Matt co-founded TrendKite in 2012 and oversees all aspects of the organization’s product strategy and development.
According to Forbes, venture capital investors funded around 1500 startups last year, with Angel investors backing over 50,000 more. That’s a lot of exciting new potential. Founders and early team members have a lot to contend with when launching a business and a product, so it isn’t surprising the public relations is often relegated to an afterthought. It is one of those things that doesn’t seem very urgent, until one day, it does. Here are a few of the questions we are most often asked by the leaders of newly minted organizations.
Should I even invest in PR for my startup?
This is a reasonable question. Startups have limited budgets, and even more limited resource bandwidth, so it makes sense to question every investment of money or time. Engaging in PR for your startup, however, has a number of advantages and can achieve a remarkable ROI. Most people think of PR as a means to gain customers, which it is, but for startups, it can be even more powerful in other ways. Anyone who is thinking about engaging with your business will research it online. These people might be potential employees, investors, partners, vendors or other journalists. You want them to find more than just your corporate website. PR gives you the opportunity to create a buzz around what you are doing and share the excitement about your innovation. It is an effective way to make your business seem much larger than it is.
Should I use an agency?
This has been a tough question since PR became a thing. Agencies can be very helpful for startups because they often bring to the table existing relationships with media that can take years to cultivate from scratch. They can also provide guidance to founders who do not have a lot of experience with public relations. But, there are two big caveats. First, you need to choose an agency that will devote experienced resources to your start up. If you are the smallest fish in a big pond, you’ll likely end up being assigned junior staff members who are working with multiple clients. Be sure to have a clear statement of work about who will be handling your account and how much time will be spent on it. Next, you must be prepared for someone on your team to work very closely with the agency. You can’t just hand it off and forget it. The agency will rely on you for stories, messaging, and access to supporting materials. Managing a PR agency relationship is an active, not a passive responsibility.
What if I do it in house?
Having a member of your team dedicated to PR is also a good option. If you can’t afford to devote someone to it full time, it can be combined with other related functions, such as marketing, or you might consider an intern. If you do go this route, which can pay off in the long run, you should consider investing in PR software that can help your team quickly identify the right media contacts in both your specific vertical focus and the technology industry in general. The technology PR landscape is extremely complex and broad and success is predicated on getting the right pitches to the right contacts at the right time. In house resources need automation to identify appropriate contacts, track industry news, monitor competitors, protect your reputation and evaluate the impact of PR efforts.
What are the first steps?
Regardless of whether you use an agency or an in house resource, you will need to be prepared with certain assets that will make your pitches stronger. These include company and product descriptions, as well as related images, such as photos or screen shots. You also want to include any relevant data that supports your messages. If you have customers, using quotes from them or making them available for media interviews will improve your odds of capturing a writer’s attention. Also, be sure that you are able to describe why your product is unique and how it fits into the competitive landscape.
How can our start up stand out?
This is the $64,000 question. With so many new businesses forming every year, it can be difficult to get any media attention at all. In order to be successful, your brand needs to have its own personality. Founders and CEOs should be prepared to become the face of the company and tell the story of why you exist, early and often. Target your efforts to the reporters and audiences who are most likely to be receptive and highlight what makes you special. You need to be prepared to offer a different point of view on what is happening in your industry or with your potential customers and make yourself part of the conversation by closely following thought leaders in the space.
PR is not an event. It is a process that takes consistent attention over the long run. Engaging in it early in the life of your start-up is a wise investment as the relationships you develop and the media you earn will help you along the growth curve. As best-selling author, Seth Godin said, “People don’t buy products. They buy relations, stories and magic.”