By Chris Lucas, Vice President of BLASTmedia and Rachael Feuerborn, Program Manager Techstars Chicago
I see my fair share of brilliant founders. Many of whom have well-thought-out business models, growth strategies, product roadmaps, etc. However, most neglect PR… because honestly who gives a hoot when you are spending your last $276.78 trying to get your big vision off the ground while investors (and your parents) keep telling you to quit? I get it. That’s why I wrote this.
What is PR?
Public Relations: if you break the words down it’s quite broad.
“Public” means just that: people. Not just your customers or the media. Think of Tesla. I certainly don’t have a Tesla. But their PR strategy doesn’t ignore me all together. Tesla’s brand permeates all of society purposefully.
“Relations” is the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward one another. Thanks dictionary.com! If your startup were a person, who would she be? What characteristics and personality quirks does she have? How would she communicate with her friends? Think of a blogger. Bloggers get it. They are people creating and publishing content to essentially make more friends.
Therefore, public relations is the way in which your brand creates and maintains relationships with a variety of stakeholders.
Public Relations is not…
- Shoving your personal founding story down the throat of anyone that will read it;
- Trying to get as many media outlets as possible to publish details on your beta launch;
- A way to test product market fit;
- Even close to the same process for every startup;
- Dependent on press releases.
How to do it
- Personify the brand
If you don’t know who you are, you can’t relate to anyone. Have a point of view. If you haven’t done this your brand won’t matter. (Shoutout to mentor, Suzanne Muchin)
- Have a specific goal in mind
Anyone who has worked with me knows the first thing I ask in any meeting or brainstorming session is: What is the GOAL? I often see startups think they must do some sort of PR and to do so, they must follow generic steps 1, 2, 3. Wrong. What is your goal? Always know the “WHY?”
So you just closed a round…
Don’t: Publicizing closing your seed round because you think it’s a thing to do. Yay!
Do: Publicizing your seed round to show what an attractive investment you are for your Series A in t-minus 12 months. Promote the traction of your overall industry with investors as a segment to take notice. Make it an announcement to your future investors.
So you just launched a new feature or product…
Don’t: Read out to journalists just because you are excited about it.
Do: I hope you developed that feature in response to direct, credible customer feedback. If so…
Trala did a great job with this: How to Learn Violin 3x faster with an Audio Practice Diary. This self-published blog post provides valuable feature descriptions. Trala provided valuable content to their target market showing how the product solves the problem they knew the user had.
So you want to get your brand out there…
Don’t: Introducing Company A. Hi, we are Company A and we do X.
Do: Be creative! Here are two great examples:
Vacation Fund: 3 Canadian Startups Setting Up Shop in Chicago. Why? To show potential Chicago clients she is investing in the local community and is setting up secondary roots close by.
Rheaply: Rheaply Circular Discovery Scholarship. Why? Rheaply uses this scholarship to show its support for education, invest in the next generation of sustainability advocates, and connect with universities (one of Rheaply’s target markets).
- Decide where
Techcrunch is not the only option. It’s not even the best option 99% of the time. There are multiple options:
- Local tech outlets
- Tech blogs
- Blogs/trade media in your industry
- Blogs/media your prospects read
Example: Neopenda: Invest in Neopenda. They launched a crowdfunding campaign. For the cash? Sure… but also for the publicity. They were rewarded for their creativity and storytelling. Check it out.
Example: Speeko: Chicago Sales Professionals Meetup. Speeko created a sales professionals meetup and features speakers who offer value to their target customers. For example, at their last meetup they featured an amazing leader from Google who is transforming how the company uses data to tell stories.
- Decide when
Timing is important with PR. Launching a ton of investor related PR campaigns when you aren’t raising is wasted momentum. Don’t only think about the circumstances you can control, but also external factors giving you momentum.
This startup streamlines the pro bono work of lawyers, including those fighting for immigrants at the border. Here, Paladin is aligning their brand with a cause. Not just any cause, but a very relevant cause that some will find compelling and some will not. Paladin has a personality and (s)he supports immigrants.
- Tell a story
Make it newsworthy. Otherwise, it’s useless. By now, you (hopefully) realize how much your PR strategy can overlap with your other marketing strategies (like social, content, etc). Your company’s personality, as we established early, has a voice. What does she say? She needs to be more than a bump on a log (yes, I’m from the country… y’all). See, my voice has a little twang and sass to it. What’s yours?
One great example is the introductory sentence to this post: “Jiobit CEO John Renaldi once lost his young son in a public park in Chicago for a nerve-wracking 30 minutes.” See? There’s a story in one sentence.
- Actually do it
You can’t just write a story and slide into a reporter’s DMs. Before you even wrote the story, you had a goal in mind… you also had a target in mind for publication. Right? So write the story with the publisher in mind. If it’s for your personal blog, it should be sharable and written for your followers. If it’s for a local media outlet, make it newsworthy and show the local impact. What does the reporter want to publish? Ask him!
Admittedly, that last little tidbit is hard. So when your PR strategy is a smidge more legit than your own social media page, bring in the big guns. This year, I brought in PR experts BLASTmedia to work with the founders from the Techstars Chicago Class of 2018. I’m not a big outsourcing fan, but outsourcing PR is smart.
Benefits of outsourcing
- The firm’s sole job is to source the optimal media opportunities for you;
- They have the relationships you just don’t have time for;
- They are not only PR subject-matter experts, but also experts in your space (if you have hired a firm with industry experience);
- You have a team of people to provide outside perspective, helping to hone your message and provide reality checks when needed.
Outsourcing NO NOs
- The PR firm will NOT define your brand’s personality, target customer, or go-to-market strategy. To set yourself up for success, know who you are, what you are selling and to whom before bringing on an outside PR partner.
- Outsourcing doesn’t allow you to wash your hands of it. Sure, it’ll ease up your workload but you are now in a partnership that requires your attention. Treat the firm like an extension of your team, not a standalone vendor, and the results will show it.
I chose BLASTmedia for multiple reasons. First, they are specialized in B2B tech and SaaS, working with start-up, scale-up, to publicly-traded tech companies for 13 years. They understand how to take a company and make them a thought leader in their industry, not blindly sending out press releases hoping it will get pick up. Second, they work with clients long-term to really understand the brand personality and story, allowing them to more effectively source opportunities and help create content… which about 4% of founders actually enjoy doing. Lastly, I spent hours on their blog learning about PR strategies and tips. After about 30 minutes of reading their plethora of media mentions, I realized I was in a PR trance and said, “dang, they are good.” If you’re a B2B SAAS company, check them out.
In 2018, Techstars Chicago scoured a list of thousands of mostly midwest startups to select ten. Techstars does indeed thrust a young company into the PR limelight quickly; however, every startup can follow a few tried and true principles to quickly put a PR plan in place. Good luck!