Too many start-ups all over the world are chasing money blindly and ignoring traditional best-practices. They all think that they are one PR campaign away from getting funded. They’re correct that public relations plays a major role in obtaining investment as well as in getting more downloads, users, and customers. I'm sorry to tell you this, but social media is only a part of PR, albeit a large part. Side note: Just ask start-up Pied Piper, the start-up featured in Silicon Valley on HBO. I love the H.T.M.L. t-shirt from the first episode.
There is a right time and a wrong time to do PR. Is your company ready for PR? Here are times when your company should not hire a PR firm (or do public relations yourselves):
1. When you do not have a finalized product - or a website! Save your marketing budget and make sure the product’s features are complete first. Do not attempt to discuss your company/product without a website. Have a great idea? Make sure the domain name you want is available, or if it's not decide what works best.
When I first created this website AnnieMcCarthy.com was taken, so I chose AnnieMcCarthy.net. After I got married in 2011 I discovered AnnieDance.com was already taken, but AnnieMDance.com was available! It's also a good idea to be as consistent as possible across social media networks. My Twitter handle is @AnnieMDance, and my Linkedin profile is linkedin.com/in/AnnieMDance. Unfortunately Facebook doesn't allow users to change a profile URL once you've created one, so I made it as close as i could with facebook.com/AnnieMcCarthyDance.
2. When you have not tested your product for bugs. Imagine your newly-launched product failing three times with one of the biggest tech reporters in the country. This has happened in the past to well-funded companies. How do you expect coverage when the product malfunctions? Or your idea may just not be a good one. Sorry, it happens, just remember Bic Underwear. Do research, test your ideas, test & re-test your product, rehearse your pitch and cross your fingers.
3. When you do not yet understand your market, your competition, or how to sell. You may think that no one else is doing what you’re doing – but there is always competition.
4. When you do not have customers who will speak to the press, or a designated employee to handle media inquiries. How will reporters write a story if they have no one to talk to? If you’re a B2C or B2B2C company, journalists will care only about your customers. So, if you have no customer stories or case studies, there will be no articles. Along the same line, it should go without saying that you have a designated employee to handle media inquiries, and manage the press lists. Think strategically and think ahead about every possible scenario. As the old saying goes, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Public relations can easily become crisis management if you're not prepared. Anticipate and communicate with all major stakeholders internally and externally.
5. When you do not know why you exist and why anyone would care about your company. It is crucial to be newsworthy. How will your business and product change peoples’ lives? What is the key takeaway? What is your company all about (in 3 sentences or less)?
6. When your product fails during a major installation with a large company. If your product is malfunctioning when you try to integrate it with a large enterprise, stop all press and fix the product immediately. You may only get one chance.
7. When you have not finalized your launch. A poor launch will doom your company. Do not chase after coverage until every single detail of the launch is prepared and finalized. Too many companies jump out of the gate too soon in their attempts to get funding. Public relations agencies can assist with the launch, but it is always important to finalize the event before doing other activities. Do not expect every news outlet to pick up what you're doing, unless you have key contacts, a clear strategy and a relevant product. Have you already had a poor launch? Bad news travels faster than good news unfortunately.
8. When you have not strategized your positioning and messaging. Before you talk to the press you need to think about what you will tell them. Write it down, better yet, email it to yourself so you know what it looks like and so you may perform a keyword search later down the road without having to search through hand-written notes. Email first, then call. No one likes surprise phone calls, especially reporters, so send an email and say when you'll call to follow up. Your CEO, or designated spokesperson should always have easy access to facts, figures, talking points, websites, and the like. When in doubt refer people to your website. Remember, something as simple as updating your email signature with a tagline about a new product or upcoming conference that you're attending works wonders. Your PR staffer/company can help you to devise your positioning and messaging, but no one should approach the media without doing this first.
9. When you have no news, updates, or traction with customers. Be relevant and be in real time, PR cannot occur in a vacuum. You need something to say. Make technology work for you, link up your blog or news section of your website with your Twitter and Facebook accounts, so you're automatically cross-promoting without having to post content on multiple sites.
10. When you are not incorporating a holistic approach to marketing. It is crucial that your messages will be spread through the right channels to the right audience. In order to create you need to plan, and in order to plan you need to prepare.
Success will come only from having the company and product in order before doing public relations. A good company, a good product, and a good leader will get funding – and the right PR at the right time will accelerate the process. This list is adapted from Josh Cline's Linkedin post.
Need PR/marketing/other help? Please email me, and let's connect on Linkedin, and follow me on Twitter.
I'm available for full-time or freelance work (telecommute or on-site position within a commutable distance to Danbury, CT).