PR for Startups (Series1/3): Bootstrapping PR

Aug 15, 2012
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This guest article was submitted by an experienced Press Relations professional who works for a prominent European PR group, and wished to remain anonymous.

bootsrapping PR: A telegraph

Public relations is the process of building relationships to tell your story and share your vision over time to drive interest, visibility and reputation. For any start-up looking to grow beyond the garage, PR is something to start thinking about from the get go. Early stage startups face an uphill battle as they must start from scratch and learn the tricks of the trade with little or no budget and time. Given these constraints, here are few tips as to how to begin…

The very first step in PR is to understand what constitutes news. Some newsworthy items for an early stage startup are product launches, partnerships, value added market data/stats, client wins and eventually funding, if the amount is consequent. Journalists are looking for substance. They need information that can help them better understand an industry, its trends, the direction it is taking and what it says about a given situation or the current state of affairs. For the sake of this article, we will use a product launch as an example. You need to be prepared before sitting down with a journalist. If it’s your first time communicating give yourself a good month prior to the launch date to get everything ready.

Phase one: Figure out your Key Messages

Every minute that you have with a journalist is an opportunity to communicate a message and to start weaving your story. It is important to know what you want and don’t want to say as well as how you are going to say it.

Key messages are succinct, jargon free explanations about what you do how you do it and why you do it – think “short and sweet”. These messages should be present in your press releases and presentation documents and find their way into interviews and ultimately articles. If you want to take it to the next level, identify key words and elaborate supporting arguments and concrete examples.

Next Step: Draw up a Fact Sheet

A fact sheet is a “who/what/when/where/how” doc you’ll be presenting to people who would like a quick overview of your startup. Usually, this document should be no longer than 2 pages and should include the company’s key figures, the history, the founder biographies and product descriptions. Chances are you already have most of the information scattered around your website. If that’s the case, then all that’s left to do is gather it into one place, edit where necessary and make it look pretty. Of course, don’t forget to make sure your key messages are in there.

It’s time to get cracking on your press release.

In a nutshell, a press release clearly states your news (in this case a product launch), highlights its relevance and aspects, provides a quote from the founder or relevant spokesperson and includes a description of the startup. Don’t call yourself “number one”, the “leader of” and cut out any superlatives, leave that to the journalist to decide. Keep in mind that journalists are very busy and will only give it a glance at best so make every word count. Here are some tips on writing press releases

Some will say that press releases are irrelevant today which may be true but the fact is, journalists need an official document to refer to at some point or another so take a few hours out of your day and get it done. If you’re planning to include a quote from a client keep in mind that the approval process can take some time so don’t forget to factor that in.

Reach out to the press and spread the news.

Timing is key. Sending out your press release on a Friday is a big no-no for example; always aim for either a Tuesday or Wednesday, preferably mid-morning. As you’re doing PR in France there are some (ok, many…) times in the year when trying to push an announcement is futile. Familiarize yourself with the French calendar, the bank holidays and school holidays. Periods when activity grinds to a halt in France are May, the second half of July and August along with Christmas and the New Year.

Who do you want to talk to?

This will allow you to identify the different media outlets and journalists you want to reach out to. Their contact information is somewhere on the internet, or simply buy the magazine (as the editorial contact details are usually in there). Before contacting a journalist, you need to know what they are interested in and what they’ve been writing about recently. Draw up a list of 10 to 20 journalists you’d like to see write about you in their respective publications. When drawing up this list think about who is reading that publication and if that audience is of interest to you. Think about what you read, what your clients read and do a quick search to see who is writing about your competitors.

Get the ball rolling.

Send out your press release to the journalists you’ve identified, post it on free distribution sites (here’s a list) and… pick up the phone. This can be a tedious job and a painful one but needs to be done. Journalists receive too many emails per day and without the “oral pitch”, your press release will be lost in the masses. This is also why it is key to have a “straight to the fact” release to capture the journalist’s attention. Today, the French media is shrinking, as is its staff. At the same time, more and more companies are investing in PR. The result is: Understaffed newsrooms with over solicited journalists. FYI: an over solicited French journalist is a grumpy bastard. You’ve been warned. Keeping this in mind, understand that you won’t get the journalist on the phone the first time but do keep trying without harassing! The lifespan of a press release is about one week, maximum two. During this time you should be picking up the phone every day to try and speak to them and present your product. Put thirty minutes to an hour aside each day or every other day and be patient. When you get the journalist on the phone, be polite and get straight to the point.

PR is about relationships and relationships take time. As an early stage startup, it’s important to get started on the right foot and lay the ground work for future efforts. Know who you are talking to, what they are interested in, what they are writing about and think about how you can contribute. Be humble, be sharp, be consistent, be honest and remember there’s no wisdom in being cool.