Public relations 101 for startups … from the entrepreneur’s perspective

[Editor: So many “PR 101” posts come from, well, PR folks. And while they’re great, they don’t always capture the entrepreneur’s perspective. That’s why I’m happy to share a PR 101 post from an entrepreneur.]

So you’re a startup founder. You’ve spent the last few months mainlining caffeine and building that awesome location-based-mobile-photo-app for wombats. How do you ensure that when you unleash it upon the unsuspecting world, wombats will read about it in their favorite blog?

One word: publicity.

So, how do you convince the press to tell their readers and viewers how awesome your product is? Publicity should be a part of your launch strategy, and it’s not a mysterious form of rocket science. With a few smart tactics, research, and elbow grease, you can (and IMHO should) do-it-yourself.

Here are the questions I’ve heard most frequently from startups.

What is publicity and why should I care?

Publicity is spreading the word about your product/service via the media. E.g. a blog post, magazine article, or TV segment. It’s often referred to as public relations, but that’s really the umbrella term that also covers crisis management and publicity stunts etc.

You should care as a juicy press placement can be a game changer for your biz. It can spread the word within your target market, bringing brand awareness and customers. It lends credibility to your business. E.g. Whoa, Rick Turoczy wrote about this wombat app? Me download now.

Additionally, press placements tend to be more trusted then an ad, and unlike an ad, it usually doesn’t cost any money.

Am I ready to do this?

Publicity takes time, perseverance, a little creativity, and often a little bit of luck. Remember, press placements are not guaranteed. I don’t want to be a total Debbie downer, but launching an awesome publicity campaign does not automatically mean the press will adore you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try (and I hope you will), but I don’t want you to have unrealistic expectations before diving in. Know that the more prestigious the publication, the harder it is to get in.

Um so you’re saying I shouldn’t hire a professional publicist or agency?

If you’re living on packets of ramen, no. But, if you have the cash to spare, some pros and cons to consider:

The pros:

  • They should have relationships with the media; this gives your pitch a leg up because there is already a personal relationship that can be tapped on your behalf. If you’re shopping around, it’s crucial to look at the agency’s client list and placements. If you’re a software startup, sign up with an agency with a history of TechCrunch, and not USWeekly placements.
  • Saves you time that you might not have.
  • They’re trained in spinning stories and writing pitch emails.

The cons:

  • Can get very expensive fast. Most professionals charge a monthly retainer.
  • No one should be better at telling your story and sharing your passion than you!
  • As a startup where anything can change at a moment’s notice, if your launch strategy or product changes, it’s far easier to tweak publicity messages in-house on the fly than to go through a third party.

If I’m doing it myself, I just write a press release and send it out to everyone right?

Sorry, but no. Sending a press release to 100 outlets is equivalent to applying to 100 different jobs with the exact same cover letter and resume. Each pitch email needs to be personalized to show why your product/service is a fit for the publication. We’ll get into crafting the perfect pitch email in a later post.

How far in advance do I need to start planning my campaign?

Again, it depends. Presuming you’re focused on short-lead publications such as blogs and the local news, you don’t need that much lead time. For monthly magazines, you need to pitch typically 4-5 months in advance!

But, it can take weeks to get all your ducks in a row: assembling your press materials, researching publications etc., so the earlier the better.

In the next post, I’ll cover how to find the perfect press outlets to pitch.

Any questions for me? I’ll provide answers in the comments.

Arwa “Arrs” Jumkawala is a launch expert helping startups get the most bang on their product launches with smart & scrappy marketing. She’s a former event planner who convinced Mashable and TechCrunch to feature her jewelry business, GemKitty. She can be reached @gemkitty.

  1. Such an informative article! I love getting this objective view. Great job, Arrs!

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