Eventually I sat in the position of being an entrepreneur myself. When Grow VC launched in 2008, the founders (of which I was lucky to be a member) had a great idea and even greater ambition, and the group has flourished in the six years since.
This short article will cover some of the PR challenges and opportunities we faced with that launch. Every startup is different; however, every launch shares some basic elements. This common ground can provide fruitful learning opportunities, as we can all draw insights from shared experiences. I'll go through the following in order: Press Relationships; Importance of Timing; Key Messaging and Taglines; Keeping Communications Appropriate; Growth After Launch.
One of the very first thing a startup seeking media attention needs to ask itself is, "Do I know any members of the press?" The question of 'who you know' is just as important as 'what you know' in this regard. Scratch your heads -- and the heads of all of those involved with your startup – regarding who you know with ties to the media, and how you could engage those persons effectively.
With Grow VC we were lucky in that we had a well-connected member with great knowledge of the media in Jouko Ahvenainen.
But if you are starting completely from scratch, fear not, because the media loves to find a rising star. But always remember that building press relationships takes time. Momentum, consistency and staying in touch with the media are all crucial as your startup evolves. Don't just talk about yourself. Position yourselves as having unique, statistics-driven information about a whole market and journalists will know to rely on you for information.
IMPORTANCE OF TIMING
Many startups commit the same fatal error when it comes to press relations: they launch without doing enough planning. I've seen it time and time again. In the run up to putting a technical product to market, there is so much focus on getting the product/service right, it leaves little time for appropriate attention paid to how the launch should be rolled out. But a perfect product with no customers will return zero revenues. Planning and PRE-planning are critical aspects of a successful marketing launch. Getting the media's attention means thousands (if not hundreds of thousands or even millions) more people will learn about your product. Getting the media's attention means SENDING THEM THE NEWS BEFORE IT GOES OUT TO THE WORLD. I've used obnoxious capitals for that sentence because it's the best way to underline how important this concept is. If you want to woo a journalist, you need to tell them about your news before the rest of the world knows about it. Journalists need a few days (at the least) to plan their stories, to schedule interviews, and slot the piece into production. You have an arsenal at your disposal, which may include utilizing embargoes and the promise of exclusives. You have the power to research who writes about your market. Use these tools. Do everything it takes to get your news to the right journalists before slapping up a release on a newswire. (But do put your release on a newswire on the day; it generates online traction).
KEY MESSAGING AND TAGLINES
So, now that you have a basic idea of when to say it, what are you going to say? The second biggest mistake I've seen startups make is not to have a good idea of what their top three key messages are, and not having a strong tagline. Taglines are like the 1-second elevator pitch. What problem does your product solve? If the tagline is unclear, the understanding of your product will be too.
I always coach my clients to create three key messages that state their USPs. No one will remember more than three. For consumer goods these have included phrases like “Made in the USA. 100% Sustainable.” For a business offering the key message will be more complex, but keep it to the length of a phrase. E.g. “The most operator-friendly mobile messaging app on Android.” For Grow VC we used the tagline “Venture Capital 2.0” – that was six years ago when that concept was fresh, and it got people interested in what we were offering.
KEEPING COMMUNICATIONS APPROPRIATE
There is an unwritten rulebook on how companies should approach the media. That's why PR professionals constantly point to their credentials and background as being critical to successful media relations. But startups with little or no funding may not afford a PR person straight away. It's frustrating because those are some of your most valuable moments with the press. In those instances, I beg and plead startups to follow these guidelines:
-Never send a journalist an attachment. Always paste the body of your press release into the body of the email.
-Offer visuals but do it with a /press URL, where you have placed visuals, charts, videos and other press materials on your website, so they can download them.
-Offer concrete availability for interviews and tell them who the spokesperson will be, E.g. “Our CEO is holding tomorrow afternoon open from 12-5pm for press interviews; her bio can be found here: “
-Never forget Twitter! Journalists love being contacted in that forum because it means you have to keep your message to 140 characters.
-Remember they receive hundreds or thousands of news releases a day. Be courteous. Don't get upset if you don't receive a reply. They might be busy looking at your website and planning a news article. Never burn a bridge with a journalist.
-Always give them a phone number, and not just a Skype ID; most inbound press requests will be extremely fast-moving and done over the phone.
-Keep it friendly and light-hearted, don't claim to be the leader in X when you aren't, and don't take yourself too seriously; journalists are naturally cynical about companies thinking they are the “next big thing.” Like most humans, journalists like the underdog.
GROWTH AFTER LAUNCH
I mentioned above that your launch is often the best opportunity to get something properly “new” in front of the press. The other thing that's most “new” and interesting about your company is when you get funding. That is a golden opportunity to generate positive press locally and within your market. I would strongly advise hiring a PR person at that stage, at the very least, for the funding announcement, and to set up a nominal number of press interviews (five is generally realistic).
Once your company is rolling, there are other ways to create news. Remember that just existing is not news in itself. Here are some ideas: Talk about your customers and case studies, and let the journalist talk to your customer. Talk about market statistics, things you have observed in your space, and quantify it, because numbers are always attractive to the media. (Browse today's headlines to see how many news pieces focus on a number.) Take surveys to draw statistics on a market issue you've noticed. If there's no foundation or group for your issue, start one and be the head of it. If your company is growing rapidly, talk about growth and give concrete numbers to back it up. And always make your news snappy and write a great headline.
I hope those ideas have provided some fodder for your launch. Always remember to stay positive and upbeat; press doesn't often happen overnight, but one news article could change your whole world.
Emily McDaid brings transatlantic experience to all of her client relationships and a worldwide reputation. She began her career in technology PR at MIT’s CSAIL in the early 2000s. From there she began working with some of the best PR professionals in Boston at SHIFT Communications. Moving to London in 2003, McDaid worked with countless tech brands and became a director at the Loewy group of PR agencies. She built a second-to-none network of media professionals, and then broke out on her own to found Hatch PR in 2008. McDaid is also a founding member of Grow VC, and we are proud to have an equity partnership with the Grow VC Group.
You can contact her at hatchpr AT growvc DOT com or you can check her website at www.hatch-pr.com