As 2017 came to a close, I had two interactions with startups in different stages of business development with a common thread — neither one had conceptualized the need to plan for public relations (PR) in advance of actually doing PR. Luckily, both of the startups “got it” after talking through things with me, with one looking to turn a dream into reality and the other reaping the benefits of a well-planned and executed PR plan.
The first startup actually had a working product they were introducing into the marketplace. They knew who they wanted to reach in terms of target customers and investors, and kinda/sorta had an idea where to find them. The startup understood the need for PR but thought it amounted to calling a reporter or editor, talking to them about their product, and bingo, getting coverage in influential news media outlets where tens of thousands of potential customers would see them and flock to their website.
After praising this young company for understanding the benefits of PR, we did a little role playing with me as an influential news media editor and had them “call me” to pitch me on a story. The three members of the company’s brain trust leading the PR effort — two co-founders and an advisor — looked at each other, trying to figure out who would make the call. None of them actually wanted to make the call, and finally one of the co-founders took the bull by the horn. After “picking up” the call, I said I was very busy and had like a minute to hear the pitch. After much stumbling about the technical abilities of the company’s product, the co-founder asked if I’d be interested in learning more. I said sure, send me a press release, to which the co-founder said well, we don’t have one right now but I can get you one.
If I’d been a “real” editor or reporter (which I am as Editor of Startup TechWire), I would have politely thanked them for the call, given them an email address and hung up, moving on to the dozens of emailed press releases and pitches in my inbox and on my voicemail. I’m sorry to say that I’m actually in the minority; most news editors and reporters would likely have cursed-out the company for wasting their time and, even worse, might actually blacklist them. I’m not making that up — news media folks are a cranky and overworked bunch, and their time is a precious commodity. (Luckily, I live and work at the beach so I’m a little more chill…)
The startup brain trust and I talked more, and it turned out they didn’t have any idea of what to put into a press release — no clear value proposition, call to action or strategic messaging. I asked if they did send a press release to this media outlet what would they do if they got a call back from an editor or reporter, and the three looked at each other and said one of them would take the call. When pressed as to which one, the co-founder who’d role played with me before said he’d take the call, even though he admitted he does not deal with customers and is only involved in the technology behind the product. After further review, we decided the advisor would be the best spokesperson for any news media queries.
After several more conversations and a couple weeks of planning, we built a proactive PR plan and engaged in outreach, using our well-thought-out value proposition and strategic messaging to secure some pretty decent initial coverage in target news media outlets. The company saw an uptick in website visits, email queries, and phone calls — thankfully, as part of our planning we made sure all these queries were filtered to the right people, and the company and has since scheduled demos and is pursing purchase orders.
It only took three weeks of planning — less than a month — and this company has built and launched a successful PR plan.
This company had an actual product, designed and ready to go, with fulfillment resources lined up, ready to roll. The other startup I’d spoken to was in a much different position: they had a prototype, and needed PR to help with fundraising…
CHECK BACK SOON FOR PART TWO!