One of the most common questions early-stage startup founders ask us as PR professionals is: when is the best time to start developing PR and marketing strategies?
Startups tend to wait until they have their first big announcement - whether it be a product launch or seed round - then try to jump with two feet into the world of PR with high hopes of landing on the front page of a top tier publication. However, with millions of startups all vying for the attention of a small bastion of top tier tech media brands, the chances of this happening are pretty slim. Unless of course, you have created something really newsworthy, like a time machine, or an app which can actually explain what is going to happen after Brexit.
Far too often, the glitter of the holy grail of TechCrunch distracts startups from the real aims of PR and marketing: to meet business goals. The tendency can be to burn through resources, hyper focused on the big win, while entirely ignoring more attainable results which can help them get on the radar of the organizations, or people they are trying to connect with.
After all, the real aim of getting a huge media result is not just to show the world how awesome you are, it is really to grow your user base, raise your brand awareness, bring on new talent or catch the eye of investors.
In this first blog post, we will look at the first two stages of a solid PR for growth strategy, which every startup should do before they start targeting the big hitters:
1. Get your house in order
Whether a startup is still developing their prototype or further down the line, before starting a PR strategy it is always recommendable to first focus on housekeeping.
After all, effective PR and marketing will drive potential leads back to a startup’s website and their 'owned’ channels like their blog and social media pages, and secondary content channels like LinkedIn or Medium. What happens next depends on whether they are impressed with what they see, or not. If a company doesn’t have a solid online presence before they put themselves out there, they could actually end up burning bridges with potential future customers.
Before taking the step of trying to start a conversation with the outside media, it is generally a good idea to develop a number of ‘narratives’ or storylines on these owned channels. Startups should start creating content to share company announcements, but should also go deeper, by highlighting other ‘hooks’ which make them stand out from the crowd.
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These could be interesting stories about the company’s culture, team, backstory, or offering unique insights, advice or data which really adds value to the reader. Startups by nature have less meaningful announcements than larger, more established companies, and as such need to make themselves interesting in other ways too.
Developing these narratives early on will make it easier to create a content machine but is also important for SEO purposes. Creating a lot of interesting, engaging content over time will help startups improve their organic search engine ranking, and thus improve their visibility to the outside world.
SEO is something which is often overlooked by startups, but should be dealt with head-on from an early stage. Tools like SEMrush or Moz, can help startups compare the strength of their own SEO rankings to their competitors, allowing them to develop a solid SEO strategy which they can capitalize on later by earning high-quality backlinks through external ‘earned’ media results.
There are three main areas which startups should consider when analyzing the SEO strengths of their competitors’ websites 1) the keywords they’re ranking for 2) the type of content which is ranking for these keywords 3) the referring domains of their backlinks.
Assessing their own site against these factors, will allow startups to develop a solid SEO content strategy. This will improve their overall visibility of their site, not only to potential users but to journalists too. It will also highlight the websites they should be targeting further down the line, who have been backlinking to their competitors.
2. Start showing what you have to offer
Now startups have their house in order, they have a solid base to build up from. Any media results or publicity will drive leads back to a professional, organized, and most importantly interesting looking company. So is it time to start pitching TechCrunch now?
Not just yet, hold your horses. There are plenty of ways for startups to achieve their business goals without aiming for the big hitters, but the next step has to be clarifying exactly what business goals they are aiming to meet. For example, are they looking to expand their team? Bring on new corporate partners? Raise a seed round? Or simply bring on new users?
Having clear business aims will allow startups to develop PR and marketing aims which are possible to meet. If a company simply wants to extend its user base then there are plenty of things that they could be doing, which are more attainable that pitching top tier publications.
Nowadays there are a number of startup community sites which have huge, engaged communities of millions around the world. Platforms like ProductHunt, StartupRanking, and ErliBird are great places to introduce a product or service to tech communities and get feedback which can help early-stage startups find bugs, and improve their products based on feedback.
However, now would be a more suitable time for startups to start thinking about how they could start building relationships with the media. However, rather than aiming for perfection and setting themselves up for disappointment, why not start off by targeting local media outlets and blogs.
It is important to remember that the media are not interested in stroking egos, and will only cover stories which they consider to be newsworthy. This means startups need to start a conversation which ties in not only company milestones but also highlights other parts of their stories which might be interesting such as their backstory, team, culture, and social responsibility efforts.
Due to its geographic location alone, an emerging startup which is based in Poland has a much better chance of being considered relevant and newsworthy by 150sec.com, or Tech.eu than it would if targeting a major US publication.
Journalists connected to up and coming media brands are inherently more likely to respond to pitches, and give up and coming startups the time of day. After all, they are not receiving thousands of pitches a day like journalists at top tier publications, and have more time to be exploratory within their zones of interest.
Putting in the time to get involved in local events, workshops, hackathons within their local ecosystems is a great way for startups to start getting their names out there, and also to make connections with the local media too.
After targeting local media, the next step would be to aim a little higher by targeting industry publications which are connected to their particular area of technology, or expertise. While these publications may run under the radar of most general consumers, due to their niche nature they offer access to a localized community.
While a result on Logistics Manager may not sound as exciting as an article on Mashable or TNW, for a startup providing IoT solutions for freight companies, this type of media result is much more likely to place them in front of the right people. These types of publications are particularly useful when trying to meet business aims such as attracting new investors or facilitating new corporate partnerships.
For SEO purposes, startups should develop a solid base of media results and mentions across as wide a range of quality publications as possible, but avoid any blogs or sites of questionable quality which look like they may be involved in link building schemes. From an SEO perspective, articles on these sites could actually do more harm than good.
Media coverage self-duplicates over time. As a company is mentioned in more and more of the right places, it improves the chances of journalists from bigger publications taking notice too. If startups take the time to run their victory lap in the right way every time they get a media result, they can amplify these stories even more. The best ways to do this are by sharing media results on their social channels, with their communities via newsletter, and also on local startup community groups on Facebook and other channels. This boosts the chance that others will re-share the content, thus pushing it into external social circles too.
Another good tip is for startups to create a media kit on their websites which showcases all of their previous media coverage and also includes essential information for journalists such as press releases, press photos, and promo videos of recent products etc.
By following a more structured PR growth strategy, startups will now find they have started to make a name for themselves in their local and regional communities, and have a solid base foundation of earned and owned media to build upon in the future, as their companies continue to grow.
Tune in to our next blog post to find out the next steps, and how startups can start putting themselves out there on the global stage, and trying to catch the attention of the world’s largest media outlets.
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