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Is It Time To Invest In PR?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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:
    1. 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’.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.
  5. 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?

  6. 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:
    1. Bios – short and long for your brand and founder(s)
    2. Boiler Plate for Press Releases (yes, the media still ask for them upon booking you)
    3. One Pagers with a summary of your product or service and its use cases, stats, etc
    4. Press/Media Kits and EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits that include multimedia links)
    5. Launch Announcement
    6. Editorial Calendar and/or a list of possible story ideas spanning key markets
    7. Visual Identity pieces including hi-res logos, images, videos, and headshots
    8. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.
  10. 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.

The Ultimate Integrated Editorial Calendar and Content Planner you can create in a few hours a week

Want to create a Kick A$$ Integrated PR and Content Marketing strategy for your business, brand or event but don’t have the time to do it?

Neither do we!

Over the years we’ve learned that you can’t do it all. And while Social media is very important, if you can’t hire someone to do it for you, you’d better find a way to plan your content marketing and social engagement so that you can create effective, engaging and consistent content across all platforms. Our media background ingrained in us that you have to be strategic with your time and resources and REPURPOSE your content across all department, so in your case, platforms – traditional, online and social media.

Its really quite simple but seems pretty involved at first. Believe us, we’re all about making things easier, once you get the hang of this you’ll be off to the races and will have generated enough content from one or two blogs to keep you busy for a month.

To start, we encourage you to create or use our editorial calendar below as a means of brainstorming. Next determine what you want to talk about or blog about it. From there you can create a press release or pitch and start a social media campaign using the tips and key ideas you share in your blog. Now on those tips by communicating them to your audience, where they live (which platforms – each audience has two or three preferences – we’re not looking to blanket the world with words and hope someone notices) and in the language that they speak. That’s the key: know who you are talking to, where they talking, and talk WITH them, engaging in a conversation that will benefit them and not be a blatant infomercial for you.

Most people are familiar with Editorial Calendars and use a personal or commercial version of one to plan and manage their blog posts and set themes for your messaging.  While editorial calendars have always been part and parcel of most traditional media outlets, focused on themes, seasonal & holiday-related stories, and timely & relevant news, they have not been utilized to their full benefit in social media. Many use HootSuite to plan and create their social media yet much of the messaging that is put out there seems to fall into one of two categories:

  1. A single message shared on multiple platforms that have been linked together ie. Posting a message on Facebook that is automatically shared on Twitter and LinkedIn
  2. Completely separate messages across different platforms that are not consistent or coordinated with each other, and have no relation to current marketing, messaging or themes. This makes your personal platform seem disjointed, inconsistent and quite frankly confusing. If you are pitching an event or a product but sharing pictures of puppies or cats (which can work if it ties in with your theme given that crazy cats are a major hit on social media) or touting too many themes or campaigns, it can take away from your credibility and authority in that space.

Marketing strategy and media planning no longer occupy their traditional silos any more, functioning as individual mediums to target and pitch to. Rather, we have moved to a global approach to marketing and PR, embracing the idea of Integrated Marketing. Integrated marking put the focus back on the message and your audience, focusing on your unique value proposition and solidifies your place as a thought leader or subject matter expert in your space, rather than pitching your products and your needs. The goal shifts to creating a valuable and engaging message specific to your audience, targeted to their needs, to be shared it across all platforms, speaking in the language of that platform, with the goal to engage, build a community and through that community, using that community, generate likes, encourage sharing and confirmation to their networks and build awareness for your company, your brand or your event.  It sounds complicated but its really not. It’s about creating a conversation, sharing your expertise and letting people know where you are once they know how you can help them.

Creating the Conversation

You are the authority! Remember that. If you work it, volunteer it, live it, or are interested in it, you likely know more about it than 90% of the people you are connected with. Creating ongoing conversations that showcases your knowledge and value with your community or your network is contingent to building a good content marketing strategy.  To create the conversation you have to know what your audience may be thinking about or needing at a given time, along with what and how much they are willing to invest. Peppered with some personal anecdotes to create resonance and understanding of your approach and your personality, building a content marketing/social media/editorial calendar doesn’t have to be difficult. How you pose, or shall we say what you post, depends on your audience, and the value it will bring into their lives or businesses, how it can improve what they are currently doing (like, for example, this blog post) and how engaging you are to them.  Like attracts like.

