Spreading the word about your startup: how best to go about it

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with the founder of a startup who told me that he had decided to hire a PR agency to help raise awareness in the media and among decision makers about the company.

Needless to say, there are good, bad, and acceptable PR agencies. But when I asked him what exactly it was that the company expected the agency to do, the reply was something along the lines of “press releases addressed to the right people”, which left me wondering just what kind of press release I would like to receive. I also remembered an article I read a few days ago in Fast Company entitled “Why top startups are getting radically personal”, which mentioned a few cases of companies whose founders were directly responsible for communication, using their own names, and to what degree this might produce the right results.

This is precisely what I recommend entrepreneurs to do: start by providing the recipient of your announcement with a full outline of what is going on in the company at the moment, and using a highly visible tool such as a corporate blog. To begin with, this will be a tool for you, a kind of “my dear diary” of your project (an aspect that at a later date you will come to prize), but that over time will develop a life of its own, a community that will, to begin with, be relatively small, and that over time will be receptive to your ideas, to their construction and definition.

When you make announcements, do so using this tool, and simply send emails to those you want to read them. If the types of relationship you need to be able to do this are not yet in place, facilitate them. This takes time, but in this way, they will be yours, and not of some third party. How to do this? It’s a simple as following those people you think might be interested in your idea, and when the moment arrives, write them a personal email. I really must emphasize the personal aspect of this: a press release beginning “To whom it may concern” is useless, and typical of last century’s communication strategies. If your PR agency suggests that you start sending out press releases, let them go. It’s not what you’re looking for. You need personal communication, you need to know that the person receiving your messages sees that you have a good reason for them reading them, because you follow them and you know that what you have to tell them is of interest to them.

Sending a mass mail to names and addresses taken from a data base of journalists or influencers is not the way to achieve this.

Startups are increasingly turning to personal communication because personal communication is how we, well, communicate these days. I have seen very few PR agencies that work in this way, by putting entrepreneurs directly in touch with those people that really can help them to spread the news about your project and that should know about it. Sadly, in my experience, the majority still work on the basis of mass mailing via databases.

If you are an entrepreneur and what to get your ideas out there, don’t do this. It will make you look old fashioned and is a waste of time and energy. Contact those journalists and influencers on the basis of what they have written or said, let them know who you are, offer them a place to read about your project, convert it into something that can easily be indexed, and be prepared to answer questions. Convert spreading the word about your company into something personal. It’s a decision that you won’t regret.

(En español, aquí)

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