All startup founders recognize that creating awareness and “buzz” around their new business is paramount. Strong visibility helps support sales growth, attract additional investors, and makes it easier to hire top talent. But too often, founders of early stage firms are overzealous in building big PR campaigns early on. Jumping in too early with a full blown PR strategy can backfire when a company ends up not living up to the hype. To avoid this, we broke down the 5 most important tips to keep in mind as you are growing and expanding that will help you get visibility for your brand without overselling.
Focus on relationship-building
Building relationships with influencers and media is the most important tactic for any public relations professional. But here’s a secret - you don’t need to be a PR professional to do it yourself. It can be just as impactful for a CEO or co-founder to email or message a reporter directly. You will want to research your industry, discover which reporters are covering your competitors, and then reach out directly via email or Twitter. It’s just a friendly hello, or perhaps an invitation to lunch. This step is the most important part of media relations. It’s the ‘first date’ that establishes the nature of the relationship over the long-term.
Hire a PR professional only when you are ready
Many companies have high expectations and aim for prominent media coverage before they are ready. A good rule of thumb is for a company to wait until a product is widely available in the marketplace before doing any serious media outreach. Of course, smaller firms might get coverage for early funding announcements, but there’s no need to bring out the big guns until there is a clear call to action for the reader to try the product. Part-time PR freelancers or PR agency support can be a good choice at this early stage. Alternatively, hiring an in-house ‘jack-of-all-trades’ who can help with social media, public relations, content and writing might also be a wise approach. Companies who spend money on public relations only to determine it was a waste of budget are often the ones who started PR outreach way too soon!
Position yourself as an industry expert
Any founder in any industry can aim to position themselves as an expert in their field. For example, if your start-up company is a platform for hiring engineers, then the founder can position herself or himself as an expert on hiring technical talent. This positioning is accomplished through contributed articles in industry outlets, thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn, and proactive outreach to reporters who might be writing trend pieces related to a national jobs report or local hiring data. Let reporters know that you are available as an expert, and you’ll start to receive requests for your opinion on trending topics.
Use ‘exclusive’ as a tactic
When you are ready to make your big news announcement, it’s important to provide a reporter with an ‘exclusive.’ This means that you negotiate with one reporter at one outlet to get the scoop on your news, rather than sending out a news release to dozens of reporters. Many reporters are covering large companies that are publicly-traded, so they need added incentive to write about your company. If a reporter knows that he or she won’t see the same news story all over the web, the reporter is more likely to say yes.
Think holistically about digital and real-world events
News stories don’t happen in a vacuum! A news story can be written based on a panel at an industry event in the real world, or as a fun recap of a social media exchange in the digital world. It’s important to think about all of these various channels holistically, as this sort of convergence applies to any sector. Check out this Mashable story for a quick summary of how all of these levers can work together to get you the visibility that you need. Once your company has made the headlines with a trending news topic, it’s important to maximize the visibility in the moment by acting quickly to share the news and engage your audience on various channels.
Last but not least, it’s vital that your business spends time to develop and tell the best story to support the brand. Developing the story involves finding compelling examples that go beyond technical details to show the impact of this new product or technology on people’s lives. A news story is a story first and foremost, with characters, excitement, impact and emotion. That’s how you make headlines!
Diana is a marketing and communications professional. She currently leads communications at Zazzle with a focus on building integrated marketing campaigns that get results. She’s passionate about the convergence of digital marketing – PR, SEO, social media, advertising – and the impact on retail brands. In her role at Zazzle, she drives media outreach, influencer engagement, as well as events, community-building, and PR. Prior to Zazzle, Diana led communications at Google with a focus on the advertising business – she led a global PR team and managed many crises from litigation to leaks. Diana holds an A.B. from Harvard University, and M.B.A. from U.C. Berkeley's Haas School of Business.