How startups can use crowdfunding as a marketing and PR tool

Last year I attended a panel discussion on the state of seed
stage funding for startups and investors. Sandwiched between the panels was a
fascinating presentation by a young local entrepreneur by the name of Salman
Sajid
, who had, at the time, successfully raised
more than $45,000 in a 30-day period on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, for an iPad case that can also hold an Apple wireless keyboard.

Sajid’s enthusiasm oozed as he described a variety of
marketing and search engine optimization strategies he used to generate
awareness once the product was already on Kickstarter. What I found
particularly striking was Sajid’s use of Kickstarter not just as a fundraising
vehicle, but a PR vehicle as well.

Sajid talked about the fact that he could have raised more
money, but it was as much about generating positive press coverage for the
product and creating a market demand for it as it was about finding investors.
He didn’t stop the PR machine there – Sajid reached out to reporters who had
covered successful and similar Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns prior to his,
and pitched them the success story of his own fundraising initiative. He
featured positive reviews for the iPad case on the site, furthering credibility
for the product.

Ultimately, Sajid’s presentation and experience hammers home
the fact that the use of social media as a public relations vehicle has become,
in its own right, “traditional.” For this reason, technology firms, startups,
and the PR professionals who represent them, must not shy away from evaluating
alternative channels such as Kickstarter as part of a broader PR strategy.

Leveraging channels like KickStarter is not easy, and can be
fraught with frustration if not executed in the right way. Expect growing pains,
as the path to success might mirror the early days of viral video, where
clients tasked their agencies to create the next YouTube sensation. After much
trial and error, astute agencies figured out that swinging for the fences with
a budget busting viral video is often a recipe for disappointment. Instead,
video content was increasingly created to serve multiple purposes, so that if a
video did not garner 5 million hits, it could still be used as a vital asset to
grow the business.

Part of this experimentation with channels such as
Kickstarter result from determining the right “tone” for the channel. In the
early, early days of PR outreach to bloggers, we quickly realized the rules
that applied to press did not apply to bloggers. If you came at a reporter with
an overt marketing spiel the worst thing that would happen was the reporter ignored
your pitch and didn’t cover the client. With bloggers, the risk was far
greater, as some publicly skewered pitches that were off-target, overtly
promotional or sloppy.

There was nothing wrong with this per se, but it took time
for PR professionals to understand a different tone was required with bloggers,
and the same can be said for alternative channels like Kickstarter. Part of the
appeal of Sajid’s approach is that it is homegrown – he’s a self-made
entrepreneur doing the nitty gritty work himself. Whether the same approach
would work if a PR firm was working on his behalf is hard to say, but the bar
would no doubt be higher.

Startups in particular should take note of Sajid’s use of
Kickstarter for public relations as they evaluate different funding options.
Even if a startup has interest from angels, friends and family, or other seed
stage sources, a campaign for even a nominal amount of funding on Kickstarter
can deliver PR benefits that match or exceed the actual dollar amount raised.

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