Startups often pursue short-term public relations tactics and mistakenly think they have a public relations strategy. Fortunately it’s not hard to separate the two, and to see how they work together.
A public relations strategy is a playbook that will deliver your company to its goals. A variety of public relations tactics must be deployed in order to make your company the most attractive option to your prospects. Some of the tactics involved include launch announcements and press mentions (earned media), guest posts (earned/owned), sponsored posts (earned + owned) and educational content (pure owned). Each represents a different form of visibility and exposure for your company. But if you don’t have a public relations strategy you can’t know if the tactics you’ve employed are actually helping or not.
Few tokens of startup success are more coveted than a writeup or launch announcement in TechCrunch. Early in the life of a startup a lot of energy and resources are often hurled at snagging a TechCrunch article, or ink in one of a few similar publications. Founders love to collect logos on the home page. The external validation is supposed to be a tipoff to investors, and helps with recruiting efforts, according to the prevailing wisdom.
But early media exposure should not happen at the expense of customer acquisition and product development. This tactical blunder can lead to strategic misalignment, with the public relations cart in front of the horse. Before you embark on this path, ask how press coverage will serve your long-term aims.
Raising venture capital is itself a tactical maneuver. Fundraising isn’t the ultimate goal. Neither is recruiting.
As a founder you went into business to create value for others, and to help people solve problems. VC will help you scale up your customer acquisition efforts, which might include hiring a public relations firm to help with marketing. A well-crafted public relations campaign may make your company more attractive to job candidates, but you’re not in business just to grow staff, are you?
How to create a public relations strategy
The following are tactics that will help you construct a winning public relations strategy. While not exhaustive, these building blocks will help you tell your story powerfully, and build sustainable buzz for your company.
Who are your customers?
There are multiple audiences for your product, and you should share different sides of yourself with each. Some segments of your audience may be large and fickle, while others are small, targeted and passionate. When you understand this you’ll realize that your public relations strategy should be crafted for the long haul, and media relations should include major publications and niche sites alike.
What are your public relations goals and business goals?
Think first and foremost about the goals you want to accomplish, both personally and professionally. What does success look like? It’s a question I always ask.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you’ve arrived. Be specific about what you hope to accomplish, and be audacious. But most of all, be honest.
What is your key message?
Once you’ve set you’re “North Star” you can start to tell the story of how you plan to reach your goals.
Much like an elevator pitch, you have to boil your story down into a phrase or a few talking points. This is instrumental when talking with journalists, but it’s a helpful exercise to make sure that your team clearly understands the company mission statement.
What is your narrative arc?
It’s helpful to think of your company story as novel or a TV show, with discreet episodes. Have your season finale crafted before you release Episode 1. Each chapter or vignette advances the plot towards the conclusion.
How are you positioned versus your major competitors?
If you don’t have any competitors then you may not only be ahead of your market, but ahead of your customers as well. Fortunately even disruptors have something or someone they’re disrupting. By closely following the moves of your larger rivals, you’ll be able to craft a public relations message that demonstrates unique value as well as a thorough understanding of the marketplace.
What are the unique strengths of your team and solution
People today want to know the team. There’s a reason Dropbox has photos of its entire team on its home page. Leverage the personalities of your team, and your startup swag to get your public relations message to the right customers.
Remember that you’re battling for attention, eyeballs and customers.
The right tactics will help you gain ground on the competition, increase market share and profitability, but don’t confuse the means with the ends. Be strategic and tactical for the long-term, and you will reach your goal.