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DIY Public Relations For Startups

by Press, Public Relations, Startups

Why Does Your Startup Need a PR Strategy?

As a startup, one of the most important things you can do to help boost your growth and attract customers is to implement a good PR strategy. Very few things can offer the same level of credibility + exposure to a young company, and obtaining press coverage early on can provide the exposure you need to boost your customer base, obtain funding, or improve your business contacts, all of which are vital to a startup. 

There are two key aspects of your company that are necessary to understand before attempting to generate any kind of PR strategy or approach. 

  1. Who you are: your mission, your story, your audiences, your place in the market, and the value of your product or service. Try to explain in a sentence or two what your company does, why it is necessary and what makes you different.. Too often, a startup’s statement of purpose is too vague, or includes no information about why their product is necessary, therefore focusing on the solution without acknowledging an existing problem that customers can relate to. This can have a large effect on consumers’ interest in learning more about the company, which therefore results in much fewer potential customer exposures.
  1. What do you need from your PR outreach? The main difference between startups and larger established companies is that their needs regarding exposure and press coverage differ greatly. A larger company is likely to expend their PR efforts on customer retention, demonstrations of improvement and product development, or competition with newer startups, to show continued relevance despite the rise of competitors. A startup, however, must focus their PR efforts more on objectives such as fundraising, customer acquisition, new talent attraction, and establishing themselves as a promising contender in the field when compared with larger companies. There is a distinct lack of existing widespread customer experiences or business contacts that could be used to leverage gaining press coverage, so startups must approach journalists much differently due to their relative anonymity.

Your PR Approach

  • Create an Objectives-Based Strategy: Once you have a clear idea of what you hope to gain from PR, you need to outline your strategy. Look at your objectives, and break them down or consolidate them as necessary. What are your short- and long-term customer engagement goals? What are your funding goals right now? In six months? Three years? Make these numerical, trackable objectives and outline a strategy for each one. 
  • Identify Achievable Goals: It is easy to get caught up in large-scale goals, such as being featured in huge media publications with hundreds of thousands of readers. However, don’t reach for the big media outlets right out of the gate – it is a risky strategy that could cause you to miss great opportunities from smaller outlets that are tailored to your specific product or space. Smaller scale outlets often still have thousands of readers, and if the publication is more tailored to your innovation space, their readers will be too. These are the people you are actually trying to reach, which makes focusing on more attainable goals, such as coverage from smaller publications, a better use of your time and funds. 
  • Distinguish Your Brand: An important aspect of your PR strategy is the presentation of your brand. You must ensure all platforms on which branded content can be found, such as your social media accounts, your blog, and your company website, are clean and well-designed. Don’t worry about how much content you have; this comes with time. Instead, worry about the design of your platforms: do they look sloppy? Are there typos or broken URLs anywhere? Are your platforms accessible (i.e. have you included alternate text or captions for images, and is your content contrast-optimized?) These are easily-caught mistakes that can greatly detract from a customer’s experience with your platforms if not fixed. Another way to improve your platforms and increase traffic is by performing an SEO analysis. A quick comparison between your search engine results and competitors’ can show you how to improve your keywords or optimize internal linking usage. Semrush has a great article on SEO best practices and is a good place to start your foundational SEO efforts.
  • Develop Relationships: When it is time to start pitching your product or service to journalists, remember that relationships are everything. If you don’t already have a list of journalism contacts in your arsenal, spend some time fostering these relationships. Find out which journalists often cover stories related to your product or space, and connect with them about their existing work. The idea here is to make friends before you need them. Regularly replying to their articles or Tweets without mentioning your own company is a good way to get your name on their radar in a positive way. Reaching out via email to congratulate them on a recent story and offering to provide information related to that story, in a way that doesn’t directly benefit you, shows genuine interest in their work. By investing in these relationships early, you slowly fill up your Rolodex of helpful contacts who know who you are, and are therefore more likely to want to help you out in the future. 

How to Pitch the Media

Journalists receive far more pitches than they write articles. Standing out from all other submissions in only one email – just the first sentence, really – is vital. Therefore, form emails are not your friend. Although you should have a standard pitch outline that hits all your major points, don’t be afraid to customize your pitch for each journalist you send it to. Mentioning some of their previous work, what you got from reading it, and how it relates to your company is a great place to start. 

Think about what makes your pitch newsworthy, and remember that journalism is not advertising – it’s storytelling. You need to tell a story that is relevant, has a sharp hook, and makes the reader agree and say, yes, that is a problem, how have I not seen a solution to this before? Presenting your product as a novel solution to a real problem, with statistics and facts to show why your solution works, is the fastest way to get a reader on board.

Another important note is that your pitch should always include a reminder to the journalist about what’s in it for them. Show them how your story is relevant to their readers’ interests, or how it relates to another piece they wrote recently. Don’t just tell them about your product; offer data, interviews, and expert insights into the design and testing processes. This establishes yourself as an expert on the subject, with real data to back up this claim., which makes you a far more interesting story. In his advanced PR guide for startups, Neil Patel provides some solid insight on how to connect with journalists, which is definitely worth a read.

Finally, carefully consider the language you use in your pitch. You are passionate about your product, and you want the journalist to be as well. Show that passion. Personal details about your startup’s efforts to grow, and any challenges you faced, can put a personal, human spin on your story that is much more interesting to read about. Being too formal or too casual can also turn a journalist off from your pitch, so try to use a style similar to how they write their own articles.  

General Guidelines on Media Outreach

When reaching out to potential business contacts of any kind, you are going to experience rejection at a least a few times. This is inevitable, but don’t let it get you down. Rejection can be a very helpful tool. You should be constantly reassessing your pitch, and using the feedback you get from journalists to improve it. Following up with journalists a few days after your initial pitch can be a great way to obtain feedback, especially if they didn’t respond to your first email. 

Another area where companies sometimes struggle is knowing what to do once they’ve actually gotten media attention. Prepare for your interview, know the outlet and its audience, and have key messages in place to make sure you can get your message across. Then after the interview, consider how you want to use the coverage to broaden the reach. This may be through email campaigns or digital media, but make sure you put the information out there to get greater reach. .

PR is one of the most important things startups can do to help grow their companies and direct traffic to their platforms. In fact, the biggest mistake startups make regarding their PR is simply not starting soon enough. Regardless of where you are in the product development process, building contacts and gaining awareness of your company is always helpful, and a small PR strategy with only a few goals is better than no strategy at all.

Elizabeth has 15+ years experience in Public Relations, leading local, state and national accounts. Mother, reader, writer, marketer. Read more about me here.

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