Startup PR Isn’t Magical; It’s Preparation, Hard Work and Some Luck

I don’t do public relations, but I frequently get approached by startups looking to capture the attention of reporters and bloggers.

It is always surprising to see startups so unprepared for PR. There’s no marketing collateral, target lists, media pitches or planning. Instead, there is enthusiasm and a misguided belief that the media world will find them irresistibly interesting.

The harsh reality is hundreds, if not thousands, of startups want media coverage. In many cases, they have much better stories than your startup.

The most important thing for startups to know about PR is, for the most part, it’s not a game of chance. It’s not something that suddenly strikes you as such a good idea that it magically comes to life.

I met with a startup recently that wanted to create and launch a PR campaign in less than a week. They had a concept but nothing else; not even a Website that effectively told their story. They just figured their service was so cool, it would attract the spotlight.

Startup PR is not a spur of the moment activity. It is something that happens because a lot of work happens behind the scenes. Success happens due to strategic and tactical planning, as well as clear ideas on how to create a story that will resonate. Coverage from reporter and bloggers is the dividend for a lot of grunt work.

Some of the keys to startup success include:

1. Have reasonable expectations about PR: Too many startups believe PR is the silver bullet that will make everything awesome. Brand awareness will explode, while sales and leads will rumble in the door. The mantra is “If we do it, it will happen”. The problem is extreme success is rare. When a startup doesn’t attract lots of coverage, they are disappointed and, frankly, bitter. They thought PR was magic but it’s not.

Instead, it is important for startups to be realistic about what PR can do for them. They need clear goals and ways to measure what PR delivers. They to have enough insight to understand the competitive landscape so they can realistic objectives for PR.

2. Be well prepared. PR startups long before a press release goes live and media outreach happens. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that happens. It is tasks such as doing research to pragmatically build lists of reporters and bloggers to contact. It is not only knowing names and contact information but their interests and the stories they have written in the past few months. In other words, it is crucial to know your targets inside out.

3. PR is a long-term proposition. While there are startups that catch lightning in a bottle, most startup PR campaigns are part of a steady effort to establish a profile. It involves a lot of hard work but it is part of being realistic about PR. In some respects, PR is like hitting a series of singles rather than a home run. It is not glamorous but it is a willing to hammer away to slowly raise awareness.

4. PR is just part of your marketing arsenal. Going back to the idea that PR isn’t magic, it is important to recognize that driving brand awareness to build the sales funnel happens in different ways – be it white papers, case studies, blog posts, speaking at conferences, etc. Collectively, this activity start to build momentum and traction. It’s a team effort as opposed to having a star performer.

5. Develop stories that are interesting, unique, different or current. Every startups believes it warrants attention because their product is great. But that’s far from enough because interesting isn’t newsworthy. Interesting is “meh”. It’s neither here nor there.

Instead, startups need to take a customer-centric approach to PR. They need to think about what a reporter or blogger would cover and why. What would make a reporter or blogger open and read your pitch? Sometimes, it comes down to creative thinking and the ability to do something that goes against the grain. In other cases, news is happening so a pitch positions your startup as a part of a bigger story or you offer solid perspective.

Bottom line: For startups, PR is a seductive creature. It is so easy to think the world will beat a path to your door by simply hiring a PR agency to spread the word. The reality is PR is marketing that requires a blocking and tackling approach. It may not be an earth-shattering activity but it is one part of a startup’s storytelling efforts.

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