Gini Dietrich

Startup PR: Tips for Getting Started

By: Gini Dietrich | July 1, 2013 | 

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 3.19.14 PMMy friend John Corrigan is one of those guys who can sell anything to anyone. He’s so likable, everyone wants to be around him. He has no qualms introducing himself to a celebrity with their entourage hanging around, or to the recent immigrant who is working hard to gain her citizenship and make a living for her family.

Because of his innate ability to make people feel special from the moment he meets them, he is continually asked by startups to join their organizations to help them through that initial phase of getting launched.

Most recently, he decided his time is best spent by helping several organizations for a few hours each week…and, because he’s now a consultant, he’s faced with a new dilemma.

When is it Time to Begin Startup PR?

One of the big mistakes we often see startups make is to start the PR too late. Most call around a month before they launch.

This is too late.

If you want a PR program to work, I mean really work, ideally you’ll give the firm (or your internal person) a good six months to prepare. If you don’t have that kind of time, three months can work, but it’s not ideal.

Anything less than three months means you’re running around like a madperson, trying to get as much done as you can, and oftentimes the launch will not strategically coincide with the PR launch.

You want the business and PR launches to happen at the same time.

If you have enough time, it will be perceived you’re an overnight success because you will be everywhere all at once. If you don’t have enough time, the PR will begin to trickle in slowly and it won’t be as effective.

Startup PR: Tips for Getting Started

But having enough time is only the first step. Following are 10 other things you should consider as you interview for, and hire, your PR firm.

  1. Your executive team isn’t enough. Many startups have a great executive team who have done amazing things for other organizations. Unless your team is made up of Sean Parker or Andrew Mason or Elon Musk, no one will care. Well, that’s not entirely true. People will care and it might get your foot in the door, but it won’t be enough to get you the stories you need.
  2. You have to have a great product. You’d think this goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many organizations have “me-too” products. Late in 2010, a friend called me wanting our help because he was building a Groupon-like company. He saw the success they’d had and wanted it, too. The company didn’t make it past an initial website and a few merchants. It’s best to create a new category, like Groupon did, but if you can’t, have a point of excellence the others can’t achieve.
  3. Get media trained. You know your product and your company and your team better than anyone. But that doesn’t mean you’re the right person to tell the story…unless you’ve been media trained. It will cost some money, but it’s worth the investment because it will not only make you a better speaker, you’ll know how to tell your story in a focused way that allows the media to use (and reuse) your pithy soundbites.
  4. Don’t launch until you’re really, really ready. This one is going to be hard to hear: If you think you’re launching in August and your website hasn’t begun to be built, you’d not launching in August. Most PR firms that do startup work will know when you’re close to ready. You should trust them if they say it’s not quite there. They don’t want you to fail…and they don’t want to go to their relationships if you’re not ready. Using the August example, you should have hired your PR firm in February. If you are, in the middle of June, now looking at a barebones site and you haven’t done alpha or beta tests, you’re not launching in August. Use your PR firm to help you plan for the unexpected.
  5. Use social media. This should be a no-brainer in 2013, but sometimes common sense isn’t all that common. In today’s digital age, if you aren’t using the tools your targeted media are using, it’s harder to gain their attention. You also should be using it for branding and for customer service, but that’s a different story for a different day. Use social media to connect with – and build relationships with – your top 10 or 20 journalists.
  6. Don’t forget about bloggers. When a PR firm is working with you, they should also recommend a strong blogger outreach program. If they’re focused solely on the traditional media, keep interviewing firms. Bloggers will help you create that groundswell while traditional media helps you with a top-down approach. You need both.
  7. Know the middle influencers. Sure, you want to get in TechCrunch and GigaOm and the Huffington Post. So does everyone else. Yes, they’ll be very effective for you, but also think about the bloggers and media in the middle. It’s been said the real influencers are those who have 100 readers and all 100 buy when they say buy than those who have 10,000 readers and only 100 buy when they say so. Who would you rather approach?
  8. Make sure everything is integrated. Once the stories begin to roll in, what will you do with them? That’s just the beginning. How will you continue to build relationships with those who produced stories for you? How will you present them on your website? Will you use in email marketing? How will your sales team use them in meetings? Is the product side reading the comments to understand how to improve? Everything you do must be integrated into the rest of the organization. Geoff Livingston and I talk about this in Marketing in the Round. If you don’t know how to integrate, read this book.
  9. You  have to participate. Many, many, many executives think they hire a PR firm and that’s the end of that. It’s not limited to just startups; established organizations do this, too. Unfortunately, no one wants to hear from the PR firm. They want to hear from you. If you think you’ve hired the firm and your job is done, you’re going to have a rude awakening. Be prepared to spend an hour a day on PR and marketing.
  10. Measure results, not stories or traffic. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in big increases to traffic and large numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. These are the wrong things to “measure.” What is it you’re trying to achieve? Is it free trial users? Is it paid users? If the PR firm talks in terms of media impressions and increased Facebook fans or YouTube viewers, keep interviewing. If they can’t talk about how their efforts will get you customers, you’ll feel like you’re wasting your money three months in.

