This post is by Joe Eckert, the most effective PR executive I know (we worked together at LogMeIn). Joe has played a critical role helping startups generate press coverage as both an inside VP and on the agency side. He is now at Baker Communications Group.
Given my limited PR knowledge, I asked Joe to write this guest post to help you begin your startup’s PR program. – Sean
Because we specialize in communications for high tech start-ups, we’re often asked “when should I start a PR program?”
It’s a simple question. The simple answer (often given) is: “No time like the present.”
The real answer is bit more complex. We always ask prospective clients about their strategic company goals, as well as near- and long-term product plans so that we can help the management team determine whether a PR program can be helpful – and sustainable.
Once all parties agree that the time is, in fact, “now”, we go about the work of creating and executing the strategies and tactics that will help support the corporate vision. One of the first things we look at is helping a client generate a fairly steady stream of “content”.
Content is King
A good PR firm will help guide you and “tease out” the information that will help communicate your value and credibility to customers and partners. Part of your commitment to the PR process is to make sure the company is ready to handle the increased attention that comes with an effective and successful PR program. PR places additional demands on executives and managers who are designated as spokespeople or who otherwise have a stake in the PR process.
Content can begin – and often should begin – with company/product strategy communicated in the form of industry analyst discussions. This foundation work often precedes a more “public” PR campaign, It can also be combined with social media activity and/or “wire press releases” – two examples of content distribution tools. Knowing who is watching you and who you should be watching can often dictate the type, style and frequency of the content. But the key is that a lot of PR deliverables are no longer just media stories. They ARE company-created content that adds value and context to the more traditional media channels.
The Good (Bad?) Old Days
Not so long ago, PR lived in a relatively simple world of communication to the traditional press, who then processed, fact-checked and distilled that information before sending it out to the world. Today’s PR landscape is quite a bit more complex.
Before embarking 10 years ago into the land of the start-up, I and most of our team here spent time at large companies (IBM, Compaq, HP) where the simple rule was don’t communicate unless you get coverage in the press. Today, we’re seeing a disaggregation of traditional media “centers”, however, and now direct forms of communication are supplementing (not supplanting) the role of media. Take blogs, for example. They have become a significant supplement to traditional media and, in fact, many reporters also do double duty as bloggers. And, of course, companies and organizations have their own blogs, which add to the content volume. The influence of Twitter is well documented (ironically, in the traditional media). Even CUSTOMERS are publicly influencing the buying decisions of other customers. So, today, the press release, the company blog, the analyst deck all take on significance in addition to, and beyond the role of media in delivering content.
While scary (for some), companies must be willing to communicate with their customers and potential customers in an almost 1:1 fashion, or at least to appear that way. You might be thinking “that’s marketing.” And, in a way, it is, but it’s marketing using the tools, language and credibility of public relations/media. And, of course, it’s also using the traditional PR tools FOR press articles and analyst reports.
PR is not a magic bullet. Just as with building a sales and marketing organization – indeed an entire company – an effective PR program builds up over time with activities strategically dictated by what stage the company is at and where it wants to go.
So, when PR?
Ask a simple question…
We welcome your comments about your own experience with startup PR and/or any questions for Joe. – Sean