As an early-stage startup founder, you’ve learned by now that developing your business plan, putting together your founding team and getting your initial round of seed funding is just half the battle.
In order to grow, most entrepreneurs need to invest in PR – though, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a financial investment that comes with hiring an outside firm or consultant. In fact, as demonstrated during a recent Tech Press Meetup I attended, it’s possible for startup founders to invest time, instead of money, by doing PR themselves and reap significant benefits.
The Meetup featured a panel of entrepreneurs who have run successful PR campaigns for their startups – all on their own and without the help of a PR firm. The panelists included Wiley Cerilli of SinglePlatform and First Round Capital, Olga Vidisheva of Shoptiques and Leigh Drogen of Estimize. The panel was moderated by J.J. Colao, founder of Haymaker, a PR firm specializing in tech.
Each of the panelists shared valuable insights on the PR strategies and tactics that helped their businesses grow. Here are some key takeaways that all startup founders can apply to their DIY PR strategies:
Know and understand the value of PR.
First, disregard the cliché that any publicity is good publicity. Good publicity needs to be defined as that which ultimately helps startup founders meet their objectives, whether it’s increased brand awareness among key target markets, growth in customers and sales, talent acquisition, or recognition as a thought leader in a particular industry.
For Olga, PR was important for branding and customer acquisition, while for Wiley, it was largely about acquiring the right talent and enhancing team morale at SinglePlatform. Before beginning any kind of media outreach, stop and think about the value PR would bring to your business. Once you’ve determined that, the next step is to tackle media outreach as strategically as possible.
Target the right media – in the right ways.
If there’s one worst-kept secret in PR, it’s the power of building relationships. All of the panelists agreed that strong relationships with the media who cover your industry and reach your target customers are the cornerstone of effective PR and can have big pay-offs over the long term.
There are a few different ways to build relationships with the media. A key starting point is to identify the reporters who cover your industry and actively read their work. Chances are, the reporters you’ve identified write fairly regularly about topics relevant to your business and about other companies in your space.
By familiarizing yourself with their coverage, you’re now in a stronger position to contact them with thoughtful perspectives on their recent work, and set the stage for further interaction. Follow reporters in your area on social media channels such as Twitter, where many reporters frequently share their work. This also provides an opportunity to interact directly by replying to their tweets and opening the door for further conversation.
Don’t assume you have to go about building relationships all on your own, though. If you know fellow entrepreneurs, I’d encourage you to reach out to them and find out if they’ve been in touch with any reporters who may be interested in connecting with you.
During the panel, Leigh shared that when he speaks with reporters, they often ask him which other companies they should be talking to, which gives him a prime opportunity to refer them to other entrepreneurs he knows. This not only helps the other companies develop and maintain media relationships, but also does a lot to strengthen his relationships with his media contacts.
Prepare for the unexpected.
Once you and your company start getting media coverage, you’ll need to be prepared for both positive and negative coverage. As dreaded as it may be, negative publicity – big or small — can strike at any time. It’s critical to be prepared and know how to respond effectively.
For example, Olga shared a time when a major daily newspaper published an article using a quote from a statement she emailed them, with just one problem: the quote didn’t actually include one word of what she wrote to the reporter, and as a result, the story did not position her or her company in a favorable light. Although Olga’s story is fortunately pretty rare, these situations can and do happen.
It’s important to be fast and proactive about rectifying the issue. The more time that goes by with inaccurate public information, the worse it could be for you and your brand. As soon as you catch an error or major issue, contact the reporter right away and explain the part(s) that is/are wrong, being as specific as possible.
Be detailed in providing the correct information, and work with the reporter to make sure the story is adjusted in a timely manner. You’ll both put yourself and your company in a stronger position and the experience will guide future interactions with the media.
If you’re a startup founder doing your own PR and have tips of your own, please share them in the comments.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Michaela Kron is PR Manager at CommonBond, a New York-based student lending platform that lowers the cost of student loans for borrowers and provides financial returns to investors. Before joining CommonBond, Michaela spent four years working at a boutique PR firm, where she specialized in media relations primarily for clients in the financial industry.
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