The content or theme usually dictates our approach to building a calendar like this for our clients or else providing them with the tools to create their own with or without a social media manager.  Currently, the content we see on social media seems to be driven by a personal mission statement to be noticed – look at me; see what I’m doing; share me; like me; me, me, me! Where did the ‘WE’ go? As far as I recall, a conversation with one person is usually called a monologue, and online, it’s generally understood as a pitch. And no one likes to be sold these days.

But as Marshall MacLuhan so famously said, The Medium is the Message. And in our view, from a P.R., Media and Content Marketing Perspective, (and we won’t claim this to be academically sanctioned or an iron clad rule but tried and true based on our clients successes), an editorial calendar is really a planning tool that you use to ensure that your messaging and your conversations stay on brand and most importantly, speaks in the native language of the land.   What you say needs to be meaningful to others, it needs to be consistent with your brand and your brand philosophy and values, and others need to find value in it.

It’s all Greek to me: How to speak in the language of the platform

Some of the most confounding things we see online are tweets, status update or LinkedIn updates that are messages created across another platform and positioned for that audience using @, # and LOL!! where not appropriate.

Does your LinkedIn community of potential employers or clients really need to know that you are ‘SMDH’? We didn’t think so? For each community you will be speaking to be it social or business, ask yourself, what would be the best way to share my message, tips or expertise with them in a way that they would appreciate or use. Specifically with LinkedIn, how could I take my recent article, blog or pitch and use that content to inform a business-minded community with their interests and needs in mind?

Using a recent blog post on Summer Learning Gap as an example, we have created an example of how to share that information across each platform in a way that makes sense. This is especially beneficial if you are launching a product, book, campaign or have a monthly theme you want to generate awareness about.

What you need to know about the Platforms

The strategy behind this integrated approach with social media messaging is to inform and engage. While you may not get direct conversions via any one or all platforms or messages, it will build brand presence and familiarity and bridge the gap between knowing a ‘name’ and understanding their philosophy and approach via their posts, content, keywords and focus.

Each type of social media has a different type of messaging proposition and audience:

Blogs are the King of content marketing and allow for you to have your voice however you want it, whenever you want it. The gates of media have been brought down and the gatekeepers have become relegated to major news, breaking news and pointed inquiry. The traditional news media and journalists are still the most credible and trusted source for news, but now you can share information, thoughts, opinions, profiles and reviews with the click of a key. Share your expertise and knowledge, provide tips and tricks of the trade and showcase your expertise. This is not giving away your trade secrets but rather solidifying your position as an expert that others will seek out for services, products and speaking opportunities.

Facebook posts are to be more social and fun (here you can tease your audience); you can post information but direct pitches and self-indulgent ads are not highly regarded.  Try to post promotional pitches sparingly.

Twitter more information-sharing and inquisitive. Pose questions, tease related articles and blogs, and ask for opinions. Short and concise is key, nothing hammy or cutesy. Build a community and connect with the people otherwise not available to you.  It’s ok to share a Facebook message on Twitter as an update, but not the other way around.

Instagram dubbed the visual Twitter, its owned by Facebook now and builds its base on visuals and video. There are no character limits, no reposts (unless you download an app) and easy sharing across other platforms.  Humans are visual beings and this platform is gaining traction with Millennials and Gen Z who prefer its less ‘businessy’ or political focus and for social dynamics.

LinkedIn more geared towards supporting your business platform, career offerings and brand messaging…i.e. more professional.  Keep status updates in line with your knowledge base and expertise – no funny or motivational posts needed. Infographics are hugely popular. Join and engage in groups. Post blogs and start conversations within your targeted group to reach influencers, future ambassadors and decision makers.

Pinterest is the #1 place for women, especially moms, to get ideas, samples, worksheets, pictures and information that is family/female-related, funny or idea generating. Even if you don’t have something to post that is specific to your audience, related to your product or service, know your audience and pin things you think they would like. ie. Moms are always looking for tools, charts and motivational messages.

