So, you’ve kickstarter’ed your start-up. You’re ready to launch your new website, app, service or innovation and the time has come for you to focus on your marketing efforts.
One of the biggest challenges facing start-ups is how much or how little to invest in PR and marketing. There are two schools of thought on this:
- Blast the masses with a campaign launch or develop an integrated PR and media strategy so that you create some name recognition, peak curiosity and build your audience and customer-base.
- Build organically through word-of-mouth, and let the people, your users or customers, become your key driver.
There are many white papers out there that will advocate for each of the two approaches noted above, because depending on your audience, the influencers associated with your product (Ashton Kutcher anyone?), and truly, timing, both can work. So how do you decide?
Years ago, I was at an entrepreneur conference and Dragon’s Den Alum Robert Hergevic was asked how much a start-up should invest in marketing and PR. His response: Zero. Everyone was taken aback by his answer. In fact, if you watch him on Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank, he’s true to his position: if you want him to invest in your business, don’t tell him you want the money for marketing; he’s not the dragon for you. Conversely, some of the first offers fellow Dragons make to start-ups are peppered with promises of access to marketing whizzes, collaborative brand campaigns, influencer connections and ultimately media exposure. By now, most people know that their journey onto the show is not so much about getting the deal as it is about getting eyeballs on their brand; a greater PR and marketing tool for some than going for another round of venture funding. But you can’t stop there.
So what’s a start-up to do?
Start by assessing your needs, your resources and determining through the checklist below if the time has come for you to invest in PR, and if YOU are ready to start. Despite what most people think, PR is not a matter of writing press releases, distributing them to media and hoping something gets picked up. These days it’s a comprehensive, integrated strategy that expands across several platforms, executed over a defined timeline that builds momentum from one ‘hit’ to the next.
Knowing what you already have in place, what needs to be prepared, what you can do yourself and what you’d rather or can not do, will help you determine if the time has come to invest in PR.
- Your Unique Value Proposition: Do YOU know who you are? – Seems like a redundant question but most brands are so busy building their product and all its use cases that when it comes to the messaging and communications pieces they have a hard time summarizing or articulating them.
With so much to say, where do you begin? With your Unique Value Proposition. You will save a lot of time if you can hone in on this one question: What unique value do you bring? What do you offer that others don’t? Focus on your ‘solve’ or key differentiators. A good PR person can help you define your value proposition, build your narrative and tell your story.
- Your Target Audience: Do you know where your audience lives? Depending on where your core audience ‘lives’ – online, in front of a TV, in the trades, at conferences, on social media, YouTube, etc – you may need:
- a PR person to help you create a strategy to unleash a campaign to your specific audience across the relevant channels, in the language that they ‘speak’.
- A community manager. Simply creating a post and reposting identical messages across all boards is not be effective. You need to engage with, communicate and mingle with, that audience, not plaster them with promos. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean they’re listening, or will relate to you. People promote people/brands they like and relate to.
- A savvy integrated PR and marketing team that can be a combination of the above and include expertise with events, videos, content/blogs, marketing collateral, building partnerships and collaborations, etc.
And please do not discount traditional media, it still holds the highest credibility for most audiences and legitimizes you and your brand as an expert or emerging leader in your space, and provides additional media content for our website, youtube channel, social media, etc.
Most PR pros know how to target these audiences for your maximum benefit and are there to ensure your success – they want to impress you, not fleece you. We’re only as successful as our clients.
- Your Network: Do you have a crew of trusted Influencers, Advocates and Ambassadors? Look around and determine who can help you promote your brand, provided the proper content and tools to share.
- Influencers: Those people who have at least 10K of legitimate followers who engage with their posts (unlike people who have 500k followers yet get no likes, comments or retweets), and hold sway with an audience in person or online.
- Advocates: Organizations or strategic partners who have credibility in your field or area who you can collaborate with to build legitimacy with your audience and expand that audience within their network.
- Ambassadors: Those friends, businesses and bloggers who can help spread the word. They may not have a huge audience but have built a smaller but dedicated community in their groups or network.
Influencer Marketing is fast becoming a complimentary branch of most PR pro’s plans. If you have enough of these people who can get the word out to the masses then you can focus your efforts on providing the messaging and follow-up rather than doing the outreach.
