If you don’t know what you’re doing, the world of PR can seem like a frighteningly nuanced, cliquey and downright confusing place to operate in. Well, there’s good news and bad news about that.
First, the bad news, which is that the ability to consistently generate good PR is a skill that very few people possess, hence why those who can are generally unaffordable to bootstrapping startups. But the good news is that top PR practitioners aren’t always motivated by money – they are often attracted by, and like to be associated with, the best ideas. If a project seems genuinely worthwhile, with obvious potential, many PR execs, particularly freelancers, will be happy to work on the basis of “jam tomorrow” rather than demanding a fat fee up-front for, say, “guaranteed coverage.”
Speaking of which, never trust PR peeps who say they can guarantee coverage, unless you want to lose a big chunk of your funding very quickly! That said, there are many things that you, as an early stage founder can do to put yourself in the best position possible to ride that wave of publicity when it finally comes.
Picture yourself as a surfer trying to catch that perfect Point Break – if you aren’t in the perfect position, primed and ready to go when it comes, it’s gonna roll right over you, and you’ll end up spitting sand and seaweed on the seabed. Get it, right, however, and boy is it fun – so here are some simple things you can do to make sure that when the chance for some exposure comes, you are ready to grab it with both hands, and hold on for as long as you can!
1. Write 5 different releases about you, your company and your product.
Let’s start with a boring one – at any one time you want to be able to pitch your company in 5 different ways. Hey, if they can cook a chip 4 ways, you can talk about your company in 5 different ways, ok? Make them short and snappy, no more than 600 words. It may be hard work at first but use that founder enthusiasm and really back yourself. If you don’t, who will?
2. Use Twitter to grow your knowledge of who writes about what.
Journalists are funny, and on-trend – that’s why they do what they do. So, follow them! Use Twitter, or Instagram if you want, and whenever you have a few spare minutes, trawl through your news feeds, delete the spammers and add a couple more journos – the Twitter algorithms will help you find new writers – after a few months of doing this, you will start to realise that the PR/journalism world is smaller than you first thought.
3. Don’t use Facebook!
Sending journalists you don’t know friend requests is a bad move – witness them tweet their disgust at people who do this. Building a relationship with a journo takes a couple of ice-ages – progress is glacial, and you can slip and fall at any time – so don’t think you are going straight to the top of their “bestie” list.
4. Don’t spam or send generic emails.
What’s the point? Let’s say you are a tech startup in the food delivery space – there are probably no more than 50 journalists in Europe you need to be speaking with – no journalist, ever, has said, “wow”, I cover the farming industry in East Stirlingshire but this London startup sounds so hot, I’m gonna write a piece on it – right now! What they will do is delete your email and bookmark you as a spammer.
5. Do make yourself available at all times.
Go to events. Talk to people. Tell everybody you know about what you are doing. Talk to strangers. A scatter gun approach is fine if you’re doing it ‘mano-a-mano‘ because people like talking. So, resist the urge to send spammy emails and get out to as many events and functions as you can.
6. Drip feed information about what you are doing – then make sure you do it!
PR is a “little and often” business – you cannot write one ball-busting mission statement about your company, fire it off to a few hundred contacts and wait for the coverage to start rolling in. But if, every fortnight, you tell people about a new development, an event you went to, a new staff hire you have made – people may at best skim-read what you write, but they will start unconsciously building a relationship with you. So be consistent, and the rewards will come.
7. Don’t chop and change your brand – stay recognisable (and stand out if you can!).
The dreaded “pivot” – the dirtiest word in PR-land. You said you were one thing, now you are something else. #awkward for the journo who just wrote a piece about you! Try and determine if you really are ready for PR – if you know (not think, know!) that your company will look, sound and do the same thing for the next 5 years – then you’re clear – don’t start a PR campaign if you have commitment issues – your mother would not approve!
8. Pick the low hanging fruit first.
“Dear journalist/PR consultant – I’m having so much trouble finding coverage….” Really! Have you tried #journorequest (where journalist actually ask you to talk to them, and tell you what about!)? Have you tried Response Source Media. Have you joined any LinkedIn groups? Do you have a Facebook page/Twitter account? Who are the twenty most influential people in your sector. When was the last time you saw/corresponded with each of them?
9. Use the mail! The Royal Mail (yes, they still exist).
Think about this from the journalists’ or influencers’ perspective – give them a nice, easy win. Send them your product and explain why – easiest tweet/Instagram/Snapchat in the world… “we’ve just received this amazing new product from xyz delivered straight to our office!” It’s thoughtful, it’s nice. Try it!
10. Pay it forward – help people out and expect nothing in return.
It may sound cheesy and unrealistic, but being a good startup citizen helps – probably more than anything else. If you can do somebody a favour, do it. If you can make an intro, make it. Don’t fret and think “but why should I help somebody else when nobody is helping me. Erm, that’s why nobody is helping you! Don’t have a defensive or negative attitude – just go out there with a smile on your face and smash it!
If you can get a butterfly to flap its wings in East Grinstead, you’ll soon be riding a tidal wave of startup love across the M25 right into the path of Mr Big VC/Editor. You may never know what caused it, but you will know who – you.