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 new developments. 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 are 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.