Launching a new start up is usually an all-consuming undertaking that keeps you thinking about the business every minute of the day; whether you’re actually supposed to be working or not. Just getting the product right and finding funding are enough to consume all of your waking brain cycles. Alas, even that is not enough. Plenty of founders can tell you from experience that the, “if you build it, they will come,” model of finding customers just doesn’t work. Advertising is expensive and marketing programs take time to show results. And even if you have a minuscule budget and limited employee resources to devote to the task, you still have to find a way to get your story to the market. Effective PR can help you gain momentum quickly and can be done for a fraction of the cost of paid advertising. Here are five PR growth hacks you can do immediately for little or no cost.
- Build Relationships.
One important (but often forgotten) PR fact is that journalists are people. Get your company’s PR efforts off to the right start (even before your first press release is issued) by finding out who writes about companies like yours and which publications and authors reach your target audience. Developing a narrow list will be far more effective than blanketing the “tech press” with information that is beyond the scope of their interest.
Once you’ve identified the key people who can share your story, remember to listen before you begin to talk. Follow their work. Get a feel for their unique point of view and interests. Develop credibility with both the journalist and your audience by sharing their content and commenting when appropriate. Doing so will put you in the position to offer story ideas and thought leadership that are exactly aligned to the individual’s topics and tone.
- Manufacture Client Success.
One theme you will notice in these suggestions is that the best opportunities for earned media are not really about your products. Journalists are not in the business of selling your solution for you. They are, however, in the business of creating engaging content that will be of use to their audience. Sharing stories of customers who have benefited from changing the way they operate or by using new tools falls squarely in this camp.
Getting a customer to say that your product is great is not enough. A compelling story requires that the client describe how your product or service resulted in a specific positive impact for their business. Don’t expect that this will happen on its own. Work with your customers to define their goals and expectations for how your product will help them before it is even deployed. Then, walk through the journey with them to do whatever it takes to help achieve those goals. Early on, you may have to give away your solution to accomplish this, but client success stories will be essential to your PR strategy and well worth the investment.
- Connect to Larger Stories.
Your business does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of the global ecosystem of markets, technologies and social trends. Take some time to think about where you fit in the larger picture. Are you leveraging emerging technologies that power other businesses as well? Is your business model based on a shift in buying preferences? Do you have a new take on a popular trend? Tying your story to this larger context can increase your chances of getting a reporter interested.
- Contribute to the Conversation.
Conversations about topics of significance to your market are happening with or without you. No, they won’t always be about you, but so what? Take every opportunity to add your voice to the constant exchange of ideas. One easy and free way to do this is to respond to reporters looking for sources and quotes for stories they are already working on. A great resource for this is Help a Reporter Out (HARO). This is a service that connects reporters with potential sources on a wide variety of topics. When responding to a query, try to add a unique, non-promotional prospective. This is an effective way to become a thought leader in your area and connect with authors who cover your space.
- Be Unique.
Reporters receive hundreds of story pitches every month. Many of them look very much alike; Company A raised a round of funding, Company B launched product 2.0, and so it goes. What is it that sets you, your product, your employees or your approach to business so far apart from everyone else that it's worth writing and reading about? Do you have a unique approach to employee recruitment? Is there a rags to riches story? Is your approach to customer service a radical departure from industry norms? Finding a way to truly differentiate your business will help your PR efforts enormously. This shouldn’t be confused with being different from the competition. That’s a given, but product differences can be too subtle to be of interest to someone who isn’t shopping right now. What you’re looking for here is something disruptive, new, risky and exciting.
It doesn’t take a lot of money to launch an effective PR strategy for your start-up, but it does take intention and action. Why not give these low-cost, low-risk steps a try today?