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PR 101 for Start-Ups – How to Get Visibility Without Bringing in the Pros

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PR 101 for Start-Ups – How to Get Visibility Without Bringing in the Pros

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 4, 2012 Updated: October 4, 2012

If you are in start-up mode and want to launch a new product, secure private funding or bring visibility to your company, then public relations is an essential tool for your box. But how do you get started if you have few resources? Here are some tips for things you can do on your own, without the help of a PR agency or expert, to get visibility for your business with potential customers or financiers.

Disclaimer - I don’t take credit for these tips. They come directly from professionals via this on-demand webinar: PR 101 for Start-Ups presented by Lisa Throckmorton, EVP, SpeakerBox Communications and Jonathon Perrelli, Managing Partner, Fortify.vc.  It’s well worth an hour of your time.  Here’s a quick summary:

Make Sure Your Product is Ready

It’s just common sense: before you engage in any communications push, make sure your product is ready. Online content has a long shelf life, so it’s important to make sure your product is tested, validated and up to snuff.

If you are not there yet and are planning on entering a hot market, such as high-tech, consider announcing a beta. This gives the media an opportunity to preview you and generate some buzz. Make it clear that your product is still in development and have realistic expectations about the kind of coverage you’ll get. Remember, you can’t control the media – they may not say what you want them to say, “so your product better not suck,” explains Jonathon Perrelli. “You need a good beta.”

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Messaging

PR is no different than introducing yourself to someone at an event or trade show, so develop an elevator pitch that conveys quickly and distinctly who you are and why you matter. Equally important is tailoring that message to your audience – your pitch to an investor will be quite different than a pitch to media or potential customers. For tips on writing one, read: Why Your Business Needs an Elevator Pitch (and Tips on How to Target it to your Audience).

Take a hard look at your website, too. Visitors need to quickly understand who you are. Think about progression from your home page or landing page; include content such as video, imagery and a demo to communicate your pitch. Add a “Press Room” where you can include contact info, FAQs, team bios, news coverage, etc. – reporters will be looking for this.

Have a Communications Plan

Do you know which media you are targeting and why? Where are they getting their information? Before you invest time and money in a communications program, set aside a couple of hours to map out a plan. What tactics should you consider? Bear in mind that different business models lend themselves to different PR approaches. For example, service-based businesses can benefit from demonstrating expertise, blogging, contributing articles, speaking at events, awards and so on. Product-centric companies get more from formal product launches, product reviews and sharing data sets.

Align Your Team

If one person isn’t on board with your plan then it can really sabotage your efforts, especially for small start-ups. Convince naysayers by focusing on the meat behind your plan: why you are doing this? What results do you expect?

Unless you have a stellar CEO who can talk to every aspect of your product and business, then you’ll need to line up more than one person to help tell your story. Identify your team’s experts and refine the message they’re going to tell. For example, a software developer will have completely different things to say than a CEO – and media will want to hear both.

Tell a Story

What qualifies as a good story? What gets coverage and why? Remember  – it’s not about you. “Think multi-dimensionally about story and storytelling – what works for one publication is not going to work for another,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. “It’s really important to understand the media outlets you’re approaching… their mission, and the audience it serves.” Follow the media that matter – read and subscribe to news feeds so that you have a sense for where you might fit and how to tailor your message. “The media is not going to cover you if they don’t think you’re right for their audience.

Be prepared to talk about what your competitors are doing – media is always going to consider them as they write about your product. If you can, use customer stories or validation (market research will do) to support your vision, and be prepared to discuss industry trends and how you are positioned.

Use Social Media

If no one is pushing your news, use social media to push it yourself. Choose wisely – you don’t have to use all social media channels. “Think of it in terms of layers,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. 

For example, your salespeople might be pushing you to use Facebook and LinkedIn to promote your events – that’s one layer. Your PR personnel might be focused on monitoring review sites to listen and respond to what people are saying – that’s another layer. As your business grows, add another layer (consider it the “Marketing Layer”), using such sites such as YouTube, Digg, Reddit, etc. to place content, improve SEO and drive traffic back to your website. At the top layer, tap your senior executives to write blogs and develop a Twitter profile to raise awareness and share their expertise.

“You don’t have to do it all,” explains Lisa Throckmorton, “think about it in increments and what the right choices are for your business.

Using Your Budget

So how do you stay within budget? Surprisingly, start-ups have a variety of options that grow as you grow. For example, if your business is in a pre-funding phase or bringing in less than $250k, spend money where it matters on things such as video and your product launch. Consider bringing in an intern to help you manage day-to-day tactics such as social media posts and monitoring. Tap your mentors if you can and use them as sounding boards, ask them to review your messaging.

As you approach the $1 million revenue mark, start spending money on freelancers and contractors. Once you cross over into growth mode, you can really look to hire multiple people or bring in agencies to help you manage your communications.

For more tips, check out the webinar PR 101 for Start-Ups for yourself.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

Great customer service and networking are one of the keys these days to running a business. So many fail because they aren't good at both
It's like any other type of project...just plan it out ahead of time, make the necessary contacts, and execute. Oh yea and not having a bad product would help as well.
Thanks a lot for your tips, It makes me thinking on a different way to communicate.
Nice tips and I follow it for success. Tanks!
Nice tips.. i'll try it fo now.. thanks
Nice tips for start-ups specially the use of social media as this is hot cake in these days and no business can ignore the strength of it. These media are not only used for awareness of business but also used to gain the loyalty of stakeholders.
I use social media all the time. I believe this is a great way to get your message out.
Thanks for sharing an interesting post. After reading your post, I understand how we start a new product. The tips that you have included in this post are so useful. I will share this post with all of my friends. Keep up the good job)-
Besides a communications plan, I think that the most important PR strategy with limited resources is the social media strategy. You don't have to spend a lot of money, results are almost instant, but you have to invest a significant amount of time.
I'd also recommend creating a buzz by making it somehow exclusive for the initial launch...Apple always does this with it's "oh we're sold out of iPhones within 2 hrs of pre-launch". Now we can't all be Apple but still reaching out to niche group of selective users can help generate some curiosity. Another option I can think of is to reach out to influential bloggers in the space and give out your products to them & politely request them if they could write a review or some information on it. This is similar to how many companies give out their initial products to selective journalists, TV reporters etc. Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps!

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