Learn what PR can do for you, do it yourself, and know when to ask for help.
Welcome to the world of public relations - where you gain awareness and trust from the public eye more efficiently and less expensively than paid advertising. Read on and uncover what you need to know about public relations for your startup.
The Value of Public Relations for Startups
The majority of this article covers “how-to”s and “when-to”s, but it is important to recognize the role of public relations to help grow your startup. People trust stories over paid advertising. PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising, according to a 2014 study by Nielsen. In all honesty, this number is probably higher.
The purpose of public relations is to build trust based on third-party validations. When you get into the nitty-gritty of PR, keep these words of inspiration in the back of your mind:
Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”
- Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group
What you earn from PR is critical to the success of your startup. Public relations sparks awareness amongst your current and future customer base. Not only that, your PR efforts can reach the eyes and ears of potential investors and venture capitalists.
How do you make your startup stand out?
How did your startup come to be? What problems do you solve? Do you have interesting funders or did you save for years and quit your job to follow your dreams? It makes your heart beat a little faster to tell it, so get to it.
People connect more with stories than they ever will to products. Ann Handley, author and Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, discusses the importance of storytelling in her book Everybody Writes (highly recommend). As the storyteller, you can begin to craft how the public eye will look upon your startup. Be a strategic storyteller.
Ann’s words of wisdom about telling a compelling, strategic story boil down to five characteristics:
1. It’s true
The truth should be the focus of everything created for the startup. Whatever you create should use real people, events, and experiences and it should always explain how the startup is adding value.
2. It’s human
People connect to other people more than they do to products. Even if the startup is B2B, it should focus on how the product/service affects actual people. It is a good practice, when writing about people, to be specific enough to be believable but also universally relevant.
3. It’s original
Your startup’s story should always offer new perspectives. It should highlight what is unique about it. Why is the business important? What is interesting about it? If your startup’s logo is taken away, would people still recognize the content or a video?
4. It serves the customer
While the story is about the company itself, it should always be told in the context of the customer's life. Tell customers how your startup affects people and solves problems people face. Always answer the “So What?” question to distill the value you bring your customers.
5. It tells a bigger story that aligns with a long-term business strategy
Aligning the story with strategic goals is imperative. Tell your story about where you see your startup in the future and know how to measure your progress as your story matures.
Now that you have your startup story and understand the value of public relations, you can Do-It-Yourself!
DIY Public Relations
You know your startup better than anyone. Time to make it shine in the public eye. PR for startups comes down to how well you tell your story to the media outlets your customers consume. Pitching a unique story to journalists, reporters, bloggers, and influencers doesn't guarantee positive media coverage. You've got to understand what interests them just as much as what interests your audience. A pitch must be crafted to fit the recipient's past writing. If you send an art angle to the sports beat, then the journalist will discard it instantly.
It is time to pitch your carefully crafted story to reporters (assume reporters also means journalists, bloggers, and other industry influencers).
Pitch Your Story as Newsworthy
Create a story a reporter cannot say no to. If you can craft your story to appeal to your targeted media outlets’ audience, you are on the right track. Keep in mind that every reporter you pitch your story to is different. You must tailor your article to each media outlet to garner interest from reporters.
How do you make your story stand out from the hundreds of others reporters receive? Give them something they can easily work startups. A unique selling point, numbers, and statistics, or maybe content like a short video or infographic to be included in the final piece all help the reporter.
Stay away from generic stories sent to everyone, or do that in conjunction with personalizing your story for the media source. Results come from hard work.
Target the Right Media Outlets
Go for gold. Do you want your startup in Inc. or Entrepreneur? Then pitch to Inc. or Entrepreneur. So long as your story aligns with the reporter’s interest and audience, most likely your story will get picked up.
Create a list of media outlets your customers or future customers read, listen to, or watch. Research the reporters who write about your product or company. Understanding writers’ “beats” - what they usually write about and what they are interested in - will give you a huge advantage. Not only do they reach an audience of your customers, but their greatest skills are also writing about products or companies like yours.
Finding this perfect match can be hard. That is why this research is critical. Follow your targeted journalists on Twitter and read their work. When you think there could be a match, shoot them a note. Mention the other work they have done that you like. It does not hurt to stroke anyone’s ego.
You are not done pitching your story until it is on the way to the printers. When you have made a connection with a reporter, who wants to interview you, have your product/company positioning statements at the ready. These descriptions are easily remembered, simple statements that define your business or product, which you can sprinkle into the interview. Answer the reporter honestly, but you can always steer the conversation back to your positioning statement.
Keep Up with Your Startup’s Content
An important part of PR is to remember that it is not static; there are ups and downs. Growing awareness means having constant relevant content. Twelve months out of the year your company should have information going out. Blog posts are a good way to start.
Your blog content is a strategic way to get attention by instantly offering value to your audiences. If you and a media outlet share the same type of audiences, this gives you leverage when you pitch your stories.
To achieve a shared audience, share your content across social media channels directed at the followers of your targeted media outlets. Reinforce PR efforts by engaging with your customers on outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
If the end goal is increased awareness for your startup, maintain consistency with your content.
When to Hire a PR Agency
A newsworthy startup, at any stage, will get placements in media outlets. It is not who pitches the story that matters here, but the story itself.
Always remember that.
In reality, you have other, more important hats to be wearing than pitching your stories to media outlets.
Maybe you tried your hand at public relations without much luck, or you are in the early stages and need help. Many startups look to agencies for their communication experience. Agencies have the resources and expertise to help meet your startup’s objectives.
Signing with a PR agency usually means assigning more dollars to your PR budget. PR agencies typically charge all-inclusive retainer fees. Alternative options like Pay-for-Performance PR, a pitching service in which you only pay when you get placed, work well for newsworthy startups. Are you interested in this model? Check out our post on Performance PR: The Benefits and Drawbacks >>>.
Think of hiring a PR agency like investing in the public’s awareness of your company. Like anything else an investment, if done right, pays off.
Know the signs that you might need a PR agency. Early-stage startups may look for a PR agency when they:
- Lack awareness
- Need to craft the core messages of the brand
- Are entering a crowded market
- Are a disruptive startup
As you know, public relations matters. It does not hurt to do it right the first time with people who are good at what they do.
Example of Success
An excellent example of PR for startups is Ello's success in growing widespread awareness while they went against the typical social media revenue model. Creators and artists of all types use this Pinterest-like social network to share art, photography, fashion, and “web culture.” This Denver startup, launched in March 2014, has a unique selling point: it has zero ads and will never sell the personal data of users. With over 1 million active users today, the app maintains a niche user who may be attracted to the free, ad-less social network with the slogan “The Creators Network.”
Here is where their PR strategy came in. Ello made a huge PR push the same week that Facebook rolled out its new advertising rules. They were featured in magazines, like Fortune, and leveraged social media accounts as well. This carefully planned PR shot them to 40,000 new invite requests in an hour.
Ello founder Paul Budnitz, hailing from Burlington, Vermont with strong ties to Denver, Colorado, developed the app after writing an anti-Facebook manifesto from his company office in Vermont. To this day, Budnitz holds strongly to his beliefs saying,
People keep asking are we competing with Facebook? And I actually believe that Facebook is not a social network at all. It's an advertising platform. We are a social network. That's all we do. Facebook is there for the advertisements."
He has a selling point, and he is sticking to it.
Building awareness for your startup is about creating a solid story, develop strategic media targeting, and maintain consistent pitching. PR for startups is critical to the success of your organization. It is less expensive than paid advertising and more effective.
Want to share your story about your startup or your success with public relations? Comment below!