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Startups Can Do PR Without an Agency

Startups Can Do PR Without an Agency

As an entrepreneur, it’s never too early to start selling yourself and your idea. I hear lots of excuses from startup founders, like “I’m too busy,” concern over IP security, can’t afford an agency, and it’s too early. The result is they get no feedback, no credibility, no visibility, and no investors until months later than they expect.

I’m definitely not lobbying here for promising things you can’t deliver, or hiring a publicist before your first programmer. I’m talking about doing some real networking to test your elevator pitch, and get to know some potential investors before you ask them for money. How about talking to some real customers to see if they are as excited about your idea as you are?

You don’t need an agency and you don’t want a third party to be involved at this point. You need to do it yourself. Here is a list of ways that you can use public relations to benefit your startup, even before it is started:

  • Make yourself a spokesman for your domain. Start writing a blog, speaking at local groups, and conversing at networking meetings about the need you see in the marketplace, before you pitch a solution. People will soon see you as an “expert” on solar power, as an example, so your later solar power offering will have credibility by default.
  • Practice your message. Publicists always tell you to stick to the crafted message, which was probably wrong anyway. If you start early, you can improve your message with every cycle, until you have an elevator pitch for your startup that resonates with the right people.
  • Even bad coverage is better than no coverage. It’s better to push the limits, or be a bit controversial, than not to be visible at all. Because of human nature, controversy gets people’s attention much more quickly than total agreement. People forget your early mistakes if they haven’t bought your product yet.
  • Be unabashedly aggressive. Don’t wait for journalists to find you; they all publish their email addresses, and they’re looking for something interesting to write. Give it to them. Start forum discussions on LinkedIn and Facebook, and send out regular tweets on your direction. Comment on other people’s blogs, as well as writing your own.
  • Hand out memorable business cards. When you leave your business card with another person, your memory and impact is tied to that piece of paper. Make it professional and unique, with a visual image that conveys your message, even without the words.
  • Keep in touch with your audience. One networking introduction will likely not leave a lasting impression. Be sure to follow-up with key people by writing thank-you emails, asking for a personal meeting over coffee, or adding them to your monthly newsletter distribution.

At any point, hiring a professional to generate your PR may be well worth the cost, but it’s not required. Try to think like a reporter, editor, or producer, analyze their audience, and come up with “the hook.” Don’t forget your personal story as a possible hook – what you have overcome or left behind, and why you decided to become an entrepreneur.

Perhaps your product or idea addresses a social issue or event. If the hook isn’t obvious, create one by orchestrating an event, holding a contest, or donating something to charity. The earlier and more you learn about marketing, the more effective you will be later. In a startup, you are the brand. Start building it now.

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Author(s) (other articles by )
Original Publication DateJuly 29, 2011
Related categoriesMarketing, Nuts & Bolts

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  • Anonymous

    Some good tips here. A memorable business card in particular is a low cost way to actually make networking a success. I mostly agree with you, unless you’re wealthy or somehow have access to a large amount of investment right off of the bat, using a PR agency can be a waste of limited initial funds. I grant you that if you have some money and you hire a quality agency, they might have some quality connections that can help get you mass media attention: but there’s a limited amount of circumstances where this is true for most startups. Given that Facebook accounts for such a large percentage of people’s attention span these days, I think that an obvious place to start is to beg your family and friends to post about you on Facebook. If your friends give a crap about you they’ll help you out if you ask them nicely. This doesn’t help guarantee success but does help get the ball rolling and can be a good complement to a marketing campaign with any of the companies listed here that can help you get more Facebook fans. The important thing with startups is to make sure to be wise with limited funds to give yourself the best chance to survive long enough to get noticed. Startups that waste money on expensive chairs and PR agencies and fancy coffee machines are just begging to die a typical death when they run out of funds before they’ve taken flight.