January 18, 2011
One of the biggest issues for start-ups is how to get media attention. A good part of the problem with these cash strapped start-ups is they don’t think they can afford the expense or devote a staff member’s time to public relations.
We’ve all heard the expression “shameless self-promotion”. Let’s be honest, too few start-ups engage in any self-promotion early on, but they should. They don’t because they don’t know how.
For some start-ups this means they need to hire outside services on a short-term basis to perform tasks. For other start-ups, they need to do things themselves.
But there’s the catch … outsiders are only a cost and a time savings if you know which service provider you need to engage.
Admit it … we’ve all done it… hired a service provider that didn’t produce the results we wanted.
So we get disgusted, throw up our arms and try to accomplish whatever in-house.
Admit it again … we’ve all learned the DIY doesn’t necessarily work either. You can’t do everything and when you don’t know what you’re doing, the results aren’t optimal or anywhere close (and it can end up being more expense).
The unfortunate course of action by most start-ups is to do nothing. Procrastinate until later. And this is definitely not the right answer … ask any serial entrepreneur or investor.
Let me introduce you to Melanie Rembrandt, one of the country’s top, small business PR experts, founder of Rembrandt Communications (http://www.rembrandtwrites.com/), and author of the book Simple Publicity. I talked with Melanie about the publicity problems facing most start-up companies today – how to get attention without breaking the piggy bank.
As Melanie says, “Too many people believe that PR means press releases, but it doesn’t. It’s much more than that. Public relations let people know what you do”.
CYNTHIA: What the most impactful thing a start-up can do you get the word out?
MELANIE: Press releases are a very ineffective way of getting the media to notice your start-up. The reason is there are thousands of press releases, most are ignored. For startups on a tight budget and schedule, I suggest spending the majority of their time talking to targeted reporters on the phone or in person. (Note: For techies out there, sending email was not mentioned. Resist the temptation.) The best way for a start-up to attract the media is to contact them directly.
First, set aside one day and research the media. Find out whose writing about your industry or product. Create a list of media people to contact.
Second, develop your unique story idea – the benefits the product offers, why its uniqueness and how it’s different. Write a specific release for each individual media contact.
Most importantly, pick up the phone. If you pitch the media and they are interested, keep in mind, the media can take up to eight months before releasing an article about your start-up. They work on long lead times, so it’s important to start early. Even if they are not interested in your story, they will at least know who you are and may contact you later.
I often recommend start-up begin their marketing effort as soon as possible, even before a traditional pre-launch campaign. It takes a long time to build relationships and create notoriety in the market, much longer than most people think.
CYNTHIA: If a start-up is nowhere near releasing its product, what types of stories can they share that would interest the media?
MELANIE: There so many ways to promote a start-up without mentioning the product. You can introduce expertise in the target market or industry for the product. Everyone likes to hear about the story behind the business and why you are who you are. You can share the spotlight and talk about a customer. Relate your start-up to a current news story or industry event. Develop a story about industry news or trends.
Media attention is so valuable. Those media clips are 3rd party validation and credibility that new companies desperately need.
CYNTHIA: How often do you recommend putting out press releases?
I tell companies one per month. Think of a press release as a reminder to important customers, partners, investors, and of course, media members that you have current news and your business is growing.
CYNTHIA: Do you have any success stories to share?
MELANIE: There is this one start-up, an online and traditional print company. They wanted to be known as having legendary service that was far superior to their competitors. They came up with the idea of using Big Foot to represent their campaign. During tradeshows they had someone dress up as Big Foot and wander around the floor. They even held contests – find Bog Foot and bring him back to their booth. It was wildly successful. The media had fun with it and the company got a lot of additional buzz as a result.
CYNTHIA: I’ve heard many horror stories by start-ups about PR firms. One start-up told me they had engaged three firms before they found the one that worked. If a start-up wants to hire a public relations firm, what they watch out for?
MELANIE: You want to have a deep conversation about what you want to accomplish and your goals. Make sure you check out a firm’s background and referrals. The two big things to watch out for are guaranteed media placements, this is impossible to do in today’s overcrowded information age. The second is to make sure you have a way out of the contract, look for a 30 days cancellation.
See what happens after the first month. Did the firm accomplish its goals? Certainly, if two months go by and they haven’t accomplished their goals or made significant progress, then move on.
More About Melanie
Melanie is a veteran of several start-ups. She knows firsthand that publicity is so crucial to a start-up success; it shouldn’t be ignored or put off ‘til later. For those DIY types, Melanie has written a book, Simple Publicity – a practical, actionable guide. As Melanie points out, “It is simply not true that you need a lot of money to pursue public relations. It really just takes time and effort.” And for those wanting to hire a PR firm, Simple Publicity outlines how to interview a firm and how to engage with them.