Congratulations! You have taken the leap and started a business. Now you are ready to tell the world about your new venture, and want to start with the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and TechCrunch. While seeing your business’s name in print is exciting—and often revenue-driving—it takes work to get there, even if you are a seasoned veteran at this start-up thing (Beth’s previous post, Why Your Product Launch is Not Your Watershed Moment, is a great place to start). Not only can attention too early stoke a fire that burns out too quickly, it can also create demand a business simply cannot support. For every business, the point at which to get started with PR is different. Say, for example, you are in stealth mode but want to create anticipation for your product. Or, you are about to close on a round of financing and see industry competitors getting attention. For each scenario the PR program you deploy will be vastly different (e.g., a larger emphasis on social media engagement versus traditional media outreach). No matter what your business stage, or the goals you would like to achieve, here are three things you should consider before launching a PR campaign.
1. Is there product available?
While the answer to this question will not always mean the difference between a go/no-go PR plan, it is an important consideration, and will determine what kind of campaign you deploy. Companies that start talking too early run the risk of creating interest in their product, without the ability to fulfill the demand generated. While this scenario has been known to have a positive effect on a few companies’ reputations and demand for its product (i.e., Apple’s iPhone), this is more often a problem that can have negative effects for a rookie company.
If joining the conversation is important for the long-term success of your company, make sure you are set up to achieve it:
2. Messaging: who, what and why?
First, ask yourself: who are you? While this seems like an obvious question, it is often the hardest to answer. While working with a PR agency can help you nail the messaging, are you able to say what your company does—and the problem it solves—in 20 seconds? Second, identify what problem you solve. Does your product minimize complexity? Streamline a process that is time-consuming and difficult? It’s important for people to hear the reasons they need your product or solution, and then decide whether it’s worth the purchase. A good start is to get a group of company executives together and talk about the problem you solve. Are you all on the same page? Or is there a disconnect? Working with a PR agency can help streamline this discussion (PR agencies often have insight into what messages will work best based on experience), but it’s important to take the first pass internally. If company executives aren’t sure what problem they solve, reporters are not going to accept that responsibility. Third, figure out what makes you different. Most companies think the answer to this is obvious. And to you, it might be. But to the rest of the world, it’s important to be specific and concise. The answer may simply be that you are less expensive. Or that your product is easier to use. Whatever the reason, you need something that makes you stand out from the rest of the market. If you can’t answer this question, it is going to be impossible for a reporter at the Wall Street Journal to. Start writing down the reasons you are different from your competitors. While these messages will continue to be honed as you get started on your PR path, it’s important to start laying the foundation.
3. You have financing.
This is important for two reasons. First, one of the worst things that could happen is that you launch a PR campaign that becomes very successful, create a tremendous amount of momentum, and run out of money. Momentum stalls. Your competitors increase their share of voice, and you start losing (metaphorical) real estate daily. Second, the media often use financing as a litmus test to determine a company’s credibility. They’ll want to know how much and when, and will start watching for more. Once you decide PR is a priority, you need to treat it as such, and allocate the necessary resources to make it a success. Talk about your goals. And what resources you can allocate to achieve those goals. This will help determine where you are in the process, and if PR is a viable option for your business.
Every new company is excited to tell the world about their vision or creation. And you should be. But just because you’re excited doesn’t mean you’re ready for the front page just yet. Patience is still a virtue, and can have a big pay off when exercised as part of a larger strategy. And, while you are exercising that patience and answering some of the questions above, make sure to check out Samantha's "Words to Retire" post. This should be required reading as you work to solidify your messaging. While you may think your technology is game-changing, so do your competitors. And every other company. Be innovative and cutting edge—just don’t use those words to describe it.