Of course, this is just the beginning to PR for startups. There are many other things to consider, such as staying focused on one feature of your product until after you launch, making strategic hires (including your PR firm), and really understanding how what you’re building is different than everyone else.

Give yourself enough time and follow these tips and you’ll find success right around the corner.

A version of this first appeared in my weekly AllBusiness column.

P.S. We’re going to try something for the next three months. So I can focus on some longer form content and test some of the ideas outlined in Increase Blog Traffic with These 12 Ideas, I am scaling back by three blog posts per week. I’ll be here Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. Wednesday morning, Gin and Topics, and The Three Things will be written by our team. We’ll report back in October!

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Great tips, Gini! And, many of them apply to non-startups too.
    Also, very interested in your experiment about frequency on the blog. I’m digging more in-depth blog posts, myself. I think it’s good for Google and good for readers. I’m definitely putting more into each post these days. Happy experimenting!

    • lauraclick I don’t think I’ll do more in-depth blog posts. Rather, longer content in terms of eBooks and the like, podcasts, and videos. We’ll see. The 90 day experiment begins today!

      • giesencreative

        ginidietrich lauraclick Looking forward to seeing what the experiment brings! I’m trying to increase the different types of online media I pay attention to, myself. I only really read blog posts, and that’s a bit of a problem for a content specialist…

  • Really, really good info for startups – and fortunately, for those who’ve launched unawares, many of these tips still apply!
    Best on the “experiement” and know we’ll be in good hands with the AD Team! Can’t wait to see what you create! 🙂

  • “Don’t launch before you’re ready” – Amen to that.

    • belllindsay Aren’t you supposed to be drinking or eating or sunbathing or something that is not work-related?

  • giesencreative

    Great tips for startups – and a lot to learn by other companies, too. I know a few people who will find this article helpful!

    • giesencreative Ha! I guess it does apply to others, doesn’t it?

  • I can almost see the initial meeting between the potential PR provider and the startup, given this outline. It would not be an easy dog and pony show but it could certainly lead to a very effective relationship. The other thing that I think is implied in these steps but may not be overtly said is …. how strong is the startup’s long-term plan? They may have a whiz bang product now but what do they want people to think a year from now and what do they want to be making? And I suppose in an industry like mine (non profit, insurance) — what are their goals? who/how do they want to be serving? what do they want people, potential users as well as potential stakeholders (who may have a say in whether or not to fund the non profit) to think? Great thoughts and I am excited to see the experiment that came out of the “12 ideas” taking shape!

    • biggreenpen OMG! You want startups to think beyond launch?? Are you insane?! 🙂 I recently had a conversation with a prospect and asked some questions about potential pitfalls I see with their product. They told me they’re not concerned about it because they expect to sell before then. Um…what if you don’t??

  • Thanks for this!! I find it very helpful, and as you know we are not a startup!! I plan to spend sometime going thru this list again!

    • sydcon_mktg I’m slowly writing stuff like this for you. 🙂

      • ginidietrich sydcon_mktg You rock lady!!! We need to get together again soon!!

      • ginidietrich sydcon_mktg I heard the Blackhawks won solely on their PR efforts to have the games fixed by the mafia. And it worked. Got it done in 3 months actually.

  • MichaelBowers

    Start-ups need to get out of the “Build” mindset and into a “Business” mindset soon rather than later. Your post speaks to well to this. I always tell people not to get into a hurry to get started. They need to plan and prep to have a successful launch. I recently had a person come to me who wanted to launch in 20 days that had not started their marketing, PR and outreach. They were completely shocked when I told them they should have started their marketing, PR and outreach months earlier. I did slow them down a little but they are trying to play catch up on the marketing while starting a business. That is a lot of pressure.

