You have a great idea, a website, a business plan and maybe even some funding. Now what? That doesn’t mean anything unless people are talking, sharing and buzzing about your brand. If no one hears the proverbial tree falling in the forest, how will they know it actually exists — and why would they care?
For most startups, publicity typically falls to the bottom of the expenditure list. Yet, in this day and age, with so much competition for coverage and attention, it can be the thing that connects the dots, raises your profile and attracts consumers, advertisers, partners and investors. The reality: Those who put public relations as the lead horse will likely cross the finish line first. But if you’re bootstrapped and feel you just can’t justify the cost of hiring a PR firm or an in-house communications specialist, you can learn how to be your own publicist — and kick-start the drumbeat about your brand through press coverage and social media buzz.
Recently, Jessica participated in a panel at the Golden Seeds Innovation Summit — a conference run by an investment firm that supports companies founded by women entrepreneurs — called “Building Your Brand: Lessons in PR for Early Stage Companies,” where this topic was discussed. Moderated by The New York Times bestselling author and former Hearst Magazines Chair(wo)man, Cathie Black, the panel also included The Daily Muse co-founder Kathryn Minshew, Business Insider tech reporter Alyson Shontell and Joannie Danielides who runs an eponymous PR firm. Below we share some of the advice that was given during this panel.
- Know your elevator pitch. Have a great story and know how to tell it…quickly. What you pitch to the media is not that different from what you have to “sell” to potential investors and, similarly, you have a short period of time in which to impress them and gain their interest.
- Find a news hook. Understand how your business fits into a bigger trend or story. Don’t just pitch in a vacuum. Minshew of The Daily Muse said that she often pitches reporters when new job numbers come out or as part of a story on young female tech entrepreneurs in the career space so they use her as an expert on a particular trend. Shontell advised startups to identify how their company or story relates to a broad audience.
- Be scrappy and resourceful. Follow reporters who cover your industry on Twitter, then retweet them and respond to them. Also, read relevant media about your industry and stay up on the latest trends.
- Leverage your connections. We live in a world of six degrees of separation when everyone knows someone who knows someone else who can lead you to the right reporter, producer or blogger who might cover what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to ask the people you associate with if they can help make introductions. Minshew emailed everyone in her personal network a clip of her appearance on Bloomberg TV as an FYI. Someone on her list sent it to his cousin who worked at CNBC and they called her for a segment. The point is: every interaction is an opportunity for you to build buzz for your brand.
- Make it easy for the media. Most members of the press appreciate someone who makes their job turn-key by giving them a good idea and the facts and resources to back it up. Danielides said, “Get your facts straight and have them at the ready when you’re pitching. You want to be accurate and, if you don’t know the answer to something, don’t fabricate it.” Get back to the media promptly with answers and information and they’ll be more likely to want to work with you again.
- Do your research. Don’t pitch an outlet without having read it or watched it first or followed the stories this reporter has recently written. You don’t want to approach someone who would never write about you or your company. As Shontell advised tech startups in the audience, “Don’t pitch me the same thing you pitched to TechCrunch because our point of view is different.” Be cognizant of the media’s time and always ask if they have a minute to talk. Don’t reach out to them at the end of the day, when most are on deadline. And be respectful, even if they’re rude (which they sometimes can be).
Just as you do when building a business plan, you need to have a communications strategy for your company, whether you’re doing the PR yourself or working with a professional. Know your key messages inside and out and understand how media coverage can help your brand. For more advice on how to build a brand and create buzz, check out our book, “Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work.”