Public relations or communications marketing is an often misunderstood function of the marketing mix. At its core, it is about telling your company’s story through various intermediaries and stakeholders, such as the media, influencers, partners, academics, customers, analysts and employees. The channels to tell this story are vast and include print and electronic media, social channels and owned channels.
To be clear, communications marketing is not advertising. The notion that intermediaries are telling your story for you is important, as it helps to build your credibility and earn trust among your target audience. This is particularly necessary in the technology startup space.
First, and most obviously, startups are new to the marketplace and have little mindshare among the public. Second, the impacts of new and innovative products and services that target businesses and consumers aren’t always easily understood, and in some cases are met with real skepticism. If you can articulate your story well, you can raise potential barriers to adoption and get people excited about what your company is trying to achieve.
PR is more than just landing “hits” in the media, though. Coverage for the sake of coverage doesn’t always move the needle. The best results come when you’re able to tie your efforts across your marketing functions and channels and then measure their impact on your business goals.
Edelman recently released a study titled “Storytelling in the Age of Social News Consumption,” which I encourage everyone to read. In short, the study examined what made a news story “social” across general news in five industries: technology, energy, finance, food and beverage, and health. We analyzed the top shared stories and which publishers are seeing their stories shared most. We then surveyed 250 journalists.
This research revealed that:
It has always been critically important to understand the day-to-day realities of the media. The need for a strong story that will resonate with your audience hasn’t changed, but the ways in which you can tell that story have. This research helps us navigate how best to do so.
To run an effective communications campaign, the right amount of preparation is key. Understanding the market, your customers, your competitors and where you fit in that mix is a critical first step to developing your unique voice and articulating a core story. This is particularly important for an early-stage company or startup that is trying to gain much needed traction with the media and influencers. Oftentimes, and with the best of intentions, companies skip this step and go straight to pitching the media and engaging with key influencers. The result is muddled messaging and an inarticulate value proposition that only undermines your efforts. Developing a core story provides the umbrella from which to hang your broader efforts, while also maintaining focus on “why” you exist and how your PR and marketing tactics reinforce this.
In terms of assets, there a number of things you can consider. At the very least, you’ll want to create a package of materials that acts as a guide for media and influencers to really understand your company. Typical assets include things like company and product fact sheets, biographies, third-party research, customer references and testimonials, infographics, images and art, and a working demo or prototype that the media can review.
Building one-to-one relationships will be key to any successful communications efforts. Spend the time to find the right people to connect with. If you’re simply blasting out pitches and invites to people who have no interest in your space, then you’ll burn more bridges than you build.
If, for example, your product or service is ready for primetime, think about your target audience and then understand how they receive and consume their information. Research those outlets and make sure you’re opening the lines of communication with topics and angles that will resonate with their readers and followers. Would you lead with a pure technology angle for an industry vertical publication, or focus more on the direct business benefits for end users, with the backend tech as a secondary message? If you’re targeting consumer outlets, which may not have a tech-savvy readership, outline how you’re going to make someone’s life easier or better, then how it all works.
In terms of actually meeting people, the tried and true method of setting up a face-to-face meeting—say, over coffee or lunch—still works best. The goal of that first meeting shouldn’t be landing a story; it should be introducing who you are, what your company is all about and the types of topics you’re passionate about. Be proactive—if you’re attending an event, try to determine who from the media will be there and reach out to them beforehand, or attempt to get an introduction. Be disciplined, too: tell yourself that you’ll attempt to meet at least one person every two weeks, or monthly.
Remember, be relevant to the audience, be prepared to answer questions and be respectful of the person’s time.
Compelling data can be a rich source of story material. Data can be used to help lend credibility to an idea or the very reason you have started a business (filling a gap in the market), or as a snapshot of the behaviour of companies or consumers. The goal, as always, is how relevant the data is to an outlet’s audience, to a particular trend in the market or to a timely news story.
I’ve shared a lot in terms of what PR is and how best to get your story out, particularly via the media, but this only touches the surface of what you can do. It takes commitment to get it right and the first question you should ask yourself is: “Am I prepared to give it the time it requires?” There’s nothing wrong with a phased approach. Each startup is at a unique stage in its existence and the goal of PR will change as you grow and evolve.