    • MichaelBowers Unfortunately, that’s very, very common. Even this new company – AirPR – that matches PR pros with startups says they only need three to four weeks. That just isn’t enough time.

      • ginidietrich MichaelBowers Can I ask, Gini, if you are able to provide info – what exactly are they promising for 3-4 weeks lead time? (if you already answered feel free to direct me there)

  • That is just solid advice for anyone who is launching a new product.

  • susancellura

    This is not only good and strong advice for start-ups, but also for companies who are building their brand, changing it, or working to build their reputation within an industry. Cheers!

    • susancellura Good point about changing their reputation. It would work for that, too.

  • KateNolan

    Hmm… Scaling back to focus on long form content or the Tour? Curious timing… 😉
    Excellent list, though we’re not a startup, I think numbers eight and ten are key for my company. We’ve recently started producing short educational videos about our industry and everyone loves to hear compliments and how many comments we get. I have to burst their bubble this week (our third release) and let them know there’s more to all this than comments. Oh, and after the initial excitement from customers, those compliments won’t be so easy to get!

    • KateNolan Bahahahaah! You found me out! LOL!
      It doesn’t sound like you have an easy job ahead of you. It’s never fun to burst someone’s bubble, but I like the way you think!

  • Good stuff Gini. #2 & 7 speak to me, although the whole list is important. 
    The idea has to be great. Everything comes from that. On influencers, it’s amazing how much time PR & marketing pros spend on the big names, when there are dozens of 1k-4k twitter audience people who work for various media publications, websites etc… who are interacting regularly with just about anyone who wants to have a conversation with them.

    • JoeCardillo I always ask clients, “Would you rather target someone with 100,000 followers and have them sell only to one percent of them or someone with 1,000 followers and have them sell 100 percent of them?” The person with the 1,000 followers has much more influence yet (to your point) are largely ignored.

      • ginidietrich JoeCardillo I’m sure you don’t put it this way, but it’s kind of a litmus test isn’t it? 
        If they answer 100k you pretty much know what you’re dealing with..

  • Agreeing with the crowd, this applies to more than just a start-up or as I often see, a new very small business. In which case #1 is irrelevant except to the 12 people you know and #2 is only the beginning. You and biggreenpen got into it a bit; many start-ups only want the buzz to get the VC to then get more buzz to then sell out asap, sometimes even before IPO, so they can leave whomever they suckered into holding the logo bag of nothing but buzz. Ahem.
    So – good product/service, well priced, strategically developed to be of value and/or critical use to target audience – that’s #2. The good website – and WORD! does your PR team need to be included on that. Then service and support, integrate, train, prepare, think beyond quick sales. Big part of #4: Soft Launch. Test. Test again. How often do brands lose round 1 because they ran off their target customers and ruined their reputation right out of the gate in the rush for quick cash. Make sure you can deliver on the promises you’re making, so you can earn that splashy publicity and social buzz you seek. FWIW.

    • 3HatsComm biggreenpen I agree maybe use the term ‘Start Up PR Campaign’ meaning no matter the business if you want to have a R campaign be successful you have to give them 6 months.
      When I first changed to advertising from B2B sales I was trying to sell a service to the Movie Industry. They plan the media for the big movies 6 months in advance.

      • Howie Goldfarb At least 6 months out, esp. for anything you want to cultivate groundswell, WoM. And that’s time to work the plan; developing the plan, based on overall strategy, that’s even more time. And yes, the reality we’re often having to teach SMBs.

  • NUMBER 2! Most important!
    Flipside the PR Agency or Pro must tell the client about reality. One client whom I interviewed 6 PR people and we tried 3 only 1 was honest about how long for results. The other 5 were like 3 months BAM BAM BAM you are all over. And then were let go after not living up to their hype.

    • Howie Goldfarb I second that….good things happen when everyone lives in reality. If not, the best that can happen is the ensuing fire doesn’t burn the entire house (business) down.

  • Great article! I work for a PR recruitment agency so it’s great to know what experience companies require and are going to be looking for when hiring PR staff for a launch. Good stuff!

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