- Your TEAM: How big is your team? The reality is there is a reason that corporations and businesses have people dedicated to these activities; they take time to plan and execute and require a certain expertise or skill set to do it right. IF you have those skills and can focus your time on the marketing and PR then by all means do it, but if you’re a party of 1 or even 3 you may need to reassess your task list and decide what makes the most practical business sense. If your budget is small, consider working with an established freelancer, boutique firm or agency for an initial launch campaign (3-6 months) to get things started.
- Your Time: How much time do you have? Back to the basics – how much is YOUR time worth? Can you do the same job as a PR or Marketing pro in the same time they can? The reality is, PR efforts take time. Even writing this article took me hours to put together, and this is my area of expertise. Where is your time better spent? I’m not here to make an argument for either, just ask that you really assess your own value and the ROI for your time.
Another consideration is your time working with a PR pro. It will require an initial investment of your time, collaboration and the expectation of timely communications. They will need prompt feedback, approvals, additional materials and upon starting a campaign, your availability for media and promotions – can you realistically devote your time to this?
- Your Marketing Collateral and Communications pieces – Are you ready for prime time? Tying back to your team and your time, there are some basic materials you should have prepared for any media or PR opportunities. The list includes:
- Bios – short and long for your brand and founder(s)
- Boiler Plate for Press Releases (yes, the media still ask for them upon booking you)
- One Pagers with a summary of your product or service and its use cases, stats, etc
- Press/Media Kits and EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits that include multimedia links)
- Launch Announcement
- Editorial Calendar and/or a list of possible story ideas spanning key markets
- Visual Identity pieces including hi-res logos, images, videos, and headshots
- Source Sheets for CEO’s or Founders
One benefit of working with a PR pro from the beginning is the creation of professionally-written and produced communication pieces that you can build on as your grow.
- Your Thought Leadership: Content is key – don’t sell them, inform them. This should be my number one tip but I am biased, and come by it honestly. As a former TV producer I used to get pitches all day long, about half that read like a marketing brochure and had no ask. I didn’t work in sales, my work was to generate good content, and these materials, while slick and well-written, didn’t tell me how they fit or would benefit my audience.
The ones that caught my attention were the ones that I knew would engage my audience by informing, educating, entertaining or evoking emotion. My goal in the media was to keep my audience watching (there’s this thing called ratings that ultimately kept me employed).
These days, sales departments are very attuned to what’s content versus what’s an infomercial, and if they smell a sales opportunity, be ready to be offered what is called a ‘paid integration’. If you pitch an ad, be ready to pay for one. PR pros know to how to create engaging, interactive and sought-after content.
- Your Contacts – Do you have a roster of solid contacts in the media? If you do then you’re way ahead of the game, but you’re just getting started. In a global, connected and busy world where everyone is schlepping something and everyone is creating a personal or corporate brand you need someone to advocate on behalf of your brand, to put you in front of the right gatekeepers, correspondents and influencers, and do timely follow-ups.
PR pros invest a lot of time and money to keep up with who’s in the newsroom (they’re a transient bunch), who’s determining editorial and who’s the best story-teller for you. They make it their business to build those relationships. There is a value to those connections. I wholeheartedly encourage you to build your own relationships, regardless of whether you work with someone or not. Establishing solid relationships with media, influencers, bloggers and business leaders builds familiarity and affinity, and will cut down on time invested in outreach.
- Your Crisis Communications Plan: Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? This is usually last on people’s minds, if at all. As you launch, you might get opposition from competitors or detractors, or worse, what if something goes wrong along the way. Outline how you will manage opposition or a crisis. What are the possibly scenarios? Who will be your spokesperson? Have some basic responses prepared that are on brand and can guide you in the unfortunate case you need to make a statement so that you manage rather than react in the moment. Many a brand has been brought down by a Public Relations disaster.
- Your Budget: What is your budget? There I said it. You all knew it was coming. Your PR efforts are likely going to be dictated by your budget. If marketing and PR where not effective, then big brands like Apple, Coca Cola and Nike wouldn’t need to invest millions of dollars in it across multiple platforms. By now, you’d expect word of mouth would be enough. The reality is that for most start-ups, PR should be incorporated as part of your business plan. Having an expert provide you with guidance at the beginning or as you build momentum can bolster your visibility and provide the brand recognition you might need to stand out from the crowd.
Often the best places to start is with a conversation with a PR pro. Respect that they may limit the time they chat (people love to ‘pick our brains’) but by having the discussion you may find that you can create a campaign that is creative, integrative and within budget. And while everyone’s approach and offerings may be different, by knowing who you are, what you need, what you don’t, what resources you already have in place, and your budget, you’ll have a better idea if you’re ready to invest in PR.