YouTube – Google’s little bro, everyone should have a channel to curate and share their video content on. It allows for links and even a change to make some money if you can generate popular content. Video results also stand out on the search results page. If you can, get a YouTube partner account. Snoop Dog has one! It’s free and offers more editing functionality. One last note: No one has time to watch long videos – limit your vlogs or videos to 90 seconds to 3 minutes. Even 60 seconds is great. If you have more to say, create another video. With cell phones and simple camera equipment anyone can share their unique voice, and visuals, with the world.

There are dozens of other established and emerging social media that millions of people use every day including Snapchat, yet another major social media platform. The key is to know who your audience is, where they live, what they like or seek and to go join them in conversation ‘where they live’.

How to Maximize & Integrate Messaging

Blog: Offer solid information, suggestions and tips that readers and seekers can use to support their businesses; improved their lives; help their families or provide solutions. Tips and directions that are seasonal and timely are key. Create Google alerts to see what others are writing about, the issues they are focusing on and topics traditional media are reporting on. You can add to another bloggers post if you include their link or snippets from it providing you give full accreditation. Requesting permission to repost is advisable.

Every blog should have 7-12 ‘tweetable’ ideas, suggestions or conversation starters. Building your editorial calendar from your blog topic is the easiest way to start.

Facebook: With this understanding the approach should be to create anticipation and tease ahead of the launch – hopefully garnering some attention. Following the launch I would like to see Facebook updates be engaging with our ‘friends’ while highlighting our feature set in a subtle manner.

Twitter: Twitter updates should be regular and tie into but not mimic Facebook Status updates and then some initial engagement with our followers. Find relevant groups to give tips and ideas to.  A daily update featuring information on the launch progress or article-sharing will be the best approach. Likewise the use of infographics when sharing.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn updates will be professional and geared to the business community providing corporate communications, corporate updates and outreach. You can find more elite groups here related to education and parental needs.

Pinterest: Pinterest allows you to “pin” anything cool and unrelated to your corporate brand but build your following by giving your target audience the information, resources and fun stuff they are attracted to, and will share.  Find all the key things you think your target market (moms) may be seeking, ie. recipes, charts, tools, funny kids stuff, mom stuff, crafts, activities, and just put them under your banner. Post informational posters, flyers and events – from you and your affiliates.

YouTube: YouTube allows you to broadcast your messaging and your ideas in an engaging and informal way. Technology allows for easy recording of your tips, ideas, messages and well, videos (fun and funny is always a good idea). Craft messages that are 60-90 seconds for best results and have 30 second teaser videos to your e-blasts.

Always shoot horizontally  for optimal viewing (don’t fall victim to Vertical Video Syndrome!) and include a call to action at the end. Include your website on a banner. Remember to just be yourself and be happy to do it!

Instagram: Instagram is the visual Twitter. It’s simple, fun and not controversial. Share your messages and ideas without character limits and use hashtags freely. Play with filters for fun effects. Best if images are short in “square” mode. You can share your brand, your messaging or your events using pictures of preparations, updates and tips.

Keywords

Figure out 8-12 keywords that you will use consistently and purposefully in all on-line and social media.

*Please note that a list of significant holidays, events and noteworthy news within the community is key. Find events and groups that may be good to target for connections, engagement and promotional opportunities.

**You can have multiple posts per day. Don’t be shy about having a several themes if they are relevant and informative…and consistent with the conversation you are having on your website or that others are having online or in the news. Don’t be shy to jump on trending topics.

Google Alerts

You’ve come this far, now there’s one last thing – Google Alerts – have one on yourself, your business and your areas of expertise. When you’re stuck for something to talk about, it’s an easy way to get in on the conversation that’s taking place in cyberspace and jump on the chance to add your voice to the conversations.

Once you’ve done all that – commit to doing it for a few months and watch your level of engagement, following, and new contacts grow.

And you are welcome! If you’ve learned anything, please let us know! We’re friendly and love opening the door to new friends.

Calendar Template

Want to download our pre-made calendar template? Here you go! It’s in PDF format so you’ll need Adobe Reader or another appropriate reader.