Due to packed schedules and tight budgets, many startup founders believe they don’t have enough capacity to create a prelaunch public relations presence. They think it’s too early to invest in an agency and they assume they don’t yet have the in-house resources to make it happen.
As the founder of a PR agency that primarily works with startups, I can confidently tell you that this mindset is highly inaccurate and holds back countless companies from success.
When you procrastinate on PR, you miss out on immersing your brand in conversations that bring attention to your business at a pivotal time. Further, you miss developing your story and getting real feedback from journalists and consumers. The more you share your story and vision, the more data and reviews you’ll have to refine your product, vision or service.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “This guy is about to try to persuade me to hire his agency,” but I’m actually going to do the opposite.
Sure, hiring a team that has done PR its whole life does add another level of expertise. But my intent is to open your eyes to the immense power of DIY PR.
With fewer than three hours of effort per week, startup founders can easily set the PR wheels in motion without spending a dime. You don’t have to be a marketing genius or expert press release writer to excel at DIY PR. All it takes is networking skills — which, if you’re launching a startup, you already have.
DIY PR requires three main ingredients:
Make the right friends
You need to become best friends with journalists, and this requires a sleuth-like mindset. Start by creating a master list of every local and national influencer who creates content about your industry. Then, scour the internet — Google, social media, publication websites — to find their contact information.
When you reach out, don’t just plead for a generic write-up; instead, offer them something of value. Invite them to be the first to demo your product, or give them a free yearlong subscription to your service. Let your product speak for itself. If it’s great, journalists will be eager to spread the word.
When I was launching my company and establishing my own PR presence, I reached out to tech journalists looking to get our name mentioned in an article. I made it very clear to them that my firm would be working with tech startups — hoping to establish myself as a key source of future story ideas.
Sure enough, I ended up forming a relationship with a writer for The Next Web who wrote a great story about my company’s mission and values. This was both a huge PR win for my company and a big personal win for me, as I was able to make a friend I still hang out with to this day.
Read about your competitors
Staying knowledgeable about what’s happening in your industry will keep you competitive and innovative as you grow. Set up Google Alerts to notify you every time a competitor is mentioned in the news, and use these articles to spark new conversations in the media or identify new opportunities for your business.
A few years ago, I was reading up on a PR company I thought looked cool — an indirect competitor of mine — and saw that its founder was speaking at a conference I didn’t even know existed. I researched the conference, attended it, and picked up some useful information I would have never learned otherwise.
Put yourself out there
While it’s essential to create digital connections with journalists, limiting your early PR to computer-based communication will only get you so far. It’s just as important to go out into the real world and create authentic, in-person connections.
Begin by looking for conferences and industry-specific meetups you can attend or speak at. Even if you don’t land a speaking gig, use these gatherings as an opportunity to network and rub elbows with journalists, potential partners and other influential people.
I recently moderated a well-attended panel that featured a handful of PR professionals and journalists from outlets like The New York Times and Recode. Though no articles resulted from the event, I made connections with my fellow panelists and multiple attendees — and one led to the signing of a brand-new client.
Put on your sleuth hat before each event. Look up the agenda, the speakers, and which journalists will attend, and try to find a full guest list. Come prepared to “wow” the people you meet with insight that directly appeals to them, but be authentic when doing so. You don’t want it to seem like you’re making a cheap grab for their attention.
Get your name out there
Aside from the immediate benefits of getting your name out there, doing your own early PR will make your future partnerships with agencies much more productive. Rather than starting from square one and spending months getting up to speed, the experts can hit the ground running and expand upon the foundation you’ve already built.
If you’re preparing to hatch a business, don’t wait until after you launch to get the word out. Make your splash today by taking a DIY approach to PR.
This article has been edited.
Elliot Tomaeno, founder of Astrsk, which has helped launch more than 200 startups and tech products and has been a part of seven exits.