It’s easy to write about PR in an abstract and lofty sense. Saying “it’s all about relationships”, for example.
So for our upcoming blogs with Notion Capital, Augur wanted to interview the marketers behind its successful portfolio companies and reveal their real experience on the front lines of the startup PR battlefield.
Below is the first in this series.
TrustEv steamed out of the gates with its PR story, launching at TechCrunch Disrupt and winning European Startup of the year at SXSW not long after. Now, after a phase of quiet to focus on the product and business, they are just about to begin another push to grow the reputation on the back of several major customer wins.
We sat down with Rurik Bradbury, TrustEv’s CMO, to see what PR challenges the three year old company has faced and what advice he has for other B2B startups and scaleups in the same boat.
How did you end up where you are today?
PR was my first job. I just finished University and didn’t really know what I wanted to do after studying languages. Ended up at a boutique PR agency called Lighthouse PR.
After several years I moved to New York and eventually took a job doing marketing at a SaaS company called Intermedia. We grew that to be one of the biggest SaaS companies for business services and it was later sold.
As a spinoff, I made a startup that’s a bit like Slack is today. We didn’t succeed quite as well but after that I met with Pat (CEO/Founder) at TrustEv and here I am.
What do you think are the most important things for PR in Series A startups?
The thing most people forget is: nobody gives a shit about you. You can try and tell your story like someone cares but it comes out like a crazy person sitting next to you on a subway just talking at you.
How do you get around that?
You have to say something that is printable. It’s amazing how much mail merged sales material goes out on a media database, just blasting 100 journalists with something they could never print.
Almost always, that’s not a story directly about your company. You have to find something adjacent — and you find that by looking at what’s already being printed.
If you can’t reverse engineer the text into an article, it’s pointless.
What do you think are particular PR challenges for startups & scaleups?
There’s something about the word B2B that makes reporters close their eyes and drift off to sleep. But they are always looking for angles that affect people so you have to make it more human to relate it to larger groups of people.
How do people feel about the problem you are solving?
We’re at the point where we’re interviewing customers, getting photos taken, having them tell a story about what they were struggling with. Try to think of the human story from a customer’s point of view.
Interesting because case studies like that are an old cornerstone of PR — but the human element can be the presentation of it.
Case study to me is a buzz kill word. It’s clinical, technical, like a doctor. Story, narrative and human is much more interesting. As a startup you have to tap into peoples’ human problems and their company’s interests.
Can you share any lessons you’ve learned along your PR journey?
In TrustEv’s audience, there are several different constituencies within a company who have different needs. One of our early messages was to say we would put the fraud team out of a job and replace the humans reviewing transactions with software. That was a big problem.
We revamped it as helping them and working alongside them. De-stress their time. We had to reconfigure that story, which isn’t directly PR but made a big difference.
Where would you describe the boundaries of what is and isn’t PR now?
It’s shifting quite a lot. This trend of ‘churnalism’ means you can closely align your interests with those of a reporter. If you hand a journalist something they can turn into “#CONTENT” in ten minutes, they will be very happy with that.
It’s not New York Times level journalism but it’ll help get the story out there. And these place are looking for human stories, which will become highly shared.
For example, one of our researchers spent some time going through dark web and compiled a list of photos of things you can buy there. A pound of cocaine, all sorts of dodgy pills, a lifetime Spotify account, a fake hospital ID — which was quite disturbing.
So we compiled a list and photos, turned it into a blog post and passed it along to a friendly journalist, who turned it into a slideshow, credited and linked TrustEv. It was news story of the month and great exposure.
How do you measure the success of that? Traffic? The halo effect?
It’s really hard to measure. You can look at data but most of it is very misleading. This is about brand-building and awareness. It also has ramifications — it can get passed around a company then they contact you at a later time.
What’s the next big challenge of where you are right now?
Trying to get people to tell the exact story we want them to tell. We have some great customers coming up right now, including some exciting and cool companies. And we’d love to get the press to tell those stories but again, a case study is “meh”.
Are there any products/ systems your team swears by?
I tweet a lot. Because of that I know basically every tech journalist and have personal relationships — which is very different from most startup people.
Talking to people, not spamming them, and just having conversations is the best approach. Follow people who are interested in your space and get to know them in a human way.
We use Hubspot for marketing in general, which makes it easy to publish to multiple social networks at once.
How would you summarise your advice for our readers?
- People don’t care about you
- Give them something that’s printable
- Tell human stories
Post produced in partnership with Max Tatton-Brown at Augur.