As we start working with our portfolio companies and talk to start-ups across Europe we get lots of questions about PR.
As we start working with our portfolio companies and talk to start-ups across Europe we get lots of questions about PR. Most company founders either haven’t had much experience of PR or their experience was at a larger company with well established budgets and agencies – very different to their current situation!
Getting started with PR on a tight budget either handled in-house or through the help of a consultant or agency needs to be managed effectively and timed right.
Are you ready?
Firstly, as a start-up, you need to decide when your company and your product is ready to take out to the media – through blogs, press releases, demos, or interviews, etc. You can announce the formation of a new company but before the product is fully formed the story is usually limited. And beyond the product being ready are the sales and customer support processes in place to deal with the interest you’ll hopefully generate. This can be especially important if you have a limited budget to spend with an agency, say for six months, in which case you need to make sure it’s the right six months. Lastly, before you start a PR program, you must make sure your messaging – your story – is polished and consistent across your website, written materials and what your team are saying.
As I referred to in a previous post on branding, you need to develop your core messaging early on and deliver it in a credible, compelling, clear and consistent way.
But even if you’re not ready to start a formal PR program, you should begin informal PR over social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to start building some buzz and a network of people and journalists that will be interested when you have some news and/or a product for them.
Who do you actually need to reach?
One of the easiest mistakes for a boot-strapped start-up is to approach PR blindly thinking they need to reach the whole world. It’s worth taking the time, either in-house or with a PR expert to really think about who your potential customers and influencers are, what they read or attend and the most direct route to reach them. For example, you might determine that your initial customer targets are in the London area, in HR manager job roles, and mostly in service or high tech companies. So you’d be able to identify HR trade publications, blogs and hopefully some London area events for HR professionals to target. And even if you determine that anyone could buy your product or service, unless you’ve got a big budget, it will be smart to narrow down the audience target to start with. I call this the ‘what products to what markets’ piece of work.
Determining who your influencers are will be a work in progress. These are typically the people that write reviews and have an influence across social networks. They may also be investors, leaders or well-regarded members of industry bodies within your market.
What’s the quickest/best/least expensive way to reach these groups?
Ten years ago you primarily needed the media to talk about your business for you to reach prospective customers. This model still works, but now talking to your customers and prospects directly over social media is not only accessible but expected. Social media should be a big part of your program and typically something the founders are expected to be involved in directly. Most of your target journalists are also active on Twitter and getting to know them and what they write about will often lead to relationships and coverage down the line.
Your initial PR program should be a mix of traditional direct outreach to target journalists and a robust social media program that reaches both journalists and prospects.
Keep in mind that a PR program is often less costly than advertising or marketing campaigns. And as media coverage is viewed by prospects as independent opinion on your product or business it holds more value and is generally more persuasive.
Next week, I’ll cover when and how to hire a PR agency.
If you have specific questions or need advice about PR for your startup, let me know in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions.