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PR 101: For Startups On a Shoestring Budget

By Jane Mazur

Congratulations! You did it! You attracted those key investors and secured funding for your million dollar idea. You’ve already designed, developed, and manufactured a product and you have won more than a few hundred customers that can’t live without your new widget. Now you are ready to scale. Ready to raise your company’s profile and get the visibility and recognition that you deserve.

But how will you make the leap? How will you get that kind of traction without sinking the ship financially?

Media and marketing campaigns outsourced to agencies can be surprisingly expensive and can eat up a startup’s lean budget in no time. The cost of advertising, trade shows, sales campaigns and channel development activities can go into thousands of dollars on a monthly basis. So what other strategies can a bootstrapped startup use to gain visibility on a shoestring budget?

You got it! Good old fashioned Public Relations.

There are key PR tactics and strategies that are both inexpensive and simple to implement yet highly effective at establishing credibility, creating awareness and driving sales of products. So how can you get started ?

This monthly PR blog is the first in a series of articles that will offer startups practical advice on how to build and manage your own“PR toolbox”. In the coming months, I will cover the critical elements of an effective public relations program that will kick start your “in-house” marketing machine and prepare your startup for the spotlight!

PR 101

So let’s begin. What is PR?

By definition, public relations is the practice of creating, promoting, or maintaining goodwill and a favourable image among the public towards an institution or public body. More simply put, it is a craft of influence. But who do you have to influence and how will you win their approval and endorsement?

A few things to consider.

First Things First

To build a solid foundation for your communications program you must have a good understanding of the following three areas of Marketing/PR: Target Audience, Core Messaging, Media Relations.

I. Target Audience

Identifying specific groups of consumers or users that may be interested in your product or service will determine who you need to influence. Not everyone will be interested in what you have to offer so be realistic about who the likely consumers are. Once identified, you can tailor specific messages for that audience that will address their concerns and provide them with solutions via your company’s latest offering. This will also help you establish a target media list and increase your odds of getting press coverage in publications that count. It will save you valuable time and make your PR effort count.

II. Core Messages

The success of your startup will depend on your ability to clearly express what makes you different from your competitors. Your core message is an uncomplicated way of telling your target audience why you are different. It should explain the unique benefit of your solution and how it will positively impact their life, in simple terms.

Getting these messages right is of critical importance. It may be a gruelling and time consuming exercise but it is worth the effort. Core messages will be the backbone of all marketing content created for your business. Once agreed, you can tell a consistent and compelling story via any communications channel, be it a presentation, a press release, a media interview or a pubic keynote address.

So how do you start writing these core messages?

Start by answering the following questions: “What do I want my audience to remember? What action do I want them to take once they have heard the message? Once you have figured that out, begin writing. Be:

* Clear: avoid technical terms that no one can understand * Concise: one sentence would be ideal

* Specific: address a particular concern and audience

Core messages should be few (no more than two to three) and generally no more than a sentence or two.

Example: “SOSventures accelerates startups with mentoring and finance.”

This exercise will help you stay focused on what is really important to your target audience. Make it easier for you to:

Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.”

A piece of cake!

III. Build Relationships

Now that you have your target audience and core messages nailed, you’re ready to roll. Fire up the press release machine and let’s start pitching those journalists that will absolutely want to hear about your “game changing” product!

Not so fast!

Unlike advertising, companies do not pay directly for exposure that they achieve through PR. The articles, analyst reports and speaking opportunities garnered through PR are won by building relationships with targeted media influencers. Only through face-to face meetings and ongoing two-way communications, can these influencers be convinced that your company and its products and services are credible and important enough to have a positive impact on their audience.

Tips for building and conscientiously maintaining relationships with key industry influencers:


* Try meet in person at least once.
* Invest in just a few quality relationships.
* Establish yourself as an expert and provide valuable insights/information on industry trends. * Know the journalist’s “beat” (what they cover and write about).

* Make sure your interests align.

* Follow them on Twitter. Comment on their articles.


* Cold call * Be pushy

* Waste time by pitching stories that they have no interest in.

In sum, “nurture, nurture, nurture” and “give before you get”.

Next month: PR 101: Tools of the Trade

Originally published at on February 11, 2014.




Posts from HAX (hardware), IndieBio (life sciences), Chinaccelerator/MOX (cross-border internet), and dlab (blockchain).

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Kayla Liederbach

Kayla Liederbach

Storyteller at SOSV, WORT FM, and Rootfire. Music and tech.

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