1. If your startup has never engaged in PR before, ask the following questions:
· Are you ready? We’ve had some clients who thought they were ready to launch but weren’t. It can take time to actually be ready – but you don’t necessarily need a finalized product or service. You do need to have strong positioning and compelling messages, a clear understanding of what differentiates your business from the competition. This can be a challenge since startups often pivot their business model until they get traction.
· Who will be coordinating the PR program? Will it be the founder, a marketing executive, an office manager, or someone else? And will that person have the time and resources? We’ve worked with people at those levels, and have made it work but it can be difficult if PR is just another plate they need to keep spinning.
· Do you need ongoing PR or is project-based a better fit? From an agency perspective, an ongoing PR campaign is better – and not just from a cash flow perspective but because it enables long-term strategies — but that may not be ideal for cash-stretched startups with not a lot of news. Talk to your prospective agency; if they aren’t interested in project work until your startup has established a regular flow of news, they might not be the right agency for you.
2. Are you goals realistic? There are two levels to this:
· Are you realistic in terms of your story, resources, customers, etc.? You may have a great product and a great proof of concept, but if you don’t have a paying customer, some media won’t be able to cover you. (This is particularly true in B2B markets.) We’ve also been told by clients that they want to launch within two months but when we get in, we find they’re not ready (see #1, above).
· Are you realistic in terms of your goals based on your budgets and internal resources? Recently a prospective customer with the related businesses asked us to 1) Pitch radio and podcast interviews for both businesses 2) Get bloggers to write about them; 3) Identify speaking opportunities; 4) Provide content to external sites that will create back links; and 5) Maximize earned media. All these goals were reasonable – except his budget had only enough in it to pursue only one of these goals, not all five of them.
· Are you realistic in terms of outcomes? You may have a great announcement but the media and those on social media may not be able to write about it. A reporter once turned down a story about a $30 investment round because he had declined to cover a larger round that had been announced the week before.
3. Can you be a thought leader? To be successful and to engage with current and prospective customers on social media, you need to continually develop new content on topics relevant to your customers. You can use these pieces to show that you understand your customers’ pain points and can help them address them. These thought leadership pieces don’t have to be white papers and case studies – they can be 300-word articles. But it is important to make sure these pieces are useful and not all about you.
4. Even if you don’t have the budget yet, plan for marketing integration. That means, make sure whoever is writing your thought leadership content also knows what your keywords are. Make sure your sales keeps you informed about key trends affecting your customers as well as customer wins and milestones – those are things that can be turned into articles and press releases. Make sure whoever is handling your social media is aware of what everyone else is doing – they can post content about your latest article or case study, about your trade show booth or speaking opportunity or sales promotion. Even at small startups, it’s interesting how many of those activities are kept in separate in a silo. But you can generate much more traction if you leverage all the sales and marketing efforts your undertaking. And, if you’re not investing in all these tactics yet, that’s okay; just keep them in mind for when you do.
5. When focusing on social media, keep in mind: clients don’t like to be marketed to. So make sure only one in 10 posts is a true marketing post – the rest can be about your industry, your region, but especially about your clients pain points as well as about your company’s personality and values. More than ever, people want to do business with companies they like, and social media is a great way to create and enhance your company’s personality.