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How startups can get media attention without hiring a PR agency

Patrick Henry
posted on 7th November 2016
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Before launching any project to get media attention, it is critically important to craft a public relations strategy, regardless of whether  you plan to hire a PR agency or do PR in-house. A decision to do PR in-house needs to be based on your budget, goals, and the skill sets available. In the startup world, it is sometimes difficult to justify the expense of using an outside PR agency. But how do you get media attention as a startup without the connections available through a PR agency?

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Have a public relations strategy

It is very important that you have a PR strategy, and that it is in alignment with your company strategy. A PR strategy is more than just a campaign for a particular product launch or event. It is a comprehensive plan that outlines what you want to accomplish and the key tactics for accomplishing your goals. I am an advocate of annual planning at this level. The PR plan should be part of the marketing plan and budget and part of the company’s annual operating plan.

It is important to have a PR calendar based on key events and milestones that show progress and momentum. You should also announce key events and forums. It is important to have consistency in your brand message. In order to do that, you need to have a brand message. It is also important to do industry and competitive surveillance and know what’s happening, just in case you need to react to other companies’ PR campaigns and announcements. I use Google Alerts and Twitter Lists as a couple of key tools to do this.

I found an article called ‘Developing a PR Plan’ in Entrepreneur which had some good tips.  Another good resource is ‘How to Create a PR Strategy’.

Hire an in-house PR specialist

Some startups don’t think they can afford this resource. Many startups don’t even think they should spend money on product marketing. I think this is a big mistake. I understand if you are at the stage of two founders and their dog in a garage, but don’t underestimate the importance of at least limited product marketing and PR. I’ve heard technical founders say, “I can do it myself.”  My answer is, “I’m sure you can, but how efficient can you be, and what is the opportunity cost for you doing marketing and PR instead of winning new customers, running the company, and raising capital?” It is at least something to think about.

Educate yourself about how public relations works

Keep in mind, even in the trade press, every reporter likes to think of him/herself as Woodward and Bernstein, looking to crack open the next Watergate scandal. That is why they went into journalism. They also want people to read their content.  Content is more interesting if there is some form of controversy.  No matter how friendly a journalist is with you, their job is to fact-check, find holes in your story, and find contrarian points of view. This is what creates controversy. As such, be careful about how and when you approach the press. Make sure your facts are correct. Stay within your area of expertise. And, finally, make sure you are talking to them about something that is newsworthy.

A good resource here is ‘Five Ways to Think Like a News Reporter’.

Conduct media outreach and research

If you do make a decision to hire a PR specialist, make sure that he or she has a network of relationships with key trade and business press where you plan to focus your PR efforts. Otherwise, use your own professional network to get to know key press contacts.  Connect with key people that cover your industry, including the press, and build relationships. Before you even pitch a story, see if you can get some time with key reporters just to brief them about your company and what you are doing. Lay a foundation and context so that when you do have news to report, you can do it in context. As you build your network of journalists, develop targeted mailing lists and send email updates. Keep your updates brief and relevant.

Issue press releases on the newswire

It is important to subscribe to a newswire service that has reach to your target PR audience and other key constituencies like customers and analysts. Make sure you select one of the best press release wire services and PR platforms, keeping in mind that some are more cost-effective than others. Issuing press releases on a newswire is necessary, but not sufficient. There is an old question that goes, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?”  Issuing a press release is pretty much the same thing.

After release on a newswire, you should follow up with your key targets to let them know about it and why it is relevant to your story. In some special cases, for a particularly important announcement, you may want to brief the press in advance and issue an embargo. This doesn’t always work, so be careful. It is sometimes good to brief just one reporter and give them an exclusive. A PR specialist or good agency can help with these decisions.

Make sure that all of your press releases are in alignment with your PR strategy, and build upon your story and brand message. Some key types of release are new product announcements, design-wins, customer endorsement, awards, recognitions, philanthropic activity, and achievement of key milestones. Make sure that your PR calendar outlines an active press release schedule to keep visible in the press. Having a release once or twice a month should be sufficient.  Prior to an upcoming trade show, event or symposium, it is important that you announce your presence and what you will be doing and showing.

