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PR for Start ups

Published in DARE, a magazine for enterprenuers – http://dare.co.in/blog-entries/on-the-website/pr-for-startups.htm

It’s every entrepreneurs dream to get his venture in the public eye, being know and appreciated by his stakeholders for the products and services on the offer. But getting the word out on a consistent basis is often a challenge to these, time constrained start-ups. For them getting their business up and running becomes priority, while marketing takes a back seat. They are remarkable individuals with no clue when it comes to blowing their own horn. Their products are yet unproven, sometimes in new market niches, and they are viewed by all with utter skepticism.

While there are hundreds of marketing techniques for startups, public relation is something that is most of the time under estimated and under valued.

Public Relations if done right turns out to be extremely valuable to the company branding, which has immeasurable benefits in the long haul. But most of the startups – especially those living in a Web 2.0 bubble – don’t focus much energy on the mainstream press, their entire focus gets skewed down to blogging or creating awareness using social media.

The thing with PR is that it’s not just for attracting bloggers, although that’s a good reason to use it. The press certainly looks at blogs, social media and less traditional avenues for its scoops, but they still work via press releases & press relationships as well.

A strategic PR approach helps start ups to position themselves as thought-leader and influence public perception on a higher level. Distributing information and being noticed is not enough. There must be a concerted, continual effort to maintain positive, self-sustaining relationships with the people who influence the company’s revenue streams. This is put into practice via educational articles, speaking opportunities and quoted commentary. Tougher to put into play, but a very wise pursuit.

Having said that, it is not even easy to get a mainstream coverage for a start ups. They don’t garner credibility in the eyes of media, until they are basically no longer considered a “Start Up”.  Therefore, the media doesn’t seem to want to take the time to cover a possible one-hit wonder or a here today, gone tomorrow company.  What if they’re wrong about highlighting it – what if none of their readers are interested.  They don’t want to take the risk.  A start up has to prove that our start up is going to be the next big thing, that it’s an innovative idea that WILL catch on and become the norm and not just a trend.

Tell a Good Story

The key to PR (and it’s the same with using social media and blogs) is that you need to tell a good story.

PR isn’t simply about stating facts, or announcing straightforward news. It’s about telling a good story to the right audience at the right time. A great press release is crafted to tell stories behind the words, to trigger ideas and possibilities in other people’s heads, to indicate the direction your company is going without stating it explicitly.

Before publishing a press release, ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of the press release?” Are you trying to reach potential partners, customers, mainstream press, investors, etc.? You can’t target too many audiences at once, so really think about the type of press release you’re writing and who will be interested in it.

The timing is important too. If you’re attending an event, for example, publish a press release just before to get people’s attention. It can lead to more buzz around the event. If you’re going to release a new version of your product soon – think about staggering in some press releases beforehand – to build buzz.

And PR isn’t just about posting press releases to the news wires. PR is about building relationships with your target audience (primarily mainstream press, analysts, but now also online press as well) to develop a strong reputation in your field of expertise. You want journalists coming to you asking for quotes, opinions, etc. — so that your press opportunities aren’t exclusively for news about your startup, but also for industry trend stories that journalists are writing about.

Outsource PR

I would suggest that you outsource your startup’s PR efforts, unless you’re an expert already. But even if you are, you’re probably too busy to focus on PR effectively.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. PR shouldn’t consume a huge part of your marketing budget to work. It’s an evolving process that should create a snowball effect — one press release lands you a couple press mentions, the next one a few more…then you’re invited to speak somewhere, and then some partners come knocking…

But before approaching a PR firm, start-up execs should take a really hard look at their business objectives, their target audiences, competitive advantages and their current financial situation. For all the good that PR can create, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and consistency, and it ain’t cheap.

And you certainly can and should do some of the PR yourself. Every startup should have a company blog. A startup blog isn’t used exclusively for PR, but it certainly can help.

Don’t Forget PR

PR might be seen as blogging & social media’s old cousin (and to a degree it is), but don’t dismiss it too quickly. All the mentions on a handful of tech blogs might not be enough (although they’re great!), especially when it’s time to break out of those relatively closed circles and reach a much bigger audience.

Startups need every advantage they can get their hands on to stay top-of-mind with as many people as possible. And a good, constant (but still relatively small) PR effort can help.


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