Public relations is one of many ways to reach your audience, but it’s not free advertising. And it’s certainly not easy. Public relations is “earned” media, and for your public relations efforts to have long term value, you will have to invest significant sweat equity. You can invest your sweat, or hire someone else for theirs.
Public relations is not free advertising
Unlike advertising, public relations has no guarantee. When you hire a public relations firm or a solo practitioner, you’re counting on his or her knowledge of the media, as well as relationships with influential journalists, editors and bloggers. This just gets you in the door. The best publicist in the world is powerless to give lift to a startup story only a mother could love. And a publicist who gets you coveted interviews can’t stop you from saying the wrong things to the wrong person under pressure. At best, they can help you stay on message.
After a highly successful press hacking campaign, Justin Wilcox of CustomerDevLabs wrote:
Press is another form of advertising; an expensive one.
It costs fewer $’s than Adwords, but it costs much more time and mental energy…plus I have much less control, and it’s not a sustainable source of leads.
Press is great for brand building, buzz building, and ego building. For customer acquisition though, I’ll be focus on solving a “hair on fire” problem and telling customers about it via a sustainable customer acquisition channel.
Press write-ups don’t pay the bills. Customers do.
Getting press isn’t enough
A writeup in a major technology blog is great for morale, but in most cases, the right press is in the outlets your customers, prospects and potential partners read. While everyone wants to be featured in The New York Times to show their mother, it’s a huge waste of effort if your target audience doesn’t read The Times.
Getting the right press
For the public relations process to work you have to get “the right press.” In a recent guest post Duxter co-founder and CEO Adam Lieb discussed strategies for leveraging earned media to influence investors.
Duxter announced its launch on TechCrunch, and racking up more than 10,000 new registrations, few early adopters stayed long enough to become users.
“I would have rather had 500 real gamers than 10K lookie loos,” says Lieb. “Sexy isn’t all that matters in PR.”
But Lieb also mentioned in his post that there will be times when your startup’s traction with the media is a key signal to interested parties. Lieb says,
I have found that it is extremely important to arm your current investors with everything they need to sell their other investor friends on your company. This is especially true at the angel stage. You want your current angels to tell other angels at cocktail parties on yachts (or wherever they gather) “Hey, did you read about Duxter? They are one of my portfolio companies and just had a great write-up in XYZ tech spot.” I find it extremely important to share press mentions and articles with all current investors to show progress and traction, but also with the nudge that they send this to other angels.
This largely hinges on the perception of your company’s fitness based on the ability of your message to travel through various filters prior to publication. In such cases, there is no substitute for the imprimatur of a respected media outlet. Investors are being pitched by startups all day. Being able to get your company featured is something that only a few of the many possible investments can do.
When traditional marketing is more effective than public relations
Traditional marketing activities (customer case studies, white papers, branded events), are much more predictable than public relations, because you have set deliverables. With marketing you I want 1,000 brochures printed by this time for instance, and you get them. Same thing with advertising, where you pay for media buys and creative. Public relations comes with no guarantees.
The best you can do is target specified outlets and influential reporters with a well-crafted media pitch. But all the preparation in the world cannot prevent your story from getting bumped or spiked by a when Yahoo makes a major acquisition by Yahoo.
So just remember that public relations is one piece of the puzzle. I always recommend that startups begin the public relations process as early as possible, and this includes all forms of public-facing communication.
There are no shortcuts to success. Public relations is a powerful tool to help you build your brand, and establish your name, but it’s just one. To make your PR investment count you have to be committed for the long term, and prepare yourself for a lot of hard work, uncertainty and opportunity. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s free.
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