Develop a quarterly newsletter

One way to ensure that you have periodic updates to key constituencies including industry analysts and the press is to give industry and company updates with consistent frequency.  Even if you don’t have a formal quarterly newsletter, it is important to give updates on this type of frequency. Keep in mind that you should give updates to respected industry analysts. They will be one of the sources that journalists will use to fact-check stories about your company. The better you brief them, the better equipped they will be to give supportive data. When giving these briefings, demonstrate your expertise by using a combination of supporting curated information and your own original content.  Always give credit to sources of third-party data. It is also important to solicit feedback. Even if you use a newsletter format to disseminate data, you should visit key analysts and press contacts face-to-face.

Be active on social media

A good source for finding which social media channels are most appropriate for your business is Social Media for Business: 2016 Marketer’s Guide. It is important to find where your audience hangs out. Target key media outlets, journalists, and industry analysts. Pick two social media channels that best represent your target audience, and focus on them. Keep consistent with your brand message on your posts. There are lots of good tools to help manage your social media channels, and many can be found in my article ‘Startup Resources & Tools’.  Make sure any posts on your website are easy to like, follow, and share on social media.

Execute on a content marketing plan

The Content Marketing Institute states that “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Good content marketing creates information that your audience wants to talk about. Some types of content marketing are webinars, blog posts, videos, and podcasts. Pick one or two types of content marketing that are the most suitable for your audience. Don’t just talk about your products; use your content marketing to demonstrate your expertise about your technology niche and your target vertical market. Be consistent in the frequency of posting. In other words, if you commit to writing a weekly blog post, then you need to write a weekly blog post. If you do launch a blog on your website, launch it with a critical mass of new content.  I’d say five to 10 blog stories at launch. It is important to share your content on your social media channels to drive traffic to your site. I read a good article called ‘What is Content Marketing?’ in Forbes, worth a read.

Write contributed articles

Contributed articles are a way for you to leverage established media outlets that are read by your audience. You need to do outreach to target publications to see if they are open to you writing editorial content for them. Some publications have ‘pay for play’ programmes that can be worthwhile, but make sure you can get the value for the coverage. In addition to print magazines and newspapers, the online world is rich with opportunities for contributed articles. Find those that are read by your target audience and that allow you to demonstrate your areas of expertise.  Your content does not have to be company or product-specific. In some cases, it is better to discuss broader topics to demonstrate your technical or industry expertise. Concentrate on writing to your audience, and build relationships that support your message.

Get customer testimonials, write case studies and white papers

Anything you can do that supports your message, and other people are saying it, is a good thing. What others (especially customers) say about your firm and your products can be extremely powerful. If you can get testimonials from customers, that is great. If you can get case studies, they can be even more powerful. White papers are also a good way to get your message out. If you can co-author a white paper with a customer, then that is even better support for your areas of expertise.

Develop a killer website

It is shocking to me how many companies still have a terrible presence on the internet. A killer website is essential to any marketing and PR activity for your company. It should be easy to navigate and contain content that is valuable for your target audience, as well as information about your company, team and products. It should easily support inbound inquiries including the press.  It should go without saying, but your website needs to be search engine optimised (SEO).  Inc magazine has an article worth reading — ‘Build a Killer Website:  19 Dos and Don’ts’.

Summary

A PR strategy is all about gaining visibility for your company and products. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to deliver your marketing message in a compelling way, if it is done right.  However, it is riddled with pitfalls and traps for the uninitiated and misinformed. If you make a decision to pursue a PR strategy without an agency, I strongly encourage you to bring an in-house PR specialist on board. If you don’t have the budget to do that, then be sure to at least develop mentors and advisors that can help you navigate the PR process. It will save you time, money, and potential embarrassment.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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