How to Get the Most Out of PR for Your Early Stage Startup

When I first landed in Silicon Valley from the UK in the booming pre-bubble days of 1998, it felt as if I’d arrived in the magical Land of Oz where PR dollars grew on trees and agencies were wooed by entrepreneurs to take their business. At the time, many startups chose to hire a PR firm before a CMO or VP of marketing. The Wall Street Journal even wrote a story about it.
 
Back then, the tech giants such as Cisco, HP, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo were bedazzling. Some were just a decade old and were literally powering and defining the Internet. Anything seemed possible, except of course a giant crash. Venture capital was flowing into consumer startups like Webvan.com, Pets.com and PointCast, and that money found its way to PR agencies. Budgets were often in the $80,000 range – and that would be $80,000 a month, not a year. The most common client request? “Get us in The Wall Street Journal.”
 
But reality bites and here we are 15 years later in what feels like a pretty frothy market, yet PR budgets for many startups are fixed at $10,000 a month, if not less. Today’s most common client brief? “Get me traffic. Find me customers.”
 
Against that backdrop, with high expectations and low budgets, you can only imagine people are going to get disappointed. So much so in fact that one entrepreneur penned a pretty vitriolic guest post on Venturebeat recently, extolling the virtues of not hiring a PR firm. The headline created traffic, I guess.
 
So if you’re seed-backed, boot-strapped, or just wanting to make the most of your precious, hard-to-come-by Series A greenbacks, how can you lay the foundation for great PR?  Here are a few tips:
 
Laying the Foundation
1.    Bring a marketing or PR perspective to the table early. At best it may inform your product development, and at worst, it will help you understand the cycles required to execute a stellar launch.
2.    If you can’t afford to hire a consultant or PR firm in the early days, use your network  (you have one of those, right?) to interview and select a PR or marketing expert to join your advisory board.
3.    Build an advisory board and think broadly about who might be able to assist your fledgling business – not just technologists, but also content experts, academics, marketers, etc. These individuals can become an invaluable part of your PR strategy and will serve as evangelists in spreading the word.
4.    All too often I get calls from CEOs saying they’re ready to launch and want to hire a PR firm. The catch? The product goes live in two weeks. At this point I typically say I can’t help them. Plan to bring on a PR firm at least 90 days before your launch and start your search at least four months out.
5.    Take a look around and figure out which companies you admire the most, particularly those that are just a few steps ahead of you. Find out what you can about their early ‘go to market’ approach.
 
In my next post I’ll discuss what you can expect your PR partner to deliver once they’re on board. Stay tuned.

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