in order to change the public perception of banking, for example.  Of course, the natural positive byproduct of this conversation would be that you also get to advertise your startup as a solution.  Of course, it cannot be reiterated enough – the product comes first.  There is no doubt, however, that public relations can be essential to startups worldwide, and can do wonders for them.

Key Takeaways:

  • Public relations is never the first step, creating the best product that you possibly can is always the first goal. 
  • Send the right person for the right interview.  Know the platform that you are engaging with, as it provides a foundation for (hopefully) a professional relationship.
  • Stay on top of the news.  No one wants to speak with a founder who can’t even keep up with the most important world news regarding his field.
  • Don’t force media relationships.  Focus on being knowledgeable and professional, and let your natural style shine when you are in the public eye.  It’s more important for you to be intelligent and up-to-date founder than for you to have a rock